Next Article in Journal
Bioherbicides in Organic Horticulture
Next Article in Special Issue
Effect of Organic Production Systems on Quality and Postharvest Performance of Horticultural Produce
Previous Article in Journal
The Effectiveness of Different Rootstocks for Improving Yield and Growth of Cucumber Cultivated Hydroponically in a Greenhouse
Font Type:
Arial Georgia Verdana
Font Size:
Aa Aa Aa
Line Spacing:
Column Width:

Agroecology: A Global Paradigm to Challenge Mainstream Industrial Agriculture

Hector Valenzuela
Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 3190 Maile Way No. 307, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
Horticulturae 2016, 2(1), 2;
Submission received: 2 December 2015 / Revised: 14 February 2016 / Accepted: 8 March 2016 / Published: 16 March 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Quality Management of Organic Horticultural Produce)


Considerable controversy continues to exist in scientific and policy circles about how to tackle issues of global hunger, malnutrition, and rural economic decline, as well as environmental issues, such as biodiversity loss and climate change adaptation. On the one hand, powerful vested interests, with close ties to government, media, and academic institutions, propose high-input technology-based solutions, speculative and neoliberal “market-based” solutions, and export-oriented agricultural models. On the other hand, an international scientific and grassroots Food Movement has emerged, calling for a redesign of the Global Food System in support of small-scale agroecological farming systems. A call to re-evaluate our current Food Systems was made in 2008 by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Here, using the IAASTD study as a backdrop, we review the recent literature to outline key contentious points in the controversy between the need for high-input and “techno-based” versus agroecological farming models. A critical assessment is made of proposed strategies to protect soil resources, improve nutrient and energy cycles, protect agrobiodiversity, and promote social well-being in rural communities. With an increase in the number of affluent consumers (i.e., the middle class) in the developing world, and with the continued problem of extreme and chronic poverty with other larger sectors of society, Organic Farming and Agroecology models are put forward as a sound social, scientific, and rural development strategy.

1. Introduction

Considerable controversy continues to exist about how to tackle issues of global hunger, malnutrition, and rural economic decline, as well as on strategies to address environmental decline and climate change adaptation. Because global agricultural activities are strong determinants of human well-being and environmental quality, the judicious design and management of agricultural systems are central to discussions about food security and climate change, and about the conservation of natural resources such as land, water, energy, and biodiversity. A call for a re-evaluation of our current Food Systems was made in 2008 by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) [1]. Here, we review the recent literature to outline key contentious points in the controversy between the merits of “techno-based” industrial methods of farming versus alternative agroecological farming models.

2. Reviews about the Future of Agriculture

A review of agricultural systems in the early 1990s queried “Is the environmental price of America’s unprecedented agricultural productivity too high?” and warned that “farms have become more specialized and more dependent on off-farm inputs” [2]. National scientific panel reports from the 1980s determined that in the USA alternative farming practices were practical, as productive, often more profitable, and that their adoption “would result in even greater benefits to farmers and environmental gains for the nation” [2]. Today, international agricultural development experts agree that current agricultural systems “must be transformed” [3,4]. An agricultural transformation is required for health and environmental reasons because “today’s farming systems undermine the well-being of communities in many ways”, including the destruction of “huge regions of natural habitat” and “an untold loss of ecosystem services” [3]. Similarly, it is recognized that agricultural systems need to shift towards alternative methods of farming that move away from “today’s brand of resource-intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture” and that conventional methods of farming represent “a poor option” [5]. Along the same lines, a recent international panel report called for “the fundamental transformation of agriculture” following a dual approach that “drastically reduces the environmental impact of conventional agriculture” and that opens the door for “agro-ecological production methods” [6].
Despite the call for alternative methods of production over the years, the paradigm of industrial or conventional agriculture still dominates and permeates most mainstream academic and policy discussions about the future of agriculture [4]. An evaluation of agricultural systems from 1991 to 2003 determined that the conventional systems of industrial agriculture continued to predominate [7]. According to the authors, “the paradigm of industrial agriculture (High External Input Agriculture) has been simply amplified, by doing more of the same, with only minor adjustments in special countries. For those looking for a major transition toward a different pattern of production more focused on rural development, ecological compatibility and quality food, this is a reason for concern” [7]. Furthermore government policy and subsidies [2,8] and even the University Research and Extension system have helped to validate, strengthen and to perpetuate the expansion of current models of industrial agriculture [2,9].
Nevertheless, considerable field research has demonstrated the potential benefit to rural communities and to the agricultural sector of adopting alternative production systems [2,10]. For instance, a recent global analysis determined that organic systems are more profitable than conventional systems, even when external costs of production are not counted. While organic systems had an overall 10%–15% greater labor demand, this was considered to be less of a constraint in regions where labor is cheaper or where there is a surplus of labor [11]. As about 80% of global food demands are met by small-scale farms, agricultural development programs need to re-focus their programmatic activities to improve the productivity of small farms in the tropics [12,13]. However, for development and research programs to be meaningful, it is critical that socioeconomic conditions be considered by following participatory approaches [14]. Specific guidelines and steps required to “democratize” and establish participatory research and to promote food sovereignty for small farms in West Africa were outlined by Pimbert et al. [14].

