Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Community sessions support sustainable farming in Chile

Research expertise supports efforts to establish agro-ecology among local farming families.

As Chile experiences a drying climate and increasing forest fires, some parts of the country are embracing agro-ecology, or sustainable farming based in the relationship between local and scientific knowledge, seeking new ways to preserve the soil and produce healthy food.

PhD researcher Martín Del Valle Menéndez, who is researching food systems’ governance in his home nation of Chile, spent three months working with farmers in the community of Mashue, in the Los Ríos region in the south of the country, to support their learning about agro-ecology.

Community project

Mr Del Valle Menéndez was introduced to this small community of farmers by a trusted NGO named Albatros. Work undertaken by Albatros to assess current farming practices had shown that techniques in use by farmers were out of step with terminology, and indicated an opportunity to develop these.

In a series of three workshops with farmers, Mr Del Valle Menéndez sought to involve local teams through practical activities and interviews with families to understand their perceptions of food, farming and links to agro-ecology.

What we bring from the garden to the table, what are we eating and why, are very interesting questions. There is a political aspect to our food.

Martín Del Valle MenéndezPhD Researcher, Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Among Chileans, different generations have different perceptions of the role and importance of agriculture, he explains. Older people’s perspectives may be coloured by having lived through the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, whereas younger people may be more focused on the impact of climate change and what the future has in store.

“Albatros had been involved with this community for many months and then invited me to join, with their involvement as a local partner to ease the transition. From the outset of my work with the community I considered all of us as participants at the same level, involved in healthy stakeholding, with respect and commitment.”

However, the most important thing was the community’s commitment and its organisational capacity to achieve what was planned initially.

Broad discussions

In these sessions, farmers discussed fundamental principles of agro-ecology, and explored specific topics such as soil fertility, crop rotations, and smallholder farming, production and consumption.

Participants worked equitably including cooking and eating together, in a spirit of sharing ideas.

Creating local networks is a virtuous cycle, Mr Del Valle Menéndez explains, and the value of local knowledge and coping strategies can help identify patterns to enable agro-ecology.

In emerging from the pandemic, the workshops have helped farmers to bond as a community, Mr Del Valle Menéndez notes. Some farmers are adjusting to a new lifestyle after relocating during the outbreak.

Taking part in the community sessions has reaffirmed the value of working in research locations, Mr Del Valle Menéndez says.

Academics must come down from our ivory tower to the field and seek knowledge and advice there, where actual things happen, where the real world is – it is important to keep returning to field work and to see smallholders as active participants of the food system.

Martín Del Valle MenéndezPhD Researcher, Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

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