Author: Ana Prada.
As part of my master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, as a Rotary Peace Fellow, I am pleased to do an internship on a topic of interest to me. After a long search for a place that allows me to feed my curiosity to investigate an agroecological farm and the transformation of socio-environmental conflicts, I arrived in Cooktown, Australia. To do a research residence very close to the coral reef in Learning from Nature, a research and production center founded by Wendy Seabrook.
On this occasion, I share my first reflections after spending a morning walking around the 10-hectare farm and harvesting soursop, white sapote, and breadfruit.
Instead of Picachu I choose you! Agroecology I choose you!
There are infinite ways to design and create a production system under sustainable practices. While there are a lot of ways to call these agricultural practices, such as Biodynamic agriculture, bio-intensive agriculture, permaculture, organic agriculture, agriculture farming, organic farming, agroecology, etc. In my opinion, they are quite similar to sociology, there is the sociology of emergencies, phenomenological sociology, historical sociology, etc. none is better than another, they are simply different lenses to address a social reality, they are lenses that can be complemented.
However, for this first post about my research residence at Learning from Nature, after a couple of nutritious conversations with Wendy, we have decided to connect agroecology with the transformation of socio-environmental conflicts. I´m sharing on this occasion a very preliminary reflection.
I choose agroecology as a gateway to connect with agroecological systems because without being an expert in agroecological praxis, it seems to me that its principles can be adapted to various ecosystems while having a political sense that connects social and ecological systems. Including as well the perspective of the social movements, with a bottom-up approach, in a quite resilient way against modern-colonial-capitalist economic and political systems.
Biodiversity as an strategy to consolidate resilient agroecological systems
The principles of agroecology, taken from the paper «Agroecology: principles and strategies to design sustainable agricultural systems» prepared by Miguel Altieri, and with the risk of falling into reductionism, I’m sorry if that’s the case, seek to feed the world in a sustainable way, healthy and sustained over time.
Agroecology is based on the diversity of soils, the nutrients that feed us are the same as those that come from soils so that healthy diet for soils (free of agrochemicals and pesticides) is equivalent to a healthy diet for all forms of life that exist in an ecosystem and that feed on the harvest of those soils, again. I am simplifying the matter a bit because there are millions of organisms and microorganisms that make these agroecological processes possible, in which the human being is not the center, is just one between tons of more species, that are part of an agroecological interaction.
Agroecology as a practice relied on agrobiodiversity through strategies that promote complementarities and synergisms and make ecological systems more resilient. (Probably in a future entry I will delve into the principles of agroecology and the way it promotes biological diversity).
From biological diversity to biocultural diversity for peacebuilding
Now, what would happen if we took this reflection on diversity as a resilience consolidation mechanism for social systems? Reflecting on how complementarities and synergisms between different cultures and people transform structural, direct, and cultural violence, I’m thinking in Galtungian terms. What if we add to the reflection of biocultural diversity, the cultural component to analyze how the real, deep integration between the different ways of seeing reality can contribute to peacebuilding and socio-environmental conflict transformation.
It is worth mentioning that, in my view, peacebuilding and conflict transformation must begin to focus more on the study of socio-environmental conflicts, and not only social ones, as it has been doing since peace studies established themselves as a discipline. Not only because it is essential to restore the damage that armed conflicts and wars have generated in ecological systems that exacerbate climate change throughout the world, but also because it is an ethical question, of environmental justice with our Pacha Mamita (Mother Earth) to whom we owe ourselves, but this is me thinking out loud, without any intention of imposing real truths.
Biocultural diversity as a concept is born from practice, from the union between the social movement and the academy. I particularly recommend reading Eckart Boege, who explains from the perspective of rural anthropology, political ecology, and a practical and concise way of conserving the biocultural heritage that contributes to the consolidation of resilient ecosystems. In his article «Towards an environmental anthropology for the social appropriation of the biocultural heritage of indigenous peoples in Latin America», Eckart proposes that the deterioration of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity worldwide is directly related to the extinction of languages. and ancestral cultural practices.
In practical terms, it makes a lot of sense, the languages and cultural practices linked to a territory are a manifestation of rootedness, of the identity that a territory confers on us, in a connection that overflows and transcends the modern desire to exploit and dominate nature. Instead of that, the territory becomes, for the rooted communities, a manifestation of their identities, of what was once explained to me in the Colombian massif, over there in my beloved Cauca, «I am with the mountains» when a person conceives herself/himself as an extension of its territory will be more predisposed to conserve and protect the territory, unless the current economic-political system pressures it towards the opposite path.
In the end, we are all part of the same milpa and in diversity, we complement each other. The universalization and standardization of knowledge and ways of life, turning us into societies that resolve differences as if differences were a problem, through violence and is leading us to a profound disconnection from ecological systems. Every time individualism triumphs in our societies, we move away from the traditional knowledge that has allowed us to exist as a species for thousands of years. It seems that the time has come to rethink the praxis in peace studies from a perspective of socio-environmental conflict transformation, where agroecology and biocultural diversity have much to contribute.