Section outline

  • WHY DCA works with Agroecology

    DCA works to promote Agroecology in all our Right to Food activities because Agroecology is a climate-friendly way to build sustainability and resilience as well as increasing food production. The components of Agroecology help us form strong links between our rights-based approach; farmers’ participation, organisation and empowerment; fair and sustainable agriculture and other production types; and support resilience building at individual, community and national levels. Agroecology is a set of principles that help strengthen the links between development and humanitarian activities by promoting diversity, reducing risks and engaging farmers and other producers in knowledge sharing and political decision-making. DCA works to help communities make informed choices and sustainable decisions about production methods. We support them in standing up to the pressure from chemical companies - and in some cases also governments - that promote simple solutions to the complex issues of sustainable food production, fair trade systems and long-term resilience. Get more insight in the sections below.  

    • WHY: Introduction to Agroecology

      Feeding the World with Agroecology - a video that puts agroecology into context and introduces key components of agroecology by Pablo Tittonell.

      • WHAT: Main Components of Agroecology

        Click on the bar below the picture to get access to the six text boxes to learn more.

      • WHAT: Industrial Agriculture versus Agroecological Agriculture




        Specialization means that producers specialize in the produc­tion of a single or very few crops or items that they are most efficient at producing, or that they focus on just a single stage of production of this item.

        Industrial agriculture refers to modes of farming that are similar to industrial processes in their scale, organisation and segregation of tasks, and seek to achieve productivity gains from specialization and intensification of production.



        Diversification means creating or maintaining multiple types of crops, production and methods, and varying produce across farming landscapes and over time.

        Agroecology is “the science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems”. It includes a variety of approaches to maximise biodiversity and sti­mulate interactions between different plants and species. It builds on holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods. It also represents a social movement where producers are empowered to engage in decision-making.



        Monocultures: intensive production of one or a few crops at the level of farms or landscapes. Keeping animals in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations with high energy and resource use, and high levels of waste production.

        Use of genetically uniform varieties or breeds se­lected mainly for high productivity, wide adaptability to favourable environments, and ability to respond to chemical inputs. Requires favourable weather patterns, specific inputs with specific timing and high levels of mechanisation. 

        Diversification: at overall plot, farm and landscape levels, across time (such as crop rotation) in space (such as intercropping and mixed farming and). No waste, but circulation of nutrients, water etc.

        Use of a wide range of species and diverse, locally-adapted varieties and breeds, selected for mul­tiple uses (including traditional, medicinal and other uses), cultural pre­ferences, taste, productivity, resilience to weather variations and other criteria. GMOs have no place in agroecology, and hybrid seeds are not preferred as they become unstable when multiplied on-farm.

        Segregation (vertical and horizontal) of product chains, for example separating animal feed production from animal rea­ring in separate farms, value chains and regions.

        Natural synergies emphasized and actively nurtured, production types integrated, for example mixed crop-livestock-tree farming systems and landscapes with multiple interactions and outputs.


        Highly mechanized, labour-saving production systems – with possible negative impact on the environment (soil compaction, pollution).


        More labour-intensive systems requiring high levels of knowledge and insights into biological processes.

        Maximization of yield and economic returns come from a single product or limited number of products.


        Maximization of multiple outputs.


        Intensive use of external inputs, for example fossil fuels, heavy machinery, chemical fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics. Possible harm to human health as well as animal and plant health.


        Few external inputs; minimising waste with full nutrient cycling and circular economy ap­proaches to all components of the system. Maximising resource use to improve local productivity, diversity and resilience.

        Production of large volumes of homogenous pro­ducts for national and international markets, typi­cally within long value chains.


        Production of a wide range of different products often destined for short value chains; multiple sources of production, income and live­lihood.


        Producers have little influence on crop choice, management methods, price setting and the value chain.

        Producers make individual and collective decisions on crop choice, management methods, price setting and the immediate links in the short value chain.

        Source: Adapted from “From uniformity to diversity” (p. 11), iPES FOOD International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, June 2016.

        Agroecology and the links to other concepts:

        In working with sustainable agriculture, we come across many concepts and definitions. Apart from Agroecology, "Permaculture" and "Organic Agriculture" are some of the most commonly mentioned. Definitions of these vary and are not carved in stone. In the DCA context we consider Agroecology to be the most comprehensive system, embracing both Permaculture and Organic AgricultureAgroecology refers to a wider perspective, working with agriculture from an ecological and systems perspective. In Agroecology, we work to optimise and stabilise diverse production in a complex network utilising the interaction between every living and non-living component of the system. Agroecology also extends to the social, cultural, environmental and economic aspects of production systems. In short, Permaculture and Organic Agriculture are important components of Agroecology.

        Agroecology and "Permaculture":

        Permaculture is defined as “The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems, which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems”. (Bill Mollison). The word Permaculture combines permanent and agriculture. It is an agricultural philosophy that focuses on using the resources that we have around us to their fullest potential.  By observing and learning from our environment on how nature replenishes its soil, protects and conserves its water resources, adapts to the specific climate of an area, and so on, - we can learn how to imitate these natural processes in our daily living.  In practice, permaculture looks at everything we do in life and tries to make it sustainable for many generations to come.  We achieve much of this sustainability by imitating what we see in nature. In addition, permaculture also looks at many other aspects of living such as: how we design our living spaces, how we obtain and use our energy (both external and human), what we use for fuel and what we do with things that some people call “waste”. In permaculture “waste” is just an unused resource, there is no “waste” in nature as everything gets recycled. Permaculture may also include ethics, patterns, climates, eco-systems, community organization, money/barter systems, advocacy, global responsibility, and more. The agricultural component of Permaculture tries to meet all of our needs as humans. Important components are:


        1.  Food staples: Legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fats
        2.  Food for the soil: Legumes and organic matter that provide nutrients to the soil
        3. Climbers: Making the most of vertical space
        4. Supporters: Plants that provide support to climbers
        5. Miners or diggers: Deep roots or tubers to open the soil and bring up nutrients from deep
        6. Groundcovers: Protect soil, provide shade, hold moisture, and suppress weeds
        7. Protectors: Repellents, attractors, live fencing, etc. to protect other components of the system

        (Modified from "Never Ending Food")

        Agroecology and "Organic Agriculture":

        Organic agriculture refers to a system where there is no use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or other artificially produced chemicals. You can easily grow your own crops organically, but in order to market products as "organic", you often have to fulfil specific national criteria and undergo a comprehensive certification process. 

        • HOW: Implementing Agroecology

          Implementing Agroecology is a gradual process that starts from the current practice and over time becomes more diverse and resilient in a process that never really stops, because the society around the agroecology system is dynamic. In this section, you will find short inspiration points for management methods on the different aspects of agroecology. For more inspiration and guidance, please have a look at the Resources and Manuals section at the bottom of the site by clicking on the links where you will find guidance on for example management of pests and diseases too (Check for example FAO Training Manual pages 61 - 75). 

          You can get a good start by having a dialogue with individuals and communities to map their situation, constraints and knowledge, understanding their visions for their productive activities. Based on their awareness level, help them design a gradual process that is likely to include: diversification of plant and animal species, improved soil management techniques, improved water management, and organising practitioners to share knowledge and improve their negotiating power towards suppliers and traders. Do this in coordination with local government structures and plans. 

          You may use Theory of Change to help clarify the changes that the farmers work towards. Add your own technical knowledge and share your networks and links to providers of experience and inputs. Continuously support individuals, communities and partners with the transformation towards fully fledged agroecological systems and help overcome teething problems that stakeholders may experience.   

          Advocacy on agroecology is not an explicit part of the DCA strategic advocacy focus (the focus is on Climate Change and Land Rights), but you can play an important role in promoting agroecology at all levels, among producers, in the cooperation with the private sector when working on value chains and when engaging with governments in policy formulation processes. Learn a lot more about advocacy planning at the advocac academy on ACTLearn. Search on ACTLearn for "Advocacy Academy" or use this link: 

          Scalability of agroecology in DCA programmes will mainly focus on increasing the number of farms that apply agroecological methods and the total output from the farm - for on-farm consumption and sale. As we work with the poorest, we aim at scaling up horizontally as a basis for accessing vertical value chains. Linking quality procucts to the market will scale up incomes. At community level, organised farmers can scale up their influence and negotiating power. 

          Monitoring progress on agroecology: In a DCA programme, the work on agroecology is cutting across themes, and is most likely to be part of the Right to Food change pathways. Thus it contributes to the overall programme goals on e.g. resilience, income generation and political participation. Monitoring progress on agroecology should be linked to individual project outputs and outcomes, the overall programme indicators and the DCA global goals. 

          See a few suggestions for potential areas for monitoring below:

          Main problem


          Monitoring suggestions

          Low soil fertility because of excessive run-off in the wet season

          Mechanical reduction of run-off: Level the ground and construct terraces or borders with stones or vertiver grass using an A-frame.

          Sow or plant in small depressions to capture water and give time for water to seep into the soil where the roots are.

          Improve the infiltration rate in the soil by increasing the organic matter in the soil – add mulch and compost to feed micro-organisms.

          Choose plants with deep roots to expand nutrient uptake.

          Reduce the impact of raindrops by securing groupn cover adding mulch and/or cover plants that take the hit from the drops and improved seepage into the soil.

          Plant different trees - at best those with multiple purposes and properties.

          Make a visual assessment of landscape modifications (use pictures for documentation).

          Count the number of new techniques that were introduced; discuss and document the effects with the farmer.

          Dig a soil profile to observe the depth and pattern of water infiltration.

          Check the root system of crops and compare width and depth with standards for the crop

          Observe signs of surface run off and compare with earlier years (use photos for documentation)

          Count the number and species of new trees.

          Register the total output compared to before and include additional benefits such as fodder/medicinal products  from each unit of land.

          Farmers do not have access to seeds and/or can not afford them

          Train in seed production, seed selection and seed storage.

          Organise groups to ensure traditional seed multiplication in sufficient quality and quantity to supply the local area and for sale beyond the community. Income from sale may fund purchase of new seeds for more diversity.

          Note availability of seed, knowledge of the properties of different varieties and number of different varieties grown.

          Note if the combination of varieties and different crops utilise water, light and nutrients in a complementary way so they increase resilience.

          Grain production low due to striga infestation

          Plant resistant varieties or change to a crop that is not a host for striga.

          Manually control the parasitic plant to the extent possible.

          Extent of striga presence

          Crop output from each unit of land


          In most situations, these actions would be benificial: Modify the overall landscape if necessary, mix as many different complementary plants and animals as practically possible, create habitats for beneficial insects and pollinators, make compost and chose components that have a mutually beneficial influence on one another. A classic example of the latter being a large cereal (sorghum, millet or maize) intercropped with a legume – for example string beans. They fix nitrogen in the soil to the benefit of the cereal, while the cereal provides support for the climbing legume. Together they utilise the soil, water and light better and increase the total output from the unit of land significantly. This could be a first step to be followed by many more.

          Action must always be context-specific and involve the local stakeholders. For DCA staff, you can contact DCA Headquarters for specific guidance in your own case.

        • Agroecology and Nexus

          Agroecology can strongly contribute to strengthening the Nexus between Right to Food and Humanitarian Action if Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management are integrated in planning and implementation. By combining traditional and new knowledge of how we can work with natural processes in agriculture, we can further optimise diversity in the field, at the market and on the plate. These initiatives strengthen communities’ resilience to hazards. 

          Hazards can be natural (for example earthquakes) or man-made (climate changes due to greenhouse gas emissions), but many hazards that appear to be "natural" at first glance, are caused by or the impact is worsened by human actions. Thus, we can reverse or minimise the negative impact of hazards by changing our actions. We can prevent some hazards, we can work to reduce the harmful impact, and we can build back better in a recovery phase to improve resilience if we select the right actions. 

          To get the full benefit of Agroecology methods to strengthen Nexus, we need to take a point of departure in the local setting and make participatory assessments and plans in dialogue with communities, civil society organisations, government representatives at all levels, private sector actors and other relevant stakeholders. DCA staff can access more specific guidance in the DCA LRRD Manual.

          • Manuals and Resources

            In the key resources below, you will find both written and visual information and technical materials you can easily share with partner staff and community members. Additional issues of cropping systems, intergrated pest management, soil health, seed selection etc. are also found here. Lots of good stuff!

            If you come across other resources we should know, or if you fail to access or download the resources on this list, contact Mette Lund Sørensen at 

            FAO  2019 - The Status of Biodiversity and the links to Resilience, Climate change adaptation and DRR:


            FAO Training Manual for Organic Agriculture


            CIDSE:  Materials on Agroecology, March 2018: 

            Who Will Feed Us?, 2017:


            Ecologically Sustainable Food Systems, Soil Management, Seed Systems and Food WastageFind lots of updated and more advanced techniques and discussions on these four themes here: 


            From Uniformity to Diversity, IPES (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems)


            High Level Panel of Experts  on the links between Agroecology and Right to Food:

            Knowledge base, FAO with lots of easily accessible information


            Agroecological contributions to Climate Resilient Agriculture - with good graphics: