"There’s no way for a country to become self-sufficient in food if people don’t have access to land. If the land is in the hands of a few who are producing things that are not feeding the country so governments need to become aware of the importance of small farmers not only for economic growth but for ecological services." Prof. Miguel Altieri

Credit : Photo by En jiFor many years Professor Emeritus Miguel A. Altieri was a resounding voice within the global scientific community promoting the cause of agroecology, bringing to light many issues affecting the agricultural sector.

He has railed against industrial agriculture especially industry giants but his true contributions can be seen in his research work with small farmers in Latin America where age-old farming methods have proven to be both sustainable and successful.

A long-time professor of agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley, Altieri has always been a strong proponent of sustainable agriculture. Through his liaison with Latin American farmers, he has helped them to implement principles of integrated pest management, intercropping, cover cropping, crop-field border vegetation manipulation, and other sustainable practices of biological control.

He covered some of those aspects in a recent webinar on Feb. 26, 2021, organised by the Bureau of Agroecology & Natural Farming (BAPA) under the auspices of the Malaysian Agroecology Society for Sustainable Resource Intensification (SRI-Mas).

Agroecology practicesOne of the more interesting parts of the talk touched on Cuba’s inspiring example. The fall of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, put the country in dire straits. Petrol became scarce and people had to resort to growing vegetables on their balconies to feed their families. Farmers bereft of petrol and pesticides faced the harsh reality of possible starvation but somehow turned to traditional methods of farming. The silver lining came firstly, in averting a food crisis and secondly, their move gave birth to what is known as organic farming.

Altieri concluded his talk in the webinar entitled
"Agroecology & the Future of Farming in a Planet in Crisis" stating: “Covid 19 has exposed the tragedy of animal factory` farming and endless monocultures which lead to dramatic losses of biodiversity, obesity, malnutrition, food waste, appealing work conditions for migrant labourers and undetermined livelihoods of small farmers."

“Given this reality, agroecology is positioning itself as a key agricultural path that can provide rural families significant socio-economic and environmental benefits while feeding the urban masses equitably.”

Prof Altiera at Zoom sessionAltieri also addressed Back To Earth News’s question – What advice or approach can be taken to promote agroecology in Malaysia? Given that an estimated 60% of the land is devoted to non-food production mainly oil palm and rubber. Also, efforts to become self-sufficient in rice production have not succeeded thus far and we still need to import, given this background what could be the way forward?

He envisaged that political change was necessary – “The government would have to privatise food production for the national consumption as the major strategic economic path for security reasons and many other reasons, and this would require changes in the land use system involving land reform.”

Prof Miguel Altieri in his younger daysHaving written over 200 published papers and many books, Altieri has also served in many capacities in international bodies. He served as a scientific advisor to the Latin American Consortium on Agroecology and Development (CLADES) Chile, an NGO network promoting agroecology as a strategy for small farm sustainable development in the region.

He also served for four years as the general coordinator for the United Nations Development Programme’s Sustainable Agriculture Networking and Extension Programme which aimed at capacity building on agroecology among NGOs and the scaling-up of successful local sustainable agricultural initiatives in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The retired professor now resides in Columbia, doing what he does best and has always professed – tending to his small farm.

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