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AGROECOLOGY and research © Arnaud Veldeman, Véronique Gavalda

Agroecology at INRA: mobilising research

By Pascale Mollier, translated by Emma Morton-Saliou
Updated on 06/22/2017
Published on 10/18/2013

INRA hosted a symposium on 17 October 2013 in Paris on Agroecology under the patronage of the French Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. INRA began exploring this emerging discipline several years ago and has made it a strategic priority for the next ten years. This report describes the institute’s research initiatives in the field of agroecology, a concept first described in scientific literature in the 1930s.

An emerging scientific discipline...

Agroecology is an emerging discipline which combines the agronomic sciences and ecology, two fields which have not been associated until now. Agroecology views cropping and livestock systems as specific ecosystems in which the natural environment is transformed by farming practices. It aims at understanding how these agro-ecosystems function, to what degree they concur with current ecological theories and give rise to new ones.  Through agro-ecological engineering, more sustainable agro-ecosystems can be developed by seeking a greater compatibility between natural regulation mechanisms and human intervention.

Keywords contained in the most frequently referenced articles on topics combining agronomical sciences and ecology. Over 33,000 studies were published worldwide between 2002 and 2011 in this field. Most do not employ the term agroecology.. © INRA
Keywords contained in the most frequently referenced articles on topics combining agronomical sciences and ecology. Over 33,000 studies were published worldwide between 2002 and 2011 in this field. Most do not employ the term agroecology. © INRA

The realm of agronomy-ecology is expanding to include a wider range of disciplines, including fundamental sciences such as biology, environmental science, social science and information science.

…with significant potential...

Agro-ecological transitions aim to improve both economic and environmental results in agriculture by mobilising ecological mechanisms. By doing so, inputs can generally be reduced. Several avenues can be explored:

  • making better use of biodiversity in agricultural systems, for example by combining several plant or animal species, encouraging the presence of pollinators and pollination;
  • relying on ecological mechanisms at the landscape level (buffer strips, pest control, etc.) and watershed level (soil and water quality, water-saving measures);
  • managing the major cycles (nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.) by recycling and using organic waste; increased use of  symbioses (legumes, mycorrhizas) and crop-livestock integration.

        

…backed by strong political support at the national level

The Producing Differently programme launched by the French Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry underscores the need to produce more, but differently. The acquired range of knowledge in agroecology can be used to drive innovative agricultural systems with economic, social and environmental results and propose changes in different specialties and regions. This is possible even though it calls for increased technicity and a period of observation, as indicated in the report submitted to the Minister of Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll on 11 June by Marion Guillou, President of the Administrative Council of Agreenium and former Director-General and President of INRA.

Mobilising research at INRA

Agroecology is an INRA research priority for 2010-2020. The Institute is exploring different possibilities and developing research programmes accordingly.  This report provides detailed information about research initiatives, including existing activities in numerous research units, specific tools such as the laboratories of excellence, modelling platforms and long-term experimental programmes.

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

  • Jean-Francois Soussana, Scientific Director – Environment
  • Hervé Guyomard, Scientific Director – Agriculture

INRA projects and publications on agroecology

- Report for the Minister of Agriculture (in French): “The agroecology project: boosting the performance of agricultural systems to reconcile competitivity and respect for the environment; proposals for the Minister of Agriculture, M. Guillou (Agreenium), Co-authors: H. Guyomard, C. Huyghe and J.L. Peyraud (INRA), Contributing reporters: J. Vert and P. Claquin (MAAF CEP)” (PDF). June 2013

- Report (in French) for the General Commission for strategy and foresight (CGSP, formerly CAS) : “The shift to high-performance agriculture”.

- Inventory of technical solutions that are already available, at the development stage or under study at INRA to improve environmental results on farms: 2009-2011 study (in French).

Agroécologie et recherche © Arnaud Veldeman, Véronique Gavalda

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Agro-écologie et recherche. © INRA, Arnaud Veldeman, Véronique Gavalda

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