3. Challenges for the Future of Agriculture

The paradigm and future prospect of modern industrialized agricultural systems is being challenged on several fronts because of its dependence on capital, external energy and agrochemical inputs, and for its adverse impact on biodiversity and on human health [2,15,16,17,18,19,20]. According to the American Medical Association, in reference to industrial agriculture, “these methods have contributed to the development of antibiotic resistance; air and water pollution; contamination of food and water with animal waste, pesticides, hormones, and other toxins; increased dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels (including fertilizers); and a food system that is increasingly vulnerable to accidental or intentional contamination” [4,21]. Warnings have thus been raised and documented about the adverse health and environmental impacts from the intensification of both crop and livestock production systems [4,22,23,24,25,26,27,28].
Concerns have also been raised about the increased homogeneity of the food supply at a regional and global scale, resulting in a general decline in global food security with 85% of countries showing marginal or low food self-sufficiency indices [29,30,31]. Calls have also been made to revisit issues of agricultural sustainability concerning the impending environmental impacts of climate change and its effect on agriculture [3,32,33,34]. With potential global crop yield losses of over 50%, calls have thus been made to develop more “resilient” production systems to better withstand the impending impacts of climate change [16,35,36,37,38,39].
Concerns have also been raised that industrial agricultural practices are exacerbating the anthropogenic causes of climate change by contributing about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, about 60% of nitrous oxide emissions from the use of synthetic chemical nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, and from its adverse impact on biodiversity [4]. Furthermore, new data indicate that previous estimates of nitrous oxide emissions from industrial agricultural systems may have been grossly underestimated, and that when “riverine” watershed emissions are considered, the levels of nitrous oxide emissions from areas such as the MidWestern USA may be up to 40% greater than earlier estimated [40]. The overall global environmental impact of these increased emissions on climate change could be significant as other similar regions of the world where intensive industrial farming practices are followed represent, globally, an area of over 230 million ha.

4. Industry and Industry-Funded Academics Support Techno-Based Solutions

Despite the many calls for a transformation of the food and conventional agricultural system, both the agrochemical industry and industry-funded scientists continue to espouse the value of industrial and “techno-based” solutions [5,33,41]. A paper authored 25 years ago by scientists from the agrochemical industry made a call for “patriotic” Sustainable Agriculture through a reliance on agrochemicals and on genetically modified organisms, emphasizing that “Sustainable agriculture is possible only with biotechnology and imaginative chemistry” [42]. A more recent article on Nature Magazine reiterated this earlier line of thought, indicating that “Feeding the world is going to require the scientific and financial muscle of agricultural biotechnology companies” [5,43]. Thus, according to this report, the world is placing its hopes about meeting future food global demands on the agrochemical industry, despite the fact that “the majority of companies’ R&D spending and effort still goes towards blockbuster crops with traits, such as pest control, that benefit agribusiness, leaving neglected many crops that are important in the developing world” and despite the fact that the lack of progress to achieve these goals to date “is in large part a consequence of the hold that the private sector has on intellectual property rights to crucial technology, such as genetic markers, and the sequences of key genes and ‘promoters’ that drive gene expression” [43].
Thus, the mainstream thought in high level industry, media, the academic community, and many policy circles continues to espouse the idea that high capital and high-input dependent agricultural systems are the key to feed the world [4,33,36,41]. A recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) panel report confirms that globally today the “priority remains heavily focused on increasing industrial agricultural production” [6]. For instance, according to a prime minister from Uganda attending a Global Food Summit “modern agriculture requires capital and technology”, and as such the need for “both local and foreign investors” [44]. It is well-recognized that the agrochemical industry in general promotes “the benefits of chemical crop protection and biotechnology products, their importance to sustainable agriculture and food production” [16,33,41]. Thus, a central feature of agricultural assistance programs in Africa organized by the World Food Program, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was to provide financial assistance to small farmers through the introduction of a regional speculative market for grains, to allow them to “acquire better seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides, more advanced irrigation systems”. The access to cash, as explained by Bill Gates, would thus “impel small farmers to purchase more loans, more pesticides, more seeds” [44]. However, when implemented, the strategy to assist small farmers went belly-up, as the speculative markets led to a 13% increase in the price of millet in local markets and to a 7% price increase at a national level, a program which “would eventually send more people into poverty and starvation. The monetary gift triggered all manner of unforeseen consequences” [44].
Models of agricultural “intensification” based on a continued reliance on external inputs, chemicals and proprietary seed have been espoused for Africa by several academic and policy groups such as the Montpellier Panel [38] and by the Africa Progress Panel [45]. Similar calls for agricultural “intensification” have been made for Asia and other regions by leading academics, based on the use of “genetically modified organisms and transgenic animals” and on “high-yield plant varieties, irrigation, adding fertilizer and pest control measures” [46,47]. In echoes of the Green Revolution of the 1970s, many of these industrial agriculture models have been sponsored and implemented through subsidized agricultural programs and through neoliberal “public-private” partnerships [5,13].

