Climate and agroecology policy

How policy can promote and protect sustainable agriculture

The POWER project has reinforced lots that we already knew, and taught us new things too. Climate change is transforming and threatening lives all over the world. Few people are as harshly affected as women smallholder farmers. Sustainable agriculture can help. But policy urgently needs to take their needs into account.

Learning aims

Completing this module will give you an understanding of:

  • Why sustainable agriculture is necessary
  • How sustainable agriculture techniques can help farmers adapt and survive in the face of climate change
  • How policy can promote and protect sustainable agriculture.
Dry, cracked earth

Climate change makes extreme weather events more likely, including drought. Photo: Markus Spiske

Definitions and misconceptions

Climate resilient sustainable agriculture, or sustainable agriculture, is the application of ecological processes to agricultural production systems. It may involve using practices that would not normally be considered in national agricultural development plans and is increasingly featuring in national and regional policy frameworks. It’s also sometimes referred to as agroecology.

Contrary to some misconceptions, promoting sustainable agriculture doesn’t mean opposing the use of modern technology. The emphasis is on how the ecological and technological can complement each other, on how technology can be used with natural, social and human resources to enhance agricultural productivity and preserve the environment.

It also prizes the indigenous knowledge and practices of ordinary farmers, mainly poorer women and men. The misconception that sustainable agriculture is anti-technology and the desire to achieve rapid growth in agricultural production have meant that sustainable agriculture is relegated to the background in many places.

Balancing food security and environmental sustainability

One major challenge of crop production in non-industrialised countries is balancing the need for higher yields and maintenance of ecological health over time. As concerns over environmental risks associated with modern farming practices heighten, ecosystem-based agricultural practices are a sustainable means of:

  • managing soil fertility
  • checking the prevalence of pests and diseases on agricultural land
  • enhancing sustainable water management, agro-biodiversity preservation and sustainable natural resources management.

The centrality of women’s knowledge and practices in this area is particularly critical.

Catering for growing populations

Growing populations place considerable stress on global food supply, requiring significant leaps in agricultural production to keep pace with soaring food demand. Even though the path to increasing agricultural food output remains contentious to a large degree, several developing countries appear to be steering their agricultural systems towards intensification and expansionist models, characterised by:

  • mono-cropping
  • use of transgenic crop
  • intensive irrigation
  • over reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The popularity of intensification models appears to be growing despite mounting evidence of the negative impact on ecosystems.

As well as leading to the loss of provisioning services such as fruits, fish, fibre, fuel, fresh water derived from ecosystems, the degrading of ecosystems affects supporting services (such as nutrients cycling, soil formation and primary production), cultural services (such as aesthetic and education) and regulatory services that maintain the ecological temperature and precipitation within the geographical space of the farm land.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for urgent action and policies for transformational change to end poverty and hunger, while ensuring inclusive growth and sustainability of natural resources.

Countries need to transition to sustainable food and agriculture systems that:

  • ensure food and nutrition security for all
  • allow for social and economic equity and
  • conserve biodiversity and the ecosystem services on which agriculture depends.

The popularity of intensification models appears to be growing despite mounting evidence of the negative impact on ecosystems.

Despite the acclaimed success in reducing hunger and food insecurity for many through the application of high-external input and resource-intensive agricultural systems, these solutions contribute to:

  • deforestation
  • water stress
  • loss of biodiversity
  • soil degradation and
  • high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

This increases health and nutrition related problems and inequality, and remains a source of concern for advocates for environmental and sustainability issues in food production.

Agroecology is seen by many as a viable option to improve rural livelihoods, promotion of regenerate ecologies and increase the resiliency of communities, while providing healthy and sustainable food.

However, policy support for agroecology in many countries including POWER focus countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Pakistan, remains a challenge.


Add your responses below and submit them to test your knowledge and understanding.

Climate and agroecology
What is agroecology? *
Which of these is an important feature of agroecology? *

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Tomatos ripen on a tomato plant

Climate resilient sustainable agriculture provides techniques that farmers can use to weather the challenges of climate change. Credit: Markus Spiske

Dig deeper

Our report on climate change and women’s empowerment in Ghana looks in depth at climate change and gender politics in the country and the connections between the two.

Related modules

Other modules in this theme.