Agroecology in Action
revised 07-30-00



CLADES: Latin American Consortium on Agroecology and Sustainable Development
- Chile -

Mission: The Latin American Consortium on Agroecology and Sustainable Development (CLADES) is a collaborative effort of Latin American NGOs to prevent the collapse of peasant agriculture by transforming it into a more sustainable and productive enterprise.

The Emergence of CLADES

During the 1980s a number of NGOs in several countries of South America reached the conclusion that the central issue in rural development was the need to improve the technical capacities of small-scale farmers. Each of these NGOs had been working locally to organize the campesinos, but they realized their own staff needed much more training in alternative agriculture methods if their efforts were to become effective. Also, as they considered the growing impoverishment of soils and people throughout the region, they concluded that individual, isolated efforts would not impact the problem on the scale required.

A few of these NGOs already shared local experiences at an informal level, particularly with CET in Chile, one of the first NGOs to combine technological improvements with community organizing. These initial exchanges and mutual staff trainings convinced the NGO directors that if they wanted to succeed, they had to join their forces and work collectively. They had to have more than an information network. Because existing agricultural colleges were only training graduates for high-cost input agro-industry, college staff had to find ways to share what they were learning regarding peasant agriculture, as well as to conduct more research to improve and expand the agroecological techniques they could offer. A new institutional arrangement was needed to encourage and channel cooperation. Thus, in January 1989, twelve NGOs from nine South American countries met in Santiago, Chile to create the Latin American Consortium on Agroecology and Sustainable Development (CLADES).

Activities of CLADES

The broad goal of CLADES is to be accomplished mainly by developing and spreading new agroecological options for peas- ants, and training the staff of their member NGOs in these new methods. Research, training, and information exchange are the heart of CLADES, but their vision extends beyond the first-level meeting point between the peasants themselves and the NGO promoters.

As relatively small institutions in their own right, member NGOs have asked CLADES' Secretariat to assist with institutional development, including topics such as management systems, personnel policies, and evaluation techniques. Without some real organizational strength themselves, these NGOs will be unable to sustain the message they want to deliver.

More recently, CLADES has also been asked to extend its work to preparing and advocating improved macro-policies around national agricultural planning. Because of its growing expertise and international recognition, CLADES has been approached by a number of national and international agencies to make its members' experiences more available to government policy makers, not only in Latin America, but Asia and Africa as well.

These activities are all carried out by CLADES members, supported by a very small secretariat of three persons. By combining the energies of different groups into a more focused and collective effort, CLADES has been very effective. CLADES has overseen three programs over the past five years toward transforming peasant agriculture throughout Latin America. By examining the content of these three core programs, one can better understand how this impact is being achieved.

Training Programs

CLADES designs its training programs from the bottom-up, to ensure that their techniques are not only scientifically valid, but also closely adapted to the different agroecological situations of regions as well as the prevailing cultural and socioeconomic conditions. This approach is typically missing in the conventional university courses. For example, CLADES' training considers the differences between peasants working for subsistence and those linked to markets, and between different climatic conditions in the region (tropical, Andean, temperate). The curriculum is designed to integrate social and physical considerations into an agroecological paradigm, and to train the personnel of member institutions, both through theory and through actual local practice in existing NGO programs.

The training is offered at three levels:

I . Entry-level, which introduces the agroecological concepts that support the various techniques commonly used, such as cornposting, raised beds, crop rotation, integrated pest management, etc.

2. A second-level seminar/workshop, which provides a detailed proposal fitted to the specific peasant conditions in one particular zone.

3. Specialized courses in topics requested by member NGOs, delving deeper into thematic areas, such as soil conservation, rapid rural appraisal, biological pest control, etc.

CLADES also offers a Training at a Distance course, "Human Centered and Agroecological Rural Development," which is currently offered in seven countries: Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Cuba. The course has been attended by over 2,000 students, and will soon be extended to Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and possibly Mexico.

Research Program

Given the wide diversity of agricultural systems practiced by Latin American peasants, and the variety of constraints to productivity they confront, it is impossible to develop a single method or technological approach that suits the whole range of small farms. Most are on hilly land, with low fertility and high erosion, but others are marginal in other ways, such as rainfall, access to transport/markets, and educational level. Respecting this diversity is the hallmark of NGOs, but they need to establish their own research and demonstration centers where they can try out new and old techniques before sharing them more broadly with the peasants. Very little research has been done in Latin America at this local, applied level with direct relevance to existing peasant practices. