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Tropentag, September 14 - 16, 2022, Prague

"Can agroecological farming feed the world? Farmers' and academia's views."

Assessing the energy metabolism of agroecological farming systems: Understanding the role of the ecovida network in southern Brazil

Denis Soldera, Stephanie Domptail

Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Inst. of Agricultural Policy and Market Research, Germany


Food production remains dependent on fossil fuel-based external inputs. The volatility of food prices coupled with the oil costs, soil fertility loss and global warming are some consequences of this dependency. Agroecology appears as one model to decouple farming systems from external inputs, especially fossil fuel-based ones. Recent evidence from Brazil suggests that farming systems organised in Agroecology Networks (AEN) tend to achieve even higher energy efficiency and lower fossil fuel-based requirements. These networks aim to promote the circularity of energy and matter through its components. However, quantitative evidence on the extent of the circular exchanges within networks is lacking, even in Brazil, where agroecology has been researched extensively from a social and agronomic perspective. This research gap might occur because energy assessments of farming systems commonly underestimate or do not acknowledge the energy flows reinvested in the system and exchanged within the socio-economic context. We present a conceptual framework developed to address the role of AEN on the energy efficiency and intensity of its components. We integrate two specific methods: the Agroecological Energy Analysis (AEA) and The Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism (MuSIASEM). Both operationalise the Socio-Economic Metabolism (SEM) approach. In a case study approach, we applied this framework to farming systems of The Nucleus Litoral Catarinense, located in southern Brazil and institutionally organised under the Rede Ecovida de Agroecologia [Ecolife Network of Agroecology], the principal Brazilian Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS). Integrating these methods is innovative because it combines the energy metabolism approach with agroecological energy return on investment indicators at the farm level. Based on preliminary evidence, we show this framework advances the understanding of how exchanged energy flows within an AEN may affect the energy metabolism of farming systems in quantitative terms.

Keywords: Agroecology, alternative food networks, energy efficiency, socio-economic metabolism

Contact Address: Denis Soldera, Justus-liebig University Giessen, Institute of Agricultural Policy and Market Research, Senckenbergstraße 3 Zeughaus, 35390 Giessen, Germany, e-mail: denis.soldera@agrar.uni-giessen.de

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