5. Does Conventional Agriculture Meet Basic Sustainability Criteria?

Several studies have challenged the claims of sustainability made by proponents of modern industrial or conventional agriculture farming systems. A life-cycle analysis of conventional agriculture found that central features of the model failed to meet key sustainability criteria, including its dependency on high fossil-fuels inputs, a trend towards food industry consolidation, adverse human health impacts, a loss of agrobiodiversity, and soil degradation, among others [48]. The unsustainability of current conventional production practices was also outlined more recently by an international panel of 63 scientists [6] and as described from a pest management perspective by Ramon Seidler [49] a former Senior Scientist at the USA Environmental Protection Agency.
The overarching trend over the past twenty years for the “single tactic” pest management approach used on most of the major grain crops grown globally, and predominantly in the USA, was also deemed to be unsustainable by a team of weed scientists [4,50]. According to this review, the adoption of single-tactic approaches in conventional agriculture, such as herbicide resistant traits, has “potential negative consequences for environmental quality” plus “the short-term fix provided by the new traits will encourage continued neglect of public research and extension in integrated weed management [50]. Such a general structural decline over the past 15 years in the physical infrastructure and human capital required to establish and support Integrated Pest Management Programs has already been documented in expansive agricultural areas such as Texas [51]. An analytical comparison of mainstream agronomic systems in the USA that are based on the “single tactic” pest management approach, as compared to the more diversified systems in Europe, found a generally lower sustainability in the USA systems [39]. The lower sustainability of the USA vs. European cropping systems was observed in the form of relatively lower yields, increased pesticide use, increased consolidation of the supply industry, and a general narrowing of the germplasm diversity in the Midwestern USA, as compared to the European cropping systems [39].

6. Calls for an Agroecological Approach

Over 35 years ago, the International Commission on International Development, and later others, called for a shift towards alternative agroecological models of agriculture that were cognizant of local socioeconomic conditions and that protected ecological balance [16,52,53]. A similar call for the adoption of agroecology in Asia was made at a Conference organized by the Asian Productivity Organization [54]. Referring to some of the “green revolution” technologies that prompted the call for these alternative models of agriculture, such as the “ill-advised application of agricultural chemicals”, Ekstrom and Ekbom [16] indicated that these concerns 30 years later “are as much a reality today as then”.
More recent calls have been made towards a wider adoption of agroecology, as outlined in Table 1, given the many documented benefits such as improved resource utilization, reduced externality costs, and less adverse impacts on the environment or human health [1,4,6,17,37,62]. Among the benefits reported from the adoption of agroecological practices include increased profitability [11,75]; comparable yields and pest controls [76,77,78,79]; improved water use efficiency in horticultural crops [80], as well as crop performance during drought years [78]; improved soil quality and organic matter content [77,78]; improved and more uniform Nitrogen mineralization, increased organic matter content and soil microbial activity in rotations with tomato [81]; improved biodiversity, ecosystem services, and resilience at both the farm and landscape levels [20,36,75,82,83] and as observed in Kiwi fruit orchards [84]; an improved sustainability index as observed with cacao in Mexico [39,85]; improved nutritional profiles, as observed on long-term trials with tomato [75,86,87]; as well as a reduction of pesticide residues in the body [75,86,88,89], including in children [90]. In turn, the greater ecological balance obtained in agroecological systems through crop diversification and increased soil health often results in a greater activity of above- and below-ground beneficial organisms, resulting in enhanced internal biocontrol mechanisms on the farm [76,79]. Another concern of the industrial agriculture model is a narrowing of the germplasm base, and a decline in agrobiodiversity within the farm and at a national level, as observed in the USA over the past 35 years [39,91]. Crop diversification and a wide germplasm base are considered integral to establish and maintain sustainable and resilient agricultural systems, because “In a future of climate change, public breeding and in situ conservation are likely to be fundamental to the survival of billions of people” [29,35,39].
The most prominent recommendation in support of agroecology was made by the international IAASTD assessment, which consisted of a panel of over 400 scientists from over 60 countries, as part of a multi-year global-scale study sponsored by the United Nations and the World Bank [1,4,16,70]. It is recognized that alternative production systems are available to maintain productivity and protect valuable natural resources, but that for their wider implementation, “it might be required of our society that it changes some of its paradigms and ‘values’ in order to preserve our support system, the soil and its health, for the future generations” [36].
Thus “the conclusion that emerges is that a radical rethink is needed in the orientation of agriculture” and that “The solutions will not be narrow sectoral or technical innovations but nested sets of innovations at the scale of the plant, the agronomic system, the landscape, and the institutional environment” [72]. This paradigm shift, according to an international panel of scientists, would consist of a “significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external-input dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers”, as well as a “shift from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management” [6].

