Strategic Studies

Small farms as a planetary ecological asset: Five reasons to support the revitalization of small farms in the global South

Miguel A. Altieri, President, Sociedad Cientifica Latino Americana de Agroecologia (SOCLA)

May 2008

The Via Campesina has long argued that farmers need land to produce food for their own communities and for their country and for this reason has advocated for genuine agrarian reforms to access and control land, water, agrobiodiversity, etc, which are of central importance for communities to be able to meet growing food demands. The Via Campesina believes that in order to protect livelihoods, jobs, people's food security and health as well as the environment, food production has to remain in the hands of small scale sustainable farmers and cannot be left under the control of large agribusiness companies or supermarket chains. Only by changing the export-led, free-trade based, industrial agriculture model of large farms can the downward spiral of poverty, low wages, rural-urban migration, hunger and environmental degradation be halted. Social rural movements embrace the concept of food sovereignty as an alternative to the neo-liberal approach that puts its faith in an inequitable international trade to solve the world’s food problem. Instead, it focuses on local autonomy, local markets, local production-consumption cycles, energy and technological sovereignty and farmer to farmer networks.

Being a global movement, the Via Campesina has recently brought their message to the North, partly to gain the support of foundations and consumers, as political pressure from a wealthier public which increasingly depends on unique food products from the South marketed via organic, fair trade, or slow food channels could marshal the sufficient political will to curve the expansion of biofuels, transgenic crops and agroexports and put an end to subsidies to industrial farming and dumping practices that hurt small farmers in the South. But can these arguments really captivate the attention and support of northern consumers and philanthropists? Or is there a need to come up with a different argument, one that emphasizes that the very quality of life and food security of the populations in the North depend not only on the food products but in the ecological services provided by small farms of the South. In fact it is herein argued that the functions performed by small farming systems still prevalent in Africa, Asia and Latin America, in the post peak oil era that humanity is entering, comprise an ecological asset for humankind and planetary survival. In fact, in an era of escalating fuel and food costs, climate change, environmental degradation, GMO pollution and corporate dominated food systems, small, biodiverse, agroecologically managed farms in the Global South are the only viable form of agriculture that will feed the world under the new ecological end economic scenario.

There are at last five reasons why Northern consumers should support the cause and struggle of small farmers in the South


The “Divide” in the Alternative Agriculture Movement: Fueling the Debate

Miguel A. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley
July 2008
There is no doubt that we need an alternative agricultural development paradigm, one that encourages more ecologically, biodiverse, sustainable and socially just forms of agriculture. Strategies are needed which lead to the revitalization of small and medium sized farms, and point the way towards the reshaping of the entire agricultural policy and food system in ways that are economically viable to farmers and consumers. Throughout the world there are hundreds of movements that are pursuing a change toward ecologically sensitive and socially just farming systems from a variety of perspectives. Some emphasize the production of food that is safe for the consumer, in a way that is environmentally friendly and prioritizes animal welfare and the conservation of wild biodiversity. Others promote alternative marketing strategies , while others land stewardship and still others the empowerment of peasant communities. Although one may argue that most of these groups advocating a shift towards sustainable agriculture share the same goals, there are huge and at times insurmountable differences not only in objectives but in ideological perceptions of the root causes of the unsustainability and inequities of the agrarian structure and more importantly on the strategies on how to change such structure.

Ecuador: The Popular Rebellion Against the “Partidocracia” and the Neo-Liberal State

A CENSA Strategic Study
By Roger Burbach

On January 15, 2007, Rafael Correa assumed the presidency of Ecuador after running against Alvaro Noboa, the richest man in Ecuador who’s company the Noboa Group is on the Fortune 500 list. Correa, who held no prior elective office, did not represent any political party. After his name on the ballot were the words “Alianza Pais” meaning Country Alliance, a name chosen when he announced his candidacy. Alianza Pais endorsed no candidates who ran for election in the country’s unicameral Congress.

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