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How to Transform Our Food System to be Sustainable, Just and Resilient? The Case for Agroecology

Friday, October 25, 2019 at 3:00pm

Warren Hall, 401

In this panel discussion, Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr and Dr. Alexander Wezel will give a summary of the recent United Nations Committee on World Food Security report which examines the potential and challenges of using an agroecological approach to transition to sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems. Agroecology differs from more industrial approaches to agriculture through a holistic approach that minimizes fossil-fuel based inputs, maximizes biodiversity, soil and water conservation, and emphasizes the linkages between environmental social, economic and political dimensions of agricultural systems. While there are some demonstrated impacts of agroecology, it has also been a subject of contested debate, with some authors suggesting that there is a need to recognize tradeoffs and limitations. This panel discussion will highlight and discuss these issues from multiple perspectives.

Following the panel discussion, there will be a workshop, which will involve small group discussions on what is the potential for agroecology to address key sustainable development goals, including food security and nutrition and what are the key social, institutional, environmental and political factors that support a transition to agroecology? across a range of places.

Panelists will include:

Rafael Aponte (Rocky Acres Community Farm) has a deep commitment to education, food justice, and sovereignty. Born and raised in the South Bronx, he has over fifteen years of experience working as a community activist, advocate, and educator in NYC. In 2013, Rafael relocated to Tompkins County and established Rocky Acres Community Farm in Freeville, NY to enhance equity in urban and rural communities. Rocky Acres is a community-minded farming venture that combines the spirit of social justice with the transformative healing aspects of nature and agriculture. The 10-acre farm focuses on education and the sustainable production of local vegetables, herbs, and meat for low-income communities.

Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr (Development Sociology) has carried out interdisciplinary participatory research in Malawi for almost 2 decades on agroecological approaches, showing the potential for this approach to address food security, nutrition and social equity.

Elizabeth Gabriel (Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming) brings experience in nonprofit leadership, sustainable farming and food sovereignty. As founding director of Common Good City Farm, she transformed a baseball field into a productive urban farm and grew the nonprofit from the ground up. Her passion for food production, equitable food access and a collaborative style was seminal to the urban agriculture movement in D.C. Elizabeth holds a dual MA from American University, is a graduate of multiple anti-racism trainings, and serves on the board of the Diversity Consortium of Tompkins County. When not working, she can often be found at Wellspring Forest Farm, the small agroforestry farm she runs with her partner Steve, or in the woods with her dogs.

Dr. Rebecca Nelson (Plant Pathology, Cornell) is a plant pathologist with the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section and Plant Breeding and Genetics Section, as well as with International Agriculture and Rural Development and the Institute for Genomic Diversity. She also serves as Scientific Director for The McKnight Foundation's Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), a competitive grants program that funds agricultural research, including agroecological research, in the Global South.

Dr. Alexander Wezel (ISARA, France) is a landscape ecologist and the current Head of the Department of Agroecology and Environment and Professor for Agroecology and Landscape Ecology at ISARA University in Lyon, France. He has carried out agroecological research in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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Support provided by the Polson Institute for Global Development.  For more information visit

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