Agroecology at UN level: The FAO's Scaling up Agroecology Initiative

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for a new agricultural approach to ensure sufficient, safe and nutritious food as well as a stable multifunctional landscape. Agroecology contributes to a transition to food and agricultural systems that are environmentally sustainable, economically fair, viable and socially equitable.

Kleinbäuerinnen in Andhra Pradesh. (c) FAO/Francisco Martinez

By Dr. Emma Siliprandi

Dr. Emma Siliprandi is Lead Focal Point of FAO’s Scaling up Agroecology Initiative.

All contributions

By Jimena Gómez

Jimena Gómez is a Ecosystem Services and Agroecology Consultant at FAO.

All contributions

FAO has engaged in agroecology since 2014 through the organization of the First International Symposium and seven subsequent regional seminars held from 2014 to 2018, with the participation of multiple stakeholders (civil society organizations, farmers, NGO’s, governments, academic sector) to gather evidence and exchange experiences and discuss the role of public policies in supporting agroecology. When translating this evidence into development priorities, we can summarize four key contributions of agroecology:

  • promotes food and nutrition security, diversified healthy diets, local development and sustainable production systems;
  • supports resilience at farm and landscape level and helps smallholder farmers mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change;
  • helps boost the livelihoods of smallholder food producers and reduce rural poverty;
  • champions inclusion of marginalized groups and fair access to resources for all.

With the objective of moving from dialogue to action, in 2018, during the Second International Symposium on Agroecology, FAO launched the Scaling up Agroecology Initiative together with UN Partners, catalyzing fundamental commitments needed to scale up and scale out agroecology at all levels. The Initiative promotes synergies and coordination in the provision of technical and policy guidance to countries and stakeholders.


Women smallholders in Andhra Pradesh during a training activity. (c) FAO/Francisco Martinez

Recognizing agroecology as a dynamic concept that has gained prominence in scientific, agricultural and political discourse in recent years, FAO developed the 10 Elements of Agroecology as an analytical framework to support the design of differentiated paths for agriculture and food systems transformation at different levels and layers. By identifying important properties of agroecological systems and approaches, as well as key considerations in developing an enabling environment for agroecology, the 10 Elements serve as a guide for policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders in planning, managing and evaluating agroecological transitions. Biodiversity, consumers, education and governance are identified as promising entry points, while nexus approaches are used to highlight and examine salient interactions among different sectors and entry points, and to develop plausible theories of transformative change towards sustainable food and agriculture systems. Agroecological innovations also entail institutional innovations, intended as changes in those set of rules which shape actors’ behaviors and interactions, in order to create an enabling environment for an agroecological transition.


However, there are still a lot of challenges to be overcome to scale out and scale up agroecological approaches at wider levels. Innovations and improvements in agricultural practices should be paired with investments in social capital, the co-creation of knowledge with farmers, new marketing networks, and the responsible governance of land and natural resources. To promote and scale agroecology globally, international organizations should support countries and relevant stakeholders in the following priority areas:

  • Strengthening the central role of producers and their organizations in safeguarding, utilizing and accessing natural resources;
  • Fostering co-creation and sharing of knowledge through participatory research and innovation;
  • Promoting multi-dimensional and holistic performance measurement and monitoring frameworks, accounting social and environmental externalities;
  • Promoting markets for agroecology-based products and services;
  • Promoting responsible governance by building conducive and coherent policy environments (including policy, legal and financial frameworks).

In terms of responsible governance, the main challenge in this area is to promote good governance mechanisms such as equity, inclusiveness and community level governance that can support different actors to transform their practices to be resilient and sustainable, while maximizing synergies along food systems. Evidence shows that the most successful agroecological initiatives have been built from the bottom towards upper levels. Agroecology is being recognized as an efficient development approach within many international funding institutions. Agroecology has been adopted as the conceptual framework in a growing number of GEF projects (particularly in Western Africa) including for the GEF Drylands program in fragile and increasingly vulnerable ecosystems.


Smallholder farmers in Andhra Pradesh tilling their fields. (c) FAO/Francisco Martinez

The Scaling up Agroecology Initiative is bringing together different actors in national transition processes, engaging governments, private sector, academia, research and civil society organizations to rethink and redesign food systems around sustainability principles and institutional innovations, enabling systemic responses to systemic challenges. In México, one of the focus countries of the Scaling up Agroecology Initiative, the transition towards sustainable food systems is being led by the Intersectoral Group for Health, Food, Environment and Competitiveness (GISAMAC), made up of the different Government Entities and Dependencies that have interference in food systems as well as representatives of civil society and international organizations. From 2019 to 2020, the first transformative actions have been achieved: i) front warning labeling on ultra-processed foods and drinks with added sugars, together with communication campaigns to promote healthy diets and better consumption habits; ii) presidential decree for the prohibition of the planting of transgenic corn and the gradual and progressive withdrawal of the use of glyphosate in Mexico by January 31, 2024; iii) national strategy for agroecological transition; iv) Sowing Life Program promoting planting of fruit and forest trees, under the principles of agroecology, involving 400,000 farmers.


Communities are encouraged to use technologies that are rooted and localized in their current systems and capacities, ensuring long-term ownership and adoption.


The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach is an innovative example of co-creation of knowledge through horizontal extension, which brings together farmers, researchers and local extensionists. Through FFS, FAO and GEF are enabling small scale farmers to strengthen their resilience by adopting climate change adaptation and agroecological practices. Communities are encouraged to use technologies that are rooted and localized in their current systems and capacities, ensuring long-term ownership and adoption. In Andhra Pradesh, India, the Community Based Natural Farming Programme (APCNF) was created to build resilience to increasingly frequent drought, floods and cyclones experienced in Andhra Pradesh as a result of climate change, while accumulating carbon in soil and perennial vegetation as well as making more efficient use of water to reverse an alarming lowering of the water table.


ACPNF is promoting agroecological practices through FFS, currently reaching 580.000 farmers (3.000 villages). Independent assessments show reduction in production costs through integrated crop-livestock farming and system stability, resulting in higher net income for APCNF farmers, along with better soil and crop health, resilience, economic empowerment and dignity of labor. One of the most adopted techniques is the pre-monsoon dry sowing innovation (PMDS) which enables to harvest water vapor from the atmosphere for crop growth, resulting into 365 days of green cover in which a farmer is able to take three crops in a year, even in rainfed conditions in semi-arid areas. In 2015, the government of Andhra Pradesh now targets transitioning the whole state to this approach, embracing six million farming households.


Indian farmers inspect the yield of their field. (c) FAO/Francisco Martinez

Recent publications call for the fundamental need to shift from uniformity to diversity in the performance and monitoring frameworks for agricultural development. This means generating comprehensive metrics that recognize the complex performance of agriculture and food systems in the framework of sustainability. FAO’s Tool for Agroecology Performance Evaluation (TAPE) was developed together with partners to assess the multidimensional performance of agroecology in order to build knowledge and empower producers by collectively producing data and evidence on their own practices. The tool also informs policy makers and development institutions by creating references on agroecology and its contribution to the SDGs. In-depth trainings are carried out globally to ensure wide adoption and consistency.


The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition published a report on “Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition” in 2019. The report sets the basis for the correspondent discussion within the Committee on World Food Security which aims at producing policy recommendations on this topic. This document will be a useful tool to guide governments and other stakeholders in promoting agroecolgical approaches at different scales.


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