Agroecology and permaculture: addressing key ecological problems by rethinking and redesigning agricultural systems

  • Mark D. HathawayEmail author


This paper explores how industrial agriculture is a key contributor to many ecological problems and how redesigning agricultural systems using agroecological principles and methods could address many of these problems. Agriculture uses 85 % of freshwater and, directly or indirectly, produces nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture accounts for a large proportion of these ecological costs and also depends on high energy use and toxic chemicals. Agroecology presents an alternative paradigm of production based on ecological principles such as recycling wastes, minimizing energy and water use, maximizing genetic diversity, regenerating soil and increasing its carbon content, integrating livestock and crops into a holistic system, and promoting other beneficial biological synergies. Moreover, agroecological methods have the potential to actually boost production and farm incomes, particularly in the global South. Permaculture, perhaps the most widely practiced form of agroecology, also provides an ethical framework and principles that serve as a basis for discerning actions that enable the design of diverse, sustainable systems suited to a wide variety of cultural and ecological contexts. Widespread adoption of agroecological methods and permaculture principles could significantly reduce energy, pesticide, and freshwater usage while simultaneously restoring degraded soil, sequestering large quantities of carbon, creating more biodiverse agricultural systems, and satisfying human needs for healthy, nutritious food. As well, engaging in ecological agriculture may encourage practitioners to develop genuinely ecological dispositions and worldviews that enable them to approach problems and discern actions from a perspective that systematically promotes sustainability and social justice.


Industrial agriculture Water Greenhouse gasses Food Soil Biodiversity Carbon sequestration Ecology Agroecology Permaculture 


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Adult Education and Environmental StudiesUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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