Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 29, Number 4, October-December 2009
Page(s) 503 - 515
Published online 04 April 2009
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29 (2009) 503-515
DOI: 10.1051/agro/2009004

Agroecology as a science, a movement and a practice. A review

A. Wezel1, S. Bellon2, T. Doré3, C. Francis4, D. Vallod1 and C. David1

1  ISARA, Department of Agroecosystems, Environment and Production, 23 rue Jean Baldassini, 69364 Lyon Cedex 07, France
2  INRA-SAD, UR 767 Écodéveloppement, Site Agroparc, 84914 Avignon Cedex 9, France
3  AgroParisTech, UMR 211 INRA/AgroParisTech, BP 01, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
4  University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, 279 Plant Science Hall, Lincoln, Nebraska 68583-0915, USA

Accepted 29 Juanary 2009 ; published online 4 April 2009

Abstract - Agroecology involves various approaches to solve actual challenges of agricultural production. Though agroecology initially dealt primarily with crop production and protection aspects, in recent decades new dimensions such as environmental, social, economic, ethical and development issues are becoming relevant. Today, the term `agroecology' means either a scientific discipline, agricultural practice, or political or social movement. Here we study the different meanings of agroecology. For that we analyse the historical development of agroecology. We present examples from USA, Brazil, Germany, and France. We study and discuss the evolution of different meanings agroecology. The use of the term agroecology can be traced back to the 1930s. Until the 1960s agroecology referred only as a purely scientific discipline. Then, different branches of agroecology developed. Following environmental movements in the 1960s that went against industrial agriculture, agroecology evolved and fostered agroecological movements in the 1990s. Agroecology as an agricultural practice emerged in the 1980s, and was often intertwined with movements. Further, the scales and dimensions of agroecological investigations changed over the past 80 years from the plot and field scales to the farm and agroecosystem scales. Actually three approaches persist: (1) investigations at plot and field scales, (2) investigations at the agroecosystem and farm scales, and (3) investigations covering the whole food system. These different approaches of agroecological science can be explained by the history of nations. In France, agroecology was mainly understood as a farming practice and to certain extent as a movement, whereas the corresponding scientific discipline was agronomy. In Germany, agroecology has a long tradition as a scientific discipline. In the USA and in Brazil all three interpretations of agroecology occur, albeit with a predominance of agroecology as a science in the USA and a stronger emphasis on movement and agricultural practice in Brazil. These varied meanings of the term agroecology cause confusion among scientists and the public, and we recommend that those who publish using this term be explicit in their interpretation.

Key words: agroecosystem / Brazil / food system / France / Germany / rural development / scientific discipline / sustainable agriculture / USA

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2009