Agroecology versus input substitution: A fundamental contradiction of sustainable agriculture

  • Rosset P
  • Altieri M
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Abstract

The central question posed by this essay is whether sustainable agriculture will be able to rescue modern industrial agriculture from its present state of crisis. To answer this question this article begins by outlining the economic, social, and ecological dimensions of the crisis, each of which must be addressed by an alternative paradigm in order to pull agriculture out of crisis. It then examines a persistent contradiction in the alternative agriculture movement: that of input substitution versus agroecologi‐calty informed transformation of farming systems. It is argued that the prevalence of input substitution, which emphasizes alternatives to agrochemical inputs without challenging the monoculture structure of agricultural systems, greatly diminishes the potential of sustainable agriculture. By only addressing environmental concerns, this dominant approach offers little hope of either reversing the rapid degradation of the resource base for future production or of resolving the current profit squeeze and debt trap in which the world's farmers are caught.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Agroecology
  • Alternative agriculture
  • Farm crisis
  • Input substitution
  • Organic farming
  • Sustainable agriculture

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