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Ten top sustainable agriculture stories of 2023

Image: The Future Seeds facility holds the world’s largest collection of bean varieties. Photo by Juan Pablo Marin for The Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT.

Agriculture is a core area of Mongabay’s coverage both because the world must find more sustainable ways to feed its human societies and because how it’s currently practiced is generally detrimental to forests, biodiversity, and the climate.

Agroecology is the overarching term which encompasses such sustainable agriculture solutions that we cover, from organic farming to integrated pest management and agroforestry, a practice that incorporates trees and which sequesters at least 50 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. For reasons like this, agroecology is noted as a top climate solution by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And it’s not just individual farms or communities taking action to implement this long-term vision of a more harmonious agriculture: governments such as Wales have just announced a sustainable farming scheme that will help growers transition their farms away from harmful practices, while nations like India have had national policy in place for nearly 10 years to promote the adoption of agroforestry. The latter is far ahead of the U.S. in this regard, but for its part, this year major funding via the U.S. Department of Agriculture was used to boost agroforestry training and adoption.

Foundations are also taking a leading role: this month, 24 large philanthropies announced an initiative calling for a tenfold increase in funding for transitioning to agroecology in order to address urgent global agricultural and environmental challenges. “These philanthropies have aligned around a shared ambition: to catalyze a transition to 50% regenerative and agroecological systems by 2040, and to ensure all agriculture and food systems are transitioning by 2050,” their release stated.

Mongabay will continue publishing its ongoing series on these developments that builds upon the great reporting that has appeared at the site this year – over four dozen features, in total – and in prior years.

Below is a list of various features from around the world, but one can view all of our coverage here.

North America:

  • Mezcal, an increasingly popular Mexican liquor, has seen a 700% increase in production in the last 10 years, leading to the over-harvesting of wild agave and the expansion of monoculture plantations which ecologists say is threatening endangered bat species and ecosystems.
  • One project is testing over 45,000 thousand agave plants of two native species in agroecological systems to observe which practices best support their growth.
People in San Juan Raya decided to join a research project to grow agave for mezcal sustainably. Image by Noel Rojo for Mongabay.
People in San Juan Raya decided to join a research project to grow agave for mezcal sustainably. Image by Noel Rojo for Mongabay.

Amid global mezcal craze, scientists and communities try out sustainable plantations

TEHUACÁN-CUICATLÁN BIOSPHERE RESERVE, Mexico — The palenques, or local mezcal production sites, in the village of Santa María Ixcatlán stand unusually empty before the local Day of the Dead celebrations. “Due to a lack of mature agave left [in the wild], men don’t produce as much mezcal as they used to anymore,” explains the president …

Continue reading Amid global mezcal craze, scientists and communities try out sustainable plantations

Africa:

  • In Kenya, small-scale onshore aquaculture combined with sustainable agroecology practices is boosting food security and incomes for smallholder farmers.
  • Fed with combinations of food waste and crop residues from agroforestry and organic farming, fish like tilapia can be raised sustainably and profitably.
A fresh tilapia from Lake Toba, where the fish are raised by small farmers and large companies, for local consumption and for export to countries like the U.S. Photo by Drriss & Marrionn/Flickr
A fresh tilapia from Lake Toba, where the fish are raised by small farmers and large companies, for local consumption and for export to countries like the U.S. Photo by Drriss & Marrionn/Flickr

Sustainable fish farming & agroecology buoy Kenyan communities

GATUNGA, Kenya — The dry spell that troubled Kenya for the past few years has shaken the country’s rural food systems. But Japheth Nthiga, a farmer from Karethani village in central Kenya, has been netting some comforts during the difficult stretch. That’s because Nthiga has converted part of his land to fish ponds, and while …

Continue reading Sustainable fish farming & agroecology buoy Kenyan communities

North America:

  • A farm in Vermont has successfully implemented the agroecology method of “aigamo,” where ducks are introduced to rice paddies to provide weed and pest control, plus free fertilizer, to the grains.
  • The farm is now working to train others in its methods to boost the production of rice in the region and create a “community of practice,” so farmers can support and advise each other on rice growing, paddy construction, and more.

