Agroecology: A Systems Approach To Farming

This is how sustainability scientists want to feed the future

Louisa Chalmer
7 min readMar 29, 2019


Photo by thomas scott on Unsplash.

Do you care about gender equality? Human rights? Food security? Closing the pay gap? Nutrition? Climate change? The global economy? Biodiversity? Cultural heritage? Water availability? Ending world hunger?

Whether or not you answered yes to any of the above, this article is for you.

Agroecology is a little-known field of science that is trying very hard to solve these problems (and more) through farming. Before we get into how it’s doing that, let me first give you a little bit of background information.

“Agro” is derived from latin, and means soil or land. “Ecology”, of course, is the scientific discipline that deals with organisms’ relationships with one another and their physical surroundings. So it involves agriculture, but rather than the emphasis on human systems — “culture” — it emphasises all living organisms that interact with the land, including but not limited to, humans.

Agroecology is deeply rooted in systems theory, the idea that many constituent parts make up a greater whole. If one piece is damaged or broken, then the whole system suffers. If a piece is manipulated or moved, then it will affect other parts in the system. Thus, while it is important to form an understanding of each of the parts, a more holistic understanding is required for true mastery of the system.

Systems can work on multiple scales. When we talk about agroecological systems, we might be referring to something on a micro-scale, such as a plant — it’s microclimate, growth cycle, interaction with soil and soil microorganisms, readiness for harvest etc — or something on a meso-scale, such as the global economy. Each smaller system feeds into the larger systems that it inhabits and vice versa.

Every action, at every scale, has an impact on the systems that it interacts with, both large and small, via feedback loops.

Systems are also in a constant state of flux — they may reach steady states where they appear to be in equilibrium but sooner or later, their state will change, producing new outcomes as they evolve.