Agroecology — A Science, Practice, and Movement

Agroecology is at the center of our work. We bring together scientists, practitioners, farmers, and consumers to produce knowledge and develop best practices for a more sustainable food system. At CAN, agroecology is not only a science and a practice, but a movement for social change. We live in a world where small farmers, who produce 70% of the world’s food supply, suffer hunger, malnutrition, loss of access to productive resources, and the impacts of climate change. Agroecology offers a multi-faceted solution. While ecologically-sound production practices are at the core of agroecology, these are not viable without vibrant local food economies, fair market channels, farmer control of seeds and land, and broad participation across gender, generations, ethnicity, and social class. Our goal is to transform the food system from farm to table, so that small farmers have enough to eat, control the means of production, and are politically empowered to have a role in decisions about what they eat, how it is produced, and how it is traded.

Building the Science — Participatory Action Research (PAR) Partnerships for Agroecology-Based Solutions

At the heart of CAN’s participatory approach to research lies a simple commitment: to combine agroecology-based research and action for social change. Community-based organizations and researchers collaborate to identify problems and action agendas through a reflection process that leads to the development of community-based strategies to achieve food security and sovereignty. In all of CAN’s agroecology-based food security projects, we apply the lessons learned from each PAR experience to subsequent experiences in other CAN partner communities. The result is a continuously developing methodology on how to study — and address — the interrelated problems of food insecurity, rural outmigration, agricultural sustainability, and the challenges for youth in rural communities. Our relationship with each community-based organization is different and distinct, and the problems identified are localized and content specific — and so must be the solutions! Through cycles of research, reflection, and action, CAN and its partners have made substantial changes in the transformation of food systems towards agroecological models. Our research demonstrates that production diversification, income generation, relocalization of availability of basic foods, increased access to the means of production, nutrition education, and dietary diversification have decreased hunger among farm families, and strengthened their resiliency in the face of social and environmental shocks.

Deepening the Practice: Education, Empowerment, and Just Food Economies

CAN’s Agroecology Shortcourse is a two-week intensive learning and living experience from breakfast through dinner, geared towards introducing students and professionals to agroecology and fostering knowledge exchange and networking among individuals working toward food systems change. Meanwhile, CAN’s International Youth Network for Food Security and Sovereignty focuses on rural and Indigenous youth, empowering them to lead the agroecological transformation of their communities’ food systems and livelihoods. Through the Youth Network, we facilitate ongoing opportunities for youth connected to our
agroecology-based food security projects to engage in capacity-building and sharing best practices focused on traditional food cultures, agroecological innovation, local food economies, and community organizing. Our goal is to strengthen youth leaders’ capacity to lead “from within” in their communities sharing agroecological tools for food sovereignty, as well as to lead “globally” as skilled advocates for Indigenous foodways and agroecological practices.

CAN’s focus on women’s economic empowerment has led to the creation of local rural enterprises, such as a women-operated café, participation in regional farmers’ markets, and the sale of value-added products. Our strategy has been to team up rural youth, trained in rural enterprise and social innovation, with women of farm families in their communities. Together, they are rebuilding local food economies that lead to fairer market channels, diversified income sources, and economic opportunities to keep the next generation of farmers at home. Beyond rebuilding local food economies, CAN has developed an alternative trade model — AgroEco® — operating under principles of participation and transparency. CAN, U.S. roasters, the importer, producer organizations, and farmers sit at the negotiating table together to bring coffee from Mexico and Nicaragua to the United States. We have guaranteed a higher price than Fair Trade, and the purchase of each pound contributes to a Sustainable Agriculture Fund and a Women’s Unpaid Labor Fund whose investment proceeds are managed collectively by farmers.

Supporting the Movement: Agroecology as a Tool for Transformation

We engage in long-term relationships with our local partners and share a deep commitment to creating healthy and just food systems. The struggle for food sovereignty requires these connections. Our network builds bridges and serves as a resource to all its members. Together, we have linked the science and practice of agroecology to empower farmers, women, and youth to be agents of food systems change in their own communities.