Duck, duck, rice: Vermont farm models diverse method of raising sustainable grains

FERRISBURGH, Vermont — The home that farmer Erik Andrus built with his wife, Erica, sits on a slight rise above a stretch of fields that have been subjected to a variety of agricultural pursuits. Outside his kitchen window, the outline of rice paddies is now part of the evolving story of a farmer who is …

Continue reading Duck, duck, rice: Vermont farm models diverse method of raising sustainable grains

South America:

  • Ecuador’s Jama-Coaque Reserve, home to a vibrant cloud forest ecosystem, is part of what may be world’s most endangered tropical forest, of which only 2.23% remains.
  • Third Millennium Alliance (TMA) manages the Jama-Coaque Reserve, protecting one of the few remaining forest areas by monitoring and rebuilding the surrounding forest and with sustainable cacao farming that supports the local economy.

Can agroforestry chocolate help save the world’s most endangered rainforest?

In Ecuador’s Jama-Coaque Reserve (JCR), nearly every surface is encased with life: moss, ferns, epiphytes and orchids — a color wheel of green in three dimensions. Amid the green, chestnut-headed oropendola nests hang like woven teardrops from towering trees, troops of howler monkeys shout their boundaries and hummingbirds dive-bomb from branch to blossom. JCR protects … Continue reading Can agroforestry chocolate help save the world’s most endangered rainforest?

Podcast:

  • An author and former food journalist for Mother Jones and Grist, Tom Philpott joined Mongabay’s podcast to talk about the acute problems of industrial agriculture and what can be done to reform unsustainable food systems with practices like agroecology. Listen here:

Middle East:

  • Organic seed farm Buzuruna Juzuruna is part of a growing network of agroecological efforts in the country, seeking to shift the dominance of unsustainable farming through seed sharing and communal education.
  • It offers free classes, festivals and even circus performances to expose local farmers to older, more ecological methods of farming.
Serge in a greenhouse.
Serge in a greenhouse.

Southeast Asia:

  • After their town was devastated by floods in 2004, residents of Kiday in the Philippines shifted to organic methods when rebuilding their farms.
  • Today, the Kiday Community Farmers’ Association practices agroecology and agroforestry, maintaining communal plots as well as private gardens.
Elder women members of the Kiday Farmers Community Association' proudly show a variety of heirloom seeds they store to support organic farmers in their riverside hamlet in Quezon province.
Elder women members of the Kiday Farmers Community Association’ proudly show a variety of heirloom seeds they store to support organic farmers in their riverside hamlet in Quezon province.

Central Asia:

  • Kyrgyzstan is one of a dozen countries where snow leopards live, but its population of 300-400 of the big cats living along its highest peaks is stressed by climate change, mining, road construction, and conflict with herders, whose livestock can be tempting prey.
  • A new program of two snow leopard conservation NGOs is helping herders diversify away from livestock toward beekeeping, agroecology, and ecotourism.
Snow leopard at ease in its high-mountain habitat. Image courtesy of Madhu Chetri.
Snow leopard at ease in its high-mountain habitat. Image courtesy of Madhu Chetri.

Global:

  • One less-appreciated benefit of growing trees is for their leaves for human nutrition, but a new book, “Trees with Edible Leaves: A Global Manual,” details more than 100 species whose leaves are highly nutritious.
  • Trees are also much easier to grow than annual vegetables, being very simple to maintain once established, and benefit other crops when grown in agroforestry settings. Mongabay interviewed the author of this new resource, which is available as a free download.

Central America:

  • The transformation of ancestral lands into intensive monoculture plantations has led to the destruction of Guatemala’s native forests and traditional practices, as well as loss of livelihoods and damage to human health and the environment.
  • A network of more than 40 Indigenous and local communities and farmer associations are developing agroecology schools across the country to promote the recovery of ancestral practices, educate communities on agroecology and teach them how to build their own local economies.
Florinda Dominga Par is an active participant in the agroecological and artisanal market
Florinda Dominga Par is an active participant in the agroecological and artisanal market

View the whole agroecology series here.

Erik Hoffner
Erik Hoffner
  Erik Hoffner is a photojournalist, editor, and podcast producer for Mongabay. Find his latest thoughts posted on Bluesky and see more of his writing and fine art photography via Instagram at @erikhoffner or www.erikhoffner.com.
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