Food security is under increasing pressure. We need to produce enough food and distribute it more equitably, while maintaining healthy ecosystems and minimizing negative environmental impacts and preserving non-renewable resources. And all that needs to be achieved against a backdrop of a growing human population and climate change. Many researchers, policymakers and civil society organizations are promoting agroecology as a way to meet these needs through alternatives to current industrialized agriculture. Making this leap will require us to re-think our food system. Tailoring education to this mode of food production will play a key role in this transformation.
This brief is based on experience gained from the Master’s Programme in Agroecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in particular, and on contributions from our partner programmes at Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and Martyrs University in Uganda (UMU). The brief provides an overview of agroecology, describes how we educate agroecologists, and explains why it is vital to cultivate system thinking for developing sustainable food systems.
Key Messages and recommendations
- MSc agroecology programmes in Sweden, Ethiopia and Uganda have developed new collaborations among students, academic departments and faculties, farmers and other stakeholders, both at national and international levels. The three programmes have stimulated transdisciplinary and action-orient-ed research and learning processes, which have catalyzed new research methods and led to a deeper understanding of what is needed to develop sustainable food systems.
- To prepare students to tackle major challenges in food systems and take responsible action, it is essential to foster skills that promote lifelong learning. These include the understanding of specific facts and farm design principles, as well as observation, reflection, participation, dialogue, and visioning.
- Decision-makers at universities need to support agroecological educational programmes that integrate holistic, interdisciplinary, stakeholder-engaging and action-oriented approaches. Funding for education needs to be tailored to interdisciplinary collaboration.
- The quality and success of agroecological education de-pend on recruitment from multiple disciplines, as well as training for teachers and researchers in alternative learning methods. New educational programmes in agroecology should include such teacher training, focusing on a co-learning environment that stimulates the exchange of experience, information and knowledge.
- Agroecology needs further mainstreaming at all levels, not only in high-level organizations such as FAO, IPCC and IPES, but also in local governments and universities. Farmer field schools and enhanced farmer-research-er-student collaborations have had successes in main-streaming agroecological principles into local food production systems, promoting resource-efficient practices and the use of locally available renewable resources.