Agroecology: a holistic approach to social, environmental, and economic challenges in India

Agroecology is an approach to food systems that emphasises the importance of ecological processes in sustaining agricultural production while promoting social and economic equity. HLPE has defined 13 principles of agroecology that can generate diverse pathways for incremental and transformational change towards more sustainable farming and food systems. These principles are highly relevant for India, which is currently grappling with multiple and interlinked social, environmental, and economic crises. Cross connections exist between agroecology and several other areas of concern, such as water and biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, rural livelihoods, agroforestry, market linkages, local value chains, health, migration, gender equity and youth inclusion.

For example, agroecological practices such as intercropping, cover cropping, and reduced tillage promote soil health and water conservation, and support biodiversity conservation by providing a habitat for beneficial insects and other wildlife. Similarly, agroforestry practices that combine the cultivation of crops with the planting of trees can provide multiple benefits, such as increased soil fertility, reduced erosion, improved water retention, and enhanced biodiversity. 

By promoting local value chains and accessible local markets where healthy agroecological produce can be traded, agroecology can help support rural livelihoods and contribute to sustainable economic development while also improving access to nutritious food and promoting community health. Overall, agroecology offers a holistic approach to food that recognises the interconnectedness of social, ecological and economic systems and offers a promising pathway towards more sustainable and resilient food systems.


Our philosophy is fundamentally designed to tackle three crucial challenges currently plaguing our food system.

Agriculture lies at the heart of the Indian economy. With its allied sectors, 70% of India’s rural households depend primarily on agriculture, with 82% of farmers being small-scale, marginal and vulnerable food producers. There is mounting evidence that industrialised agriculture drives climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, and low-quality food production, while impoverishing smallholder farmers.
The current agriculture paradigm and food systems do not ensure nutritional and health security for the nation. Access and affordability to healthy food are critical components for larger sections of society and marginalised communities. According to the National Family Health Survey- 5, anaemia among children under the age of 5 has become significantly more common, with the current prevalence at 67.1% (2019-21) compared to NFHS-4, which was 58.6% (2015-16). This is just one of India’s most pressing health and nutritional concerns.

A high-input agriculture system leads small and marginal farmers into a downward spiral of debt and uncertainty, as seen in the large jump in farm loans for farming families and the alarming rate of farmer suicides. In India, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data reported 10,677 suicides in the farming sector in 2020, most of them being male members, leaving behind children and wives.


The government aimed to double farmer income by 2022 from the 2015-16 benchmark of Rs 8,059 per month. However, at the halfway point in 2018-19, farm household income was Rs 10,218 per month, and projections for the next three years estimate an income of Rs 12,445 per month in 2022. As such, the target of doubling income to Rs 21,146 per month remains unlikely (NSSO, 2021).

Agroecology is a promising approach to solving these increasingly severe challenges. Among its many benefits, agroecology effectively addresses financial precarity, food insecurity, water stress, biodiversity loss, unemployment, climate change, and low-nutritious food. Agroecology also encourages community-level food systems and rebuilds local value chains, improving rural economies and alleviating the negative effects of the current market crisis on small farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and other groups directly involved in agriculture. The influence of grassroots movements is crucial for truly scaling up climate-resilient food systems. But, the truth is that these vital organisations and networks are woefully underfunded. Bharat Agroecology Fund addresses that gap and supports agroecology movements to catalyse a systemic shift in the current approach to food systems.



Agroecology movements are the primary actors in the BAF’s theory of change.

The key change factors are

  • mobilising people, uplifting their cultures,
  • documenting and creatively presenting evidence derived from participatory action research processes in which grassroots organisations are co-creators,
  • establishing new economic food systems to strengthen local economies, and
  • ensuring agroecology-friendly public policies.


These movements are formed by broad coalitions and collaboratives of organisations and grassroots actors working for a common cause and struggling for just and sustainable food systems by challenging the structures, institutions and vested interests threatening such systems – all while building the alternative. The goal is to tackle systemic barriers to agroecology by supporting food producers, consumers, scientists, policymakers, and environmentalists to engage collectively.

It is to these collaboratives that BAF directs its resources and leverages additional resources.

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