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Transition of food systems
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May 28th 2021

Bridging the gap between the agroecological ideal and its implementation into practice. A review

A paper on agroecology as an ideal and as a practice with some elements on the definition of agroecology

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Despite the increasingly widespread use of the term agroecology by farmers, scientists, agrarian social movements, and lawmakers, the definition of the concept is still the object of controversies. Current interpretations range widely, from fully transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary definitions integrating ecological, socioeconomic, and political dimensions of agriculture, to more narrow definitions of agroecology as a discipline bridging ecology and agronomy. No less importantly, few actors have developed criteria and methodologies to identify and evaluate agroecological systems based on both ecological and socioeconomic dimensions. The lack of consistency in the study and application of “agroecology,” resulting from varying definitions for agroecology and the absence of standardized methodologies to identify agroecological systems, is problematic. It limits the recognition of associated benefits and disadvantages of different agroecological systems, as well as the identification of drivers that favor the implementation of agroecological practices. While lessons learned from individual case studies are valuable and showcase the potential of agroecology, results are not always relevant to other contexts. Here, we review existing theoretical and empirical agroecological literature. The major points that emerge are the following: (1) we integrate six historical ecological principles with seven socioeconomic principles to propose an overarching framework for recognizing systems oriented towards agroecology; (2) the implementation of different principles may vary greatly across spatial scales or governance contexts; (3) there are numerous barriers that farmers may face in their transition towards an agroecological “ideal”—this highlights the need for improved recognition of systems in transition, as well as the need for supportive policies to scale up agroecology. The application of two complementary methodological approaches presented in our review has the potential to help practitioners evaluate to what extent a system can be considered as agroecological based on ecological and socioeconomic principles.

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