7. Conclusions

Because of increased global population pressures, of the impending impacts of climate change on food production, and of the increased trend toward the market price volatility of the major global staple crops, there have been increased calls for a transformation of modern agricultural systems. The debate and the narrative about the future of agriculture is permeated by the narrative of powerful vested interests with close ties to government and academic institutions that make a call for a continuation of capital and input-intensive technological based solutions for agriculture. However, scientific surveys and reviews have documented a range of human health and environmental externality costs from industrial or conventional production systems, and these surveys have questioned the sustainability of such systems because of their potential adverse impacts on the long-term quality of the soil, natural resources, and on future generations.
As a result of the concerns about the lack of sustainability and lack of resiliency observed in modern industrial agricultural production practices, calls have been made for a paradigm shift in the design of agricultural systems. Agroecological approaches have been put forward as viable solutions to increase agricultural productivity, to increase economic well-being as well as the social and gender equity in rural communities, and to increase agricultural productivity while minimizing reliance on external proprietary technology, capital and synthetic chemical inputs. Key features of an agroecological approach include the decentralization of the production and marketing process, the need to follow a holistic and integrated participatory approach, an emphasis on minimizing erosion and enhancing soil quality, the conservation of natural resources, the promotion of agrobiodiversity and of ecosystem services both at the farm and landscape or watershed level, and the need to fully integrate socioeconomic, social and gender equity considerations in all phases of the agricultural research, extension, and developmental process.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


