In early April, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International participated in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) second International Symposium on Agroecology in Rome.
From nine countries and five regions — including North America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, and Latin America — PAN leaders highlighted the need to transition from chemical-intensive practices to just, thriving and resilient food systems around the world.
The symposium focused primarily on the need to spread and scale agroecological practices to meet the FAO’s Sustainable Development Goals.
While the spread of on-farm agroecological practices are an important part of our transition to better food and farming systems, civil society organizations in Rome urged attendees to embrace a broader understanding of agroecology that encompasses its political, social and cultural dimensions and is grounded in principles of equity, human rights and food sovereignty. In particular, PAN called for the dismantling of the political and economic structures that perpetuate our dependence on chemical-intensive agriculture.
PAN North America senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman emphasized this in a statement to the full plenary:
We need to be explicit about the greatest obstacle facing the scaling up of agroecology, which we haven’t talked about much yet: the power and influence of transnational corporations over public policy, research, extension and markets — especially the multinational pesticide, seed and chemical corporations that are directly blocking or subverting agroecology, or attempting to co-opt it. The more visible and widespread agroecology becomes, the bigger this industry backlash will be. Because — let’s be honest — agroecology poses a tremendous threat, not only to the ongoing sale of pesticides and GMO seeds, but even more fundamentally to corporate power over food and farming systems globally.”
Sarojeni Rengam of PAN Asia and the Pacific spoke out in plenary as well, warning that peasant farmers and rural community leaders are frequently harassed or even killed in their struggle for land and agroecology. She went on to highlight the critical leadership role of women and youth — noticeably underrepresented at the Symposium — in the much-needed agroecological transformation, and called on symposium attendees to:
Uphold the rights of peasants, women, agricultural workers, Indigenous peoples and other small food producers to land, resources, livelihood and the right to organise; and stop the criminalisation of their struggle.
Throughout the symposium, panels featured discussion of on-the-ground success stories as well as enabling policy and market mechanisms to support scaling up agroecology. Javier Souza of PAN Latin America underscored the problems with industrial models of agricultural reliant on genetically modified seeds designed for intensive herbicide use, and called on symposium participants to acknowledge and address this challenge.
In the closing plenary, Maïmouna Diene of PAN Africa explained that PAN’s members — including peasant farmers, women, workers, Indigenous communities and rural families among others — remain on the frontlines of harm from chemical pesticides. She urged FAO to prioritize providing technical and policy support to assist governments in phasing out highly hazardous pesticides as a matter of highest priority, as they transform their food and farming systems to agroecology. Diene concluded,
From PAN’s perspective, agroecology offers the only real possibility of social and political transformation of our food and farming systems to ensure a just future for the world’s food producers.”
Also in the closing plenary, Marian Sow of Senegal read a statement representing civil society organizations and small-scale food producers:
Agroecology cannot be understood as a simple set of techniques and productive practices. … It is a paradigm shift in the social, political, productive and economic relations in our territories, to transform the way we produce and consume food and to restore a socio-cultural reality devastated by industrial food production."
Though the work is ongoing, we’re encouraged by symposium participation. When Marcia attended the first symposium in 2014, she was one of roughly 400 attendees. More than 700 participants joined the three day meeting this year, including dozens of organizations representing those on the frontlines for a more just, thriving food and agriculture system. As Marcia observes:
With the enormous challenges to our food systems posed by today’s climate, energy, water and biodiversity crises, this year’s near-doubling in attendance clearly demonstrates a growing recognition of agroecology as the way forward for food and farming."
Together, PAN International will continue the work toward a food and agriculture system that works for us into the future. PAN was founded as a global network in 1982 in response to the fundamentally international nature of the pesticide problem; we now link over 600 groups, institutions and individuals in more than 90 countries.
Here at PAN North America we are grateful to be a part of such a powerful global network. And when we’re lucky enough to be together in-person, we find time to smile and appreciate one another’s work.
For more information on PAN International and each of our regional centers, visit panna.org/pan-international.