Leveraging agroecology for solutions in food, energy, and water

Marcia DeLonge, Andrea Basche

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Global agriculture is facing growing challenges at the nexus of interconnected food, energy and water systems, including but not limited to persistent food insecurity and diet-related diseases; growing demands for energy and consequences for climate change; and declining water resources, water pollution, floods and droughts. Further, soil degradation and biodiversity loss are both triggers for and consequences of these problems. In this commentary, we argue that expanding agroecological principles, tools, and technologies and enhancing biological diversity can address these challenges and achieve better socioeconomic outcomes. Agroecology is often described as multi- or transdiscplinary, and applies ecological principles to the design and management of agricultural systems through scientific research, practice and collective action. While agroecology has roots in the study of food systems, agricultural land use has many direct and indirect linkages to water and energy systems that could benefit from agroecological insights, including use of water resources and the development of bio-based energy products. Although opportunities from the science and the practice of agroecology transcend national boundaries, obstacles to widespread adoption vary. In this article, we therefore focus on the United States, where key barriers include a shortage of research funds, limited supporting infrastructure, and cultural obstacles. Nevertheless, simply scaling up current models of agricultural production and land use practices will not solve many of the issues specific to food related challenges nor would such an approach address related energy and water concerns. We conclude that a first critical step to discovering solutions at the food, energy, water nexus will be to move past yield as a sole measure of success in agricultural systems, and call for more holistic considerations of the co-benefits and tradeoffs of different agricultural management options, particularly as they relate to environmental and equity outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalElementa
Volume5
DOIs
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Biological diversity
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Systems science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Ecology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Geology
  • Atmospheric Science

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