  1. McIntyre, B.D.; Herren, H.R.; Wakhungu, J.; Watson, R.T. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD): Global Report; Island Press: Washington, DC, USA, 1978; p. 606. [Google Scholar]
  2. Carpenter, S.J. Farm chemicals, soil erosion, and sustainable agriculture. Stanf. Environ. Law J. 1994, 13, 190. [Google Scholar]
  3. Sachs, J.; Remans, R.; Smukler, S.; Winowiecki, L.; Andelman, S.J.; Cassman, K.G.; Sanchez, P.A. Monitoring the world’s agriculture. Nature 2010, 466, 558–560. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  4. Barker, D. Genetically Engineered (GE) crops: A misguided strategy for the twenty-first century? Development 2014, 57, 192–200. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  5. Anonymous. Editorial: How to feed a hungry world. Nature 2010, 466, 531–532. [Google Scholar]
  6. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Wake Up before It Is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security and Changing Climate; United Nations: Geneva, Switzerland, 2013; p. 341. [Google Scholar]
  7. Arizpe, N.A.; Giampietro, M.; Ramos-Martin, J. Food security and fossil energy dependence: An international comparison of the use of fossil energy in agriculture (1991–2003). Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 45–63. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  8. Fausti, S.W. The causes and unintended consequences of a paradigm shift in corn production practices. Environ. Sci. Policy 2015, 52, 41–50. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  9. National Research Council. Publicly Funded Agricultural Research and the Changing Structure of U.S. Agriculture; Committee to Review the Role of Publicly Funded Agricultural Research on the Structure of U.S. Agriculture, National Academy Press: Washington, DC, USA, 2001; p. 158. [Google Scholar]
  10. Pretty, J.N.; Noble, A.D.; Bossio, D.; Dixon, J.; Hine, R.E.; Penning de Vries, F.W.; Morison, J.I. Resource-conserving agriculture increases yields in developing countries. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2006, 40, 1114–1119. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  11. Crowder, D.W.; Reganold, J.P. Financial competitiveness of organic agriculture on a global scale. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2015, 112, 7611–7616. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  12. Fan, S.; Rosegrant, M. Investing in agriculture to overcome the world food crisis and reduce poverty and hunger. In IFPRI Policy Brief 3; International Food Policy Research Institute: Washington, DC, USA, 2008. [Google Scholar]
  13. Vargas-Lundius, R. Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the world, protecting the planet. In Proceedings of the Thirty-fifth Session of IFAD’s Governing Council, Rome, Italy, 22–23 February 2012.
  14. Pimbert, M.; Barry, B.; Berson, A.; Tran-Thanh, K. Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty in West Africa; IIED, CNOP, Centre Djoliba, IRPAD, Kene Conseils, URTEL: Bamako, Mali; London, UK, 2010; p. 70. [Google Scholar]
  15. Pimentel, D. Environmental and economic costs of the application of pesticides primarily in the United States. Environ. Dev. Sustain. 2005, 7, 229–252. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  16. Ekström, G.; Ekbom, B. Pest control in agro-ecosystems: An ecological approach. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 74–94. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  17. Gomiero, T.; Pimentel, D.; Paoletti, M.G. Environmental impact of different agricultural management practices: Conventional vs. organic agriculture. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 95–124. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  18. Beketov, M.A.; Kefford, B.J.; Schäfer, R.B.; Liess, M. Pesticides reduce regional biodiversity of stream invertebrates. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 11039–11043. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  19. Stehle, S.; Schulz, R. Agricultural insecticides threaten surface waters at the global scale. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2015, 112, 5750–5755. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  20. Tiemann, L.K.; Grandy, A.S.; Atkinson, E.E.; Marin-Spiotta, E.; McDaniel, M.D. Crop rotational diversity enhances belowground communities and functions in an agroecosystem. Ecol. Lett. 2015, 18, 761–771. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  21. Report 8 of The Council on Science and Public Health (A-09). Available online: (accessed on 28 March 2010).
  22. Pelletier, N.; Tyedmers, P. Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000–2050. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2010, 107, 18371–18374. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  23. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Policy statement: Pesticide exposure in children. Pediatrics 2012, 130, e1757–e1763. [Google Scholar]
  24. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exposure to toxic environmental agents. Committee Opinion No. 575. Obstet. Gynecol. 2013, 122, 931–935. [Google Scholar]
  25. Jones, B.A.; Grace, D.; Kock, R.; Alonso, S.; Rushton, J.; Said, M.Y.; McKeever, D.; Mutua, F.; Young, J.; McDermott, J.; et al. Zoonosis emergence linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 8399–8404. [Google Scholar] [PubMed]
  26. Lopez, S.L.; Aiassa, D.; Benıtez-Leite, S.; Lajmanovich, R.; Manas, F.; Poletta, G.; Sanchez, N.; Simoniello, M.F.; Carrasco, A.E. Pesticides used in south American GMO-based agriculture: A review of their effects on humans and animal models. Adv. Mol. Toxicol. 2012, 6, 41–75. [Google Scholar]
  27. Mesnage, R.; Defarge, N.; Spiroux de Vendômois, J.; Séralini, G.E. Potential toxic effects of glyphosate and its commercial formulations below regulatory limits. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2015, 84, 133–153. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  28. Guyton, K.Z.; Loomis, D.; Grosse, Y.; El Ghissassi, F.; Benbrahim-Tallaa, L.; Guha, N.; Scoccianti, C.; Mattock, H.; Straif, K. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncol. 2015, 5, 490–491. [Google Scholar]
