Louise Luttikholt

Louise Luttikholt is the Executive Director of IFOAM – Organics International. Raised on a small family farm in the Netherlands, Louise has extensive experience in organic agriculture, fair trade, and development cooperation at a strategic, management, and regulatory level. ​

What do you understand by agroecology and what is the difference to organic farming for you?

I would say that agroecology is another terminology for what we understand by organic farming. Over time organic farming has become standardised. Agroecology refers to a large proportion of non-certified and sustainably managed farms, which definitely should get recognized. An entire industry has developed around organic certification, which is viewed critically in some countries. There are fears that in the future organic farming will be reduced to fulfilling legal requirements and that holistic, sustainability aspects of the principles possibly might get left out.

In both agroecology and organic agriculture, food needs to be produced in an environmentally sustainable way © Natalie Walters

What role does agroecology play in the transformation of agriculture towards more ecological economic models in the global context?

With agroecology, we have found a common communication level for our organisation, with which we can also invite others to join our movement. If this enables us to exchange ideas that is a very important aspect. The fact that the FAO has developed the principles of agroecology is a big step forward in the development of agricultural discourse. Agroecology as an inclusive and open system creates a common level.

And how do you assess the importance of agro-ecological concepts for countries with an organic regulation?

Agroecology is not yet defined in detail as a system and there are no formal standards. This is an advantage and at the same time a potential concern: The notion of agroecology may get abused to water down the concept of sustainable agriculture. IFOAM Organics Europe in their position paper is sensitive to this issue.  We want to avoid mistrust between representatives of agroecology and organic farming so that the ecological movement is not split. On the contrary: we do stress the importance of the synergies between agroecological and organic practices, and that these practices have the potential to truly and fundamentally transform the current food system, together.

Much as agroecology has no formal standards, the principles followed are those of organic agriculture © Fin Rahtola

Organic farming has established itself in the industrialised countries as a model for sustainable agriculture. Is there a need for another sustainable economic form such as agroecology?

The legally regulated organic farming is a compromise and has proven itself. However, this does not mean that the approach cannot be extended and improved. There are numerous practices that were not taken into account in the legislation. And this is where agroecology comes in and provides good food for thought. I could imagine that new ideas will emerge from the agroecology movement and that we can also learn from each other, globally. From a marketing point of view, however, I see some challenges for agroecological products, as consumers already have a well-known quality criterion with the organic labels.

Nonetheless, at the same time, many organic farmers, for instance in a Community Supported Agriculture System, do consider themselves as part of agroecology. Also, if conventional farmers have reservations about organic, but consider some agroecological approaches as a way to a more sustainable way of farming, this will benefit our movement. And if they adopt some of these practices, it will be a first step towards restructuring our entire agricultural system.

Organic farmers are at the forefront of the organic movement and the reason why organic farming is a model for sustainable farming

How does IFOAM- Organics International position itself? Will agroecology or organic farming as a future-oriented system of sustainable agriculture be promoted by your organisation in the future?

In our international work we communicate both approaches together, for us both are part of a bigger whole and future direction. We also make it dependent on which target group our measures are aimed at and which approach is better suited to reach them. At the same time, we are aware that there are legal regulations for organic farming that need to be maintained and improved. We do make sure that the notion of agroecology is not misused as a term for practices that do not fit the principles of organic agriculture.

Are agroecological concepts broader and more open, so that they gain more interest than the concepts of organic farming?

Organic farming as we now know it from the regulation is a concept mainly from the industrialised countries and anyone wishing to sell their products on this market must meet the criteria from these markets. This can be a hurdle for many farmers in the global South, as third-party certification might not always be appropriate; also, it involves a certain amount of investment.

Organic food not only connects farmers to nature, but also to the consumers which allows for dialogue

I often hear that organic farming is commercially oriented and that agroecology, in contrast, puts non-commercial aspects in the foreground. But how can a farm be non-commercially oriented? After all, we all wish the farmers to earn a decent living. This artificial contrast is a misunderstanding, but perhaps also a reaction to the fact that some organic farms in countries where there is food insecurity and malnutrition are to some extend oriented towards export. However, if we look at the principles of agroecology and those of organic farming, the overlap is very obvious.

What concrete measures has IFOAM initiated to strengthen and further develop agroecology?

We have supported FAO in bringing the principles of agroecology through the appropriate decision-making bodies. We are currently working with FAO and other partners to advise governments on how to make their national agricultural systems more sustainable. And whether the focus is on organic farming approaches or agroecological concepts is less relevant to us. If we can propose measures and thus contribute to more sustainable agriculture, we will be able to meet our organisational goals for true sustainability in agriculture, value chains and consumption.

This article was originally published in the Ecology & Agriculture issue: “Agroecology”.

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