David A. Cleveland

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online August 2013 | | DOI:

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences


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In this article, “agroecology” is defined as a comprehensive perspective of agrifood systems including the relationships between the biophysical and sociocultural components and between agrifood systems and the larger biophysical and sociocultural context in which they are embedded. As such, agroecology includes the internal ecology of agroecosystems, their social and cultural components including nutrition and food sovereignty, crop genotype-by-environment interactions including those of transgenic crop varieties, and the positive (ecosystem services) and negative (ecosystems degradation) effects of agroecosystems on the larger environment, especially climate. This is a broad view of agroecology that does not limit the term to the traditional discipline of ecology applied to agricultural production systems. Although “agroecology” is often used to refer to a comprehensive scientific study of agrifood systems in general, it is also commonly used to refer to a perspective and related practice defined as an alternative to the mainstream industrial agriculture in terms of its underlying values and empirical assumptions—that is, as part of the sustainability revolution. Mainstream agriculture focuses on production efficiency in physical and economic terms—that is, output as quantity of harvested crop per unit of input such as land, labor, or nutrients or, in monetary terms, as revenue per unit of investment—and externalizes many negative effects. Agroecology defines efficiency much more broadly. Outputs include not only edible harvest, but also positive contributions to agroecosystem function such as soil structure, nutritional quality, and economic equity. Inputs include factors not part of production costs, such as sunlight, soil, and microbiota. In addition, agroecology attempts to internalize many factors commonly externalized by mainstream agriculture, including costs such as greenhouse gas emissions, water pollutants, malnutrition, and benefits such as biodiversity and other ecosystem services, as well as social benefits such as nutritional status and farmer and farmworker welfare. Thanks to Daniela Soleri, the editors, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on this article.

Article.  11962 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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