  29. Khoury, C.K.; Bjorkman, A.D.; Dempewolf, H.; Ramirez-Villegas, J.; Guarino, L.; Jarvis, A.; Struik, P.C. Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2014, 111, 4001–4006. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  30. Khoury, C.K.; Jarvis, A. The Changing Composition of the Global Diet: Implications for CGIAR Research; CIAT Policy Brief No. 18.; Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical: Cali, Colombia, 2014; p. 6. [Google Scholar]
  31. Puma, M.J.; Bose, S.; Chon, S.Y.; Cook, B.I. Assessing the evolving fragility of the global food system. Environ. Res. Lett. 2015, 10, 024007. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  32. Minami, K. The global nitrogen/carbon cycles and agricultural practice for environmental sustainability. In Asian Productivity Organization (APO); Workshop on Environment-Friendly Agriculture: Tokyo, Japan, 2003; pp. 8–15. [Google Scholar]
  33. Fedoroff, N.V.; Battisti, D.S.; Beachy, R.N.; Cooper, P.J.M.; Fischhoff, D.A.; Hodges, C.N.; Zhu, J.K. Radically rethinking agriculture for the 21st century. Science 2010, 327, 833–834. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  34. Vermeulen, S.J.; Challinor, A.J.; Thornton, P.K.; Campbell, B.M.; Eriyagama, N.; Vervoort, J.M.; Smith, D.R. Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 8357–8362. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  35. Lin, B.B. Resilience in agriculture through crop diversification: Adaptive management for environmental change. BioScience 2011, 61, 183–193. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  36. Gomiero, T.; Pimentel, D.; Paoletti, M.G. Is there a need for a more sustainable agriculture? Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 6–23. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  37. Wijeratna, W. Fed Up, Now’s the Time to Invest in Agro-Ecology; Action Aid: Washington, DC, USA, 2012; p. 42. [Google Scholar]
  38. The Montpellier Panel. Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture; Agriculture for Impact; Imperial College: London, UK, 2013. [Google Scholar]
  39. Heinemann, J.A.; Massaro, M.; Coray, D.S.; Agapito-Tenfen, S.Z.; Wen, J.D. Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the U.S. midwest. Int. J. Agric. Sustain. 2014, 12, 71–88. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  40. Turner, P.A.; Griffis, T.J.; Lee, X.; Baker, J.M.; Venterea, R.T.; Wood, J.D. Indirect nitrous oxide emissions from streams within the U.S. Corn Belt scale with stream order. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2015, 112, 9839–9843. [Google Scholar]
  41. Soetan, K.O. The role of biotechnology towards attainment of a sustainable and safe global agriculture and environment–A review. Biotechnol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 2011, 6, 109–117. [Google Scholar]
  42. Schneiderman, H.A.; Carpenter, W.D. Planetary patriotism: Sustainable agriculture for the future. Environ. Sci. Technol. 1990, 24, 466–473. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  43. Gilbert, N. Food: Inside the hothouses of industry. Nature 2010, 466, 548–551. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  44. Kaufman, F. Let Them Eat Cash! Can Bill Gates Turn Hunger into Profit; Harper’s Magazine: New York, NY, USA, 2009; pp. 51–59. [Google Scholar]
  45. Watkins, K. Grain Fish. Money Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions; Africa Progress Report; Africa Progress Panel: Geneva, Switzerland, 2014; p. 180. [Google Scholar]
  46. Tso, T.C. Agriculture of the future. Commentary. Nature 2004, 428, 215–217. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  47. Tollefson, J. The global farm. Nature 2010, 466, 554–556. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  48. Heller, M.C.; Keoleian, G.A. Assessing the sustainability of the U.S. food system: A life cycle perspective. Agric. Syst. 2003, 76, 1007–1041. [Google Scholar]
  49. Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops. Available online: (accessed on 15 May 2015).
  50. Mortensen, D.A.; Egan, J.F.; Maxwell, B.D.; Ryan, M.R.; Smith, R.G. Navigating a critical juncture for sustainable weed management. BioScience 2012, 62, 75–84. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  51. Allen, C. History of pest management in Texas and the southern United States and how recent grower adoption of preventative pest management technologies have diminished the capability for IPM delivery. Outlooks Pest Manag. 2015, 26, 52–55. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  52. Altieri, M.A. Agroecology: A new research and development paradigm for world agriculture. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 1989, 27, 37–46. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  53. Edwards, C.A.; Grove, T.L.; Harwood, R.R.; Colfer, C.P. The role of agroecology and integrated farming systems in agricultural sustainability. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 1993, 46, 99–121. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  54. Palmer, J.J. Synthesis of experiences on better agricultural practices for environmental sustainability. In Workshop on Environment-Friendly Agriculture; Asian Productivity Organization (APO): Tokyo, Japan, 2003; pp. 1–8. [Google Scholar]
  55. Turner, N.J.; Jakub Łuczaj, L.; Migliorini, P.; Pieroni, A.; Dreon, A.L.; Sacchetti, L.E.; Paoletti, M.G. Edible and tended wild plants, traditional ecological knowledge and agroecology. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 198–225. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  56. Francis, C.A.; Jordan, N.; Porter, P.; Breland, T.A.; Lieblein, G.; Salomonsson, L.; Sriskandarajah, N.; Wiedenhoeft, M.; DeHaan, R.; Braden, I.; et al. Innovative education in agroecology: Experiential learning for a sustainable agriculture. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 226–237. [Google Scholar]
  57. Shaner, W.W.; Philipp, P.F.; Schmehl, W.R. Farming Systems Research and Development: Guidelines for Developing Countries; Westview Press: Boulder, CO, USA, 1982. [Google Scholar]
  58. Farming and Rural Systems Research: A Constellation of Systemic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. NSS Dialogues 2010. Available online: (accessed on 1 August 2014).
  59. Borenstein, S. Overlooked in the Global Food Crisis: A Problem with Dirt; Associated Press: Washington, DC, USA, 2008; Available online: (accessed on 13 March 2016).
  60. Pimentel, D. Food for thought: A review of the role of energy in current and evolving agriculture. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 1–44. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  61. Valenzuela, H. Pest and disease control strategies for sustainable pacific agroecosystem. In Agroforestry Landscapes for Pacific Islands: Creating Abundant and Resilient Food Systems; Elevitch, C.R., Ed.; Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR): Kona, Hawaii Island, 2015; p. 332. Available online: (accessed on 13 March 2016).
  62. Francis, C.A.; Porter, P. Ecology in sustainable agriculture practices and systems. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 64–73. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  63. Carberry, P.S.; Liang, W.L.; Twomlow, S.; Holzworth, D.P.; Dimes, J.P.; McClelland, T.; Keating, B.A. Scope for improved eco-efficiency varies among diverse cropping systems. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 8381–8386. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  64. Boreux, V.; Kushalappa, C.G.; Vaast, P.; Ghazoul, J. Interactive effects among ecosystem services and management practices on crop production: Pollination in coffee agroforestry systems. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 8387–8392. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  65. Jarvis, D.I.; Hodgkin, T.; Sthapit, B.R.; Fadda, C.; Lopez-Noriega, I. An heuristic framework for identifying multiple ways of supporting the conservation and use of traditional crop varieties within the agricultural production system. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 2011, 30, 125–176. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  66. Jarvis, D.I.; Brown, A.H.; Cuong, P.H.; Collado-Panduro, L.; Latournerie-Moreno, L.; Gyawali, S.; Hodgkin, T. A global perspective of the richness and evenness of traditional crop-variety diversity maintained by farming communities. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2008, 105, 5326–5331. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  67. Howe, L.; Redfeather, N.; Valenzuela, H. The Hawaii Public Seed Initiative; Hanai’ Ai/The Food Provider: Honolulu, HI, USA, 2012; p. 6. Available online: (accessed on 13 March 2016).
  68. Sayer, J.; Cassman, K.G. Agricultural innovation to protect the environment. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 8345–8348. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  69. Hall, S.J.; Hilborn, R.; Andrew, N.L.; Allison, E.H. Innovations in capture fisheries are an imperative for nutrition security in the developing world. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 8393–8398. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  70. Rivera-Ferre, M.G. The future of agriculture. EMBO Rep. 2008, 9, 1061–1066. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  71. Wakhungu, J.W. Gender Dimensions of Science and Technology: African Women in Agriculture; African Centre for Technology Studies: Nairobi, Kenya, 2010; p. 8. [Google Scholar]
  72. Sayer, J.; Sunderland, T.; Ghazoul, J.; Pfund, J.L.; Sheil, D.; Meijaard, E.; Buck, L.E. Ten principles for a landscape approach to reconciling agriculture, conservation, and other competing land uses. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 8349–8356. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  73. Paoletti, M.G. Invertebrate Biodiversity as Bioindicators of Sustainable Landscapes. Practical Use of Invertebrates to Assess Sustainable Land Use; Elsevier: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2012; p. 446. [Google Scholar]
  74. Paoletti, M.G. Ecological Implications of Minilivestock. Insects, Rodents, Frogs and Snails; Science Publishers Inc.: Enfield, NH, USA, 2005; p. 648. [Google Scholar]
  75. Reganold, J.P.; Wachter, J.M. Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century. Nat. Plants 2016. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  76. Crowder, D.W.; Northfield, T.D.; Strand, M.R.; Snyder, W.E. Organic agriculture promotes evenness and natural pest control. Nature 2010, 466, 109–112. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  77. Delate, K.; Cambardella, C.; Chase, C.; Johanns, A.; Turnbull, R. The long-term agroecological research (LTAR) experiment supports organic yields, soil quality, and economic performance in Iowa. Crop Manag. 2013, 12. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  78. Pimentel, D.; Hepperly, P.; Hanson, J.; Douds, D.; Seidel, R. Environmental, energetic, and economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. BioScience 2005, 55, 573–582. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  79. Zehnder, G.; Gurr, G.M.; Kühne, S.; Wade, M.R.; Wratten, S.D.; Wyss, E. Arthropod pest management in organic crops. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 2007, 52, 57–80. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  80. Wheeler, S.A.; Zuo, A.; Loch, A. Watering the farm: Comparing organic and conventional irrigation water use in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. Ecol. Econ. 2015, 112, 78–85. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  81. Marinari, S.; Lagomarsino, A.; Moscatelli, M.C.; Di Tizio, A.; Campiglia, E. Soil carbon and nitrogen mineralization kinetics in organic and conventional three-year cropping systems. Soil Tillage Res. 2010, 109, 161–168. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  82. Petit, S.; Munier-Jolain, N.; Bretagnolle, V.; Bockstaller, C.; Gaba, S.; Cordeau, S.; Lechenet, M.; Mézière, D.; Colbach, N. Ecological intensification through pesticide reduction: Weed control, weed biodiversity and sustainability in arable farming. Environ. Manag. 2015, 56, 1078–1090. [Google Scholar]
  83. Tuck, S.L.; Winqvist, C.; Mota, F.; Ahnström, J.; Turnbull, L.A.; Bengtsson, J. Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: A hierarchical meta-analysis. J. Appl. Ecol. 2014, 51, 746–755. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  84. Todd, J.H.; Malone, L.A.; McArdle, B.H.; Benge, J.; Poulton, J.; Thorpe, S.; Beggs, J.R. Invertebrate community richness in New Zealand kiwifruit orchards under organic or integrated pest management. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 2011, 141, 32–38. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  85. Priego-Castillo, G.A.; Galmiche-Tejeda, A.; Castelán-Estrada, M.; Ruiz-Rosado, O.; Ortiz-Ceballos, A. Evaluación de la sustentabilidad de dos sistemas de producción de cacao: Estudios de caso de unidades de producción rural en Comalcalco, Tabasco. Univ. Cienc. 2009, 25, 39–57. (In Spanish) [Google Scholar]
  86. Barański, M.; Średnicka-Tober, D.; Volakakis, N.; Seal, C.; Sanderson, R.; Stewart, G.B.; Benbrook, C.; Biavati, B.; Markellou, E.; Giotis, C.; et al. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: A systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br. J. Nutr. 2014, 112, 794–811. [Google Scholar] [PubMed]
  87. Mitchell, A.E.; Hong, Y.J.; Koh, E.; Barrett, D.M.; Bryant, D.E.; Denison, R.F.; Kaffka, S. Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2007, 55, 6154–6159. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  88. Benbrook, C.M.; Baker, B.P. Perspective on dietary risk assessment of pesticide residues in organic food. Sustainability 2014, 6, 3552–3570. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  89. Magnér, J.; Wallberg, P.; Sandberg, J.; Cousins, A.P. Human Exposure to Pesticides from Food; Report No. U 5080; Swedish Environmental Research Institute: Stockholm, Sweden, 2015. [Google Scholar]
  90. Bradman, A.; Quirós-Alcalá, L.; Castorina, R.; Schall, R.A.; Camacho, J.; Holland, N.T.; Barr, D.B.; Eskenazi, B. Effect of organic diet intervention on pesticide exposures in young children living in low-income urban and agricultural communities. Environ. Health Perspect. 2015, 123, 1086–1093. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  91. Aguilar, J.; Gramig, G.G.; Hendrickson, J.R.; Archer, D.W.; Forcella, F.; Liebig, M.A. Crop species diversity changes in the United States: 1978–2012. PLoS ONE 2015, 10, e0136580. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Table 1. Some strategies for the establishment and implementation of agroecological farming systems.
Table 1. Some strategies for the establishment and implementation of agroecological farming systems.
Follow a Participatory Approach, Based on Indigenous or Local Knowledge
●  Reliance on Indigenous knowledge to maintain agrobiodiversity such as for the preservation and use of herbs and medicinal plants [55].
●  Use of experiential knowledge in the preparation of research and outreach programs [56].
●  Bottom-up approaches for the design of research and outreach programs [13,54].
●  Follow a Farming Systems Research/Extension and Development approach [57,58].
Regeneration and Maintenance of Soil Quality
●  A healthy soil is needed to strengthen system resiliency [59].
●  The value of cover crops and organic matter to soil quality [60].
●  The value of soil quality to manage pests on the farm [61].
Resource Conservation and Establishment of Eco-Efficient and Integrated Systems
●  Conservation of basic farm natural resources [60].
●  Improved nutrient use efficiency and integration of farm activities [62,63].
●  Integrated crop-livestock systems [17,62].
●  Improved nutrient cycles [31,63].
●  Improved ecosystem services [64].
●  Management of physical and biological resources to manage pests on the farm [61].
●  Germplasm conservation by local communities [65].
●  Value of organic farms to support biodiversity [17].
●  Promoting vegetational diversity to improve below-ground biodiversity [20].
●  The importance of small farms to maintain biodiversity [66].
●  The importance of public seed sources to maintain agrobiodiversity [39,67].
●  The importance of biodiversity and habitat management for pest control [61].
Landscape-Wide Management Programs
●  Value of landscape approach to maintain biodiversity [17].
●  Landscape approach to maintain environmental “stability” [68].
●  Landscape approach to facilitate community management of natural resources [13].
Socio-Economics or Social Considerations
●  Need to consider socio-economical conditions [34,69].
●  Value of promoting multifunctional agriculture [1,70].
●  Need to include ethical considerations [69].
●  Need to promote and maintain socially equitable systems [62].
●  Need to incorporate gender considerations [13,71].
Research Considerations
●  Need to create new research protocols, to study agroecosystems from a holistic and landscape perspective [72].
●  Bioindicators need to be implemented for assessment of soil and environmental quality [73].
●  Need to elucidate the ecosystem services provided by soil biota to restore ecological balance on the farm [74].

Share and Cite

MDPI and ACS Style

Valenzuela, H. Agroecology: A Global Paradigm to Challenge Mainstream Industrial Agriculture. Horticulturae 2016, 2, 2.

AMA Style

Valenzuela H. Agroecology: A Global Paradigm to Challenge Mainstream Industrial Agriculture. Horticulturae. 2016; 2(1):2.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Valenzuela, Hector. 2016. "Agroecology: A Global Paradigm to Challenge Mainstream Industrial Agriculture" Horticulturae 2, no. 1: 2.

Note that from the first issue of 2016, this journal uses article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Article Metrics

Back to TopTop