Agroecology can offer an important vehicle to reduce poverty (SDG 1) and inequality (SDG 10), by contributing to decent work (SDG 8) and addressing a fundamental human need – access to food (SDG 2).
By its bottom-up methods, it preserves rural and indigenous traditional knowledge through horizontal sharing between farmers.
Faced with the challenge of rural poverty and increasing malnutrition, agroecology can offer an important vehicle to reduce poverty (SDG 1) and inequality (SDG 10), by contributing to decent work (SDG 8) and addressing a fundamental human need – access to food (SDG 2). Defined by the FAO as “a scientific discipline, a set of practices and a social movement”, agroecology breaks down silos and contributes towards several SDGs simultaneously. From a scientific perspective, it focuses on synergies between agroecosystems with a strong emphasis on sustainability. It also includes a sociocultural component that emphasizes co-creation of knowledge and social justice.
The eradication of poverty is at the center of sustainable development. Poverty acts as a strong barrier to achieve social and economic inclusion and it must be tackled from several perspectives and strategies. The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has called on stakeholders from all sectors to actively participate in efforts to end poverty. In contrast to the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are a call for action by all countries: poor, middle-income and rich.
Of the world’s poor people, almost 80 percent live in rural areas and rely mainly on agriculture to make a living. Rural populations face marginalization in society due to a lack of access to resources and information and limited bargaining power. As emphasized by the FAO report titled, ‘Transforming Food and Agriculture to Achieve the SDGs’, it is only fair that we recognize the people producing our food and managing our natural resources by attributing a fair value to their work.
The linkage between agricultural trade and food security is particularly important in the context of reducing undernourishment in developing countries, where smallholder farmers produce nearly 80 percent of the food supply for Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, the number of undernourished people in the world continues to rise. Current estimates suggest that the number of people suffering from chronic food deprivation or undernourishment increased from around 804 million in 2016 to almost 821 million in 2017. Lack of adequate and nutritious food has adverse effects on children’s cognitive and social development, undermining their academic performance and potential, further negatively affecting the economic opportunities of future adults (reducing possibilities of decent work, SDG 8) and contributing to intergenerational poverty (SDG 1). As highlighted by Smith and Haddad (2014), failing to address this intergenerational transmission of undernutrition among children has severe impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction.
Transitioning towards agroecological systems is central in addressing these challenges and achieving the multiple interlinked objectives of the SDGs. Johan Rockström and Pavan Sukhdev are strong advocates for thinking of food as the basis for tackling all the SDGs. At the Stockholm Resilience Center, they emphasize the importance of transitioning from large industrial agricultural systems to diversified agroecological alternatives, which they say have ripple effects on all levels of the SDGs. Modern industrial agricultural systems, on the other hand, are major emitters of greenhouse gases. By switching to agroecological practices, we can improve soil quality, reduce negative externalities on the environment and support farmers in adapting to climate change. Further, as highlighted by IFAD, indigenous and diversified crops promoted under agroecology are typically more resilient to extreme weather conditions.
Case studies show that agroecology helps reduce hunger, inequalities and poverty. An agroecological project in the Douentza District in Mali, for example, improved soil quality, crop stabilization and livestock productivity, as well as increased the participants’ monthly income, ensuring equal access to food in the district. In Casamance, Senegal, where an elite group dominated natural resources, women received training in agro-ecological practices to improve their food production, enabling them to organize themselves and increase their monthly income and access to land, which further contributed to reduced inequalities.
Finally, as a social movement, agroecology aims to make farmers stronger and more self-sufficient as a community. By its bottom-up methods, it preserves rural and indigenous traditional knowledge through horizontal sharing between farmers. The possibilities of empowerment that come from agroecology are not an externality to this movement, but one of its objectives.
As stated in the UN resolution that approved the SDGs, “Challenges (…) are interrelated and call for integrated solutions. To address them effectively, a new approach is needed.” Agroecology, while still a niche, should be seriously looked at by policymakers – not just within the silo of SDG 2, but rather for its ability to contribute to poverty (SDG 1), inequality (SDG 10) and beyond.
The authors, Lucia Amiri-Talesh, Esther Ongay, and Jennie Persson, are graduate students at The George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., U.S.
 Contributing to SDG targets 2.2; 2.4; 10.1; 10.2.
 Contributing to SDG targets 1.4; 1.5; 2.3; 2.4; 10.1; 10.2; 10.3.