Agroecology schools

The term 'agroecology'[1] is used internationally to describe a science, movement and practice[2] that aims at a socially just and environmentally sustainable transformation of agricultural and food systems.[3] Agroecology challenges the system's inherent logics and power relations and offers an alternative to the industrial agricultural system by focusing on a peasant agriculture adapted to local ecosystems.[4] In German-speaking countries agroecology tends to be understood as a science[5]. In practice, the concept is based on the fundamental principles of organic farming, which primarily include the preservation of soil fertility, the cycle of soil-plant-animal and the human being as well as the independence of farms from external inputs.[6]

Agroecology combines traditional, local knowledge and local cultures with ecological science theories, working towards an overall more sustainable agricultural system[7]. Complex problems are solved by using local resources and involving the knowledge of local producers, artisanal processors, and consumers, who are central to the decision-making.[8]

Within the framework of agroecology, farmers' organizations establish and run agroecology schools or training courses that continuously create and reproduce agricultural knowledge through horizontal knowledge exchange ('farmer-to-farmer', 'fisher-to-fisher', consumer-producer, etc.) within and between different generations, sectors, cultures and traditions.

Aim and innovation

The aim of the niche is to preserve local agricultural knowledge and to reproduce it through participatory research. The basic idea is that producers have acquired the best possible holistic understanding of the local context through long-term experience with local conditions such as those of their soils, climate, plant varieties, animal species and rainfall, as well as local cultural and social knowledge. They are experts in their region and are therefore ideally suited to pass on knowledge about new successful techniques and technologies to other producers and regions, which can then be adapted to the specific contexts. This knowledge of traditional farming techniques is i.e. threatened by the increasing issue of farm succession throughout Europe[9]. Therefore, knowledge exchange is as important as the exchange of seeds of old plant varieties (→Seed banks and protection of seeds) in order to enable an agriculture that is accessible and adapted to local environmental conditions and cycles as well as resistant to the consequences of climate change[10]. This knowledge is passed on horizontally in agroecology schools through an innovative, social methodology of popular education, which was developed to a major part by Paulo Freire[11]. These exchanges place a particular focus on integrating women and young people, as well as other people who show a particular interest in starting a farm.



producers, artisanal processors, consumers


intermediate consumption, production, processing, consumption


EAKEN network[16] (Scuola Contadina - Italy, Schola Campesina - Italy, AIAB FIRAB - Italy[17], L'Atelier Paysan - France, La Durette GRAB - France, EHNE Bizkaia - Spain, Sindicato Labrego Galego - Spain, Farm Hack - UK, Scottish Crofting Federation - UK, Torth Y Tir - UK, Farm Experience Internship, Eco Ruralis - Romania, North Bruk - Sweden), Polygon Dole – Slovenia, IALAs in South and Central America

Development and current dynamics

Worldwide the interest in horizontally oriented agroecology schools and training courses is growing. According to La Via Campesina there are already about 70 agroecology schools worldwide. The most institutionalized network of agroecology schools was established in South and Central America, namely the network of the Instituto Latinoamericano de Agroecologia (IALAs). In Europe, attempts have been made in recent years to establish a similar network, called the European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network (EAKEN)[15]. This network already lists 12 contact points for agroecology training. Newer forms of horizontal knowledge exchange are organized in the field of technology, where collectives provide open source manuals for farming tools and machinery as well as training for their replication and maintenance, thus entirely avoiding patents (→ Open Source manuals for farming tools).


Sustainability potential:


  • biodiversity (indirect)
  • soil (indirect)
  • water (indirect)
  • climate (indirect)
  • air (indirect)
  • resource efficiency in production and consumption (indirect)
  • promotion of regional
  • closed nutrient cycles (indirect)  


  • poverty reduction (indirect)
  • support of activities with positive external effects
  • increase of food security (indirect)
  • promotion of the recycling economy (indirect)  


  • health: Access to healthy food (indirect)
  • participation
  • social justice
  • awareness/education for sustainable nutrition
  • animal welfare (indirect)

Risks / disadvantages

There is a risk that large-scale agricultural industry will at least partly appropriate the concept due to economic interests and that agroecology could thus be alienated from the actual purpose of the sovereignty of small producers. In addition, there is a risk that institutions may offer classical top-down agroecology trainings in order to exploit new market potentials, and thereby counteract the original key principle of horizontal knowledge exchange.


[1] According to FAO, agroecology is based on the following 10 principles: Diversity, co-creation and sharing of knowledge, synergies, efficiency, recycling, resilience, human and social values, culture and food traditions, responsible governance, circular and solidarity economy (FAO Agroecology Knowledge Hub. The 10 Elements of Agroecology.  http://www.fao.org/agroecology/knowledge/10-elements/en/ (20.02.2020)

[2] Wezel, A. et al. (2009): Agroecology as a science, a movement and a practice. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 29, pp. 503-515.

[3] Von Massenbach, A. (2019): Agrarökologie stärken. Für eine grundlegende Transformation der Agrar- und Ernährungssysteme. Positionspapier. January 2019. INKOTA-Netzwerk: Berlin.

[4] Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung et al. (2017): Konzernatlas - Daten und Fakten über die Agrar- und Lebensmittelindustrie. 2017. Berlin. 29.12.2019. https://www.boell.de/de/konzernatlas (20.02.2020)

[5] CIDSE (2018): Die Prinzipien der Agrarökologie. Für gerechte, widerstandsfähige und nachhaltige Ernährungssysteme. April 2018. Brüssel.

[6] Von Massenbach, A. (2019): Agrarökologie stärken. Für eine grundlegende Transformation der Agrar- und Ernährungssysteme. Positionspapier. January 2019. INKOTA-Netzwerk: Berlin.

[7] Pretty, J.N. et al. (2006): Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing Countries. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2006, 40, 4, pp. 1114-1119. https://doi.org/10.1021/es051670d

[8] Weltagrarbericht (2019): Agrarökologie. https://www.weltagrarbericht.de/themen-des-weltagrarberichts/agraroekologie.html (20.02.2020)

[9] Access to Land (2019): Organising farm succession. https://www.accesstoland.eu/European-Farm-Succession-Conference (20.02.2020)

[10] IPES-Food (2016): From uniformity to diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. www.ipes-food.org/_img/upload/ les/UniformityToDiversity_FULL.pdf

[11] Freire, P. (1973): Pädagogik der Unterdrückten. Bildung als Praxis der Freiheit. Reinbek Hamburg.

[12] FAO Agroecology Knowledge Hub (n.d.): Agroecology definitions. http://www.fao.org/agroecology/knowledge/definitions/en/ (20.02.2020)

[13] Francis C. et al. (2003): Agroecology: The ecology of food systems. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 22, pp. 99-118. doi.org/10.1300/J064v22n03_10

[14] Friends of the ATC (n.d.): IALA.  https://friendsatc.org/tag/iala/ (20.02.2020)

[15] European Coordination Via Campesina (2019): European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network.  https://www.eurovia.org/eaken/ (20.02.2020)

[16] ibid.

[17] Schola Campesina – Sharing knowledge for food sovereignty. (n.d.). https://www.scholacampesina.org/ (20.02.2020)