views updated


Agroecology is an interdisciplinary field of study that applies ecological principles to the design and management of agricultural systems. Agroecology concentrates on the relationship of agriculture to the biological, economic, political, and social systems of the world.

The combination of agriculture with ecological principles such as biogeochemical cycles, energy conservation , and biodiversity has led to practical applications that benefit the whole ecosystem rather than just an individual crop. For instance, research into integrated pest management has developed ways to reduce reliance on pesticides. Such methods include biological or biotechnological controls such as genetic engineering , cultural controls such as changes in planting patterns, physical controls such as quarantines to prevent entry of new pests, and mechanical controls such as physically removing weeds or pests.

Sustainable agriculture is another goal of agroecological research. Sustainable agriculture views farming as a total system and stresses the long-term conservation of resources. It balances the human need for food with concerns for the environment and maintains that agriculture can be carried on without reliance on pesticides and fertilizers.

Agroecology advocates the use of biological controls rather than pesticides to minimize agricultural damage from insects and weeds. Biological controls use natural enemies to control weeds and pests, such as ladybugs that kill aphids. Biological controls include the disruption of the reproductive cycles of pests and the introduction of more biologically diverse organisms to inhibit overpopulation of different agricultural pests.

Agroecological principals shift the focus of agriculture from food production alone to wider concerns, such as environmental quality, food safety, the quality of rural life, humane treatment of livestock, and conservation of air, soil , and water. Agroecology also studies how agricultural processes and technologies will be impacted by wider environmental problems such as global warming, desertification , or salinization .

The entire world population depends on agriculture, and as the number of people continues to grow agroecology is becoming more important, particularly in developing countries. Agriculture is the largest economic activity in the world, and in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa about 75% of the population is involved in some form of it. As population pressures on the world food supply increase, the application of agroecological principles is expected to stem the ecological consequences of traditional agricultural practices such as pesticide poisoning and erosion .

[Linda Rehkopf ]



Altieri, M. A. Agroecology: The Scientific Basis of Alternative Agriculture. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

Carroll, D. R. Agroecology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.

Gliessman, S. R., ed. Agroecology. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1991.


Norse, D. "A New Strategy for Feeding a Drowned Planet." Environment 34 (June 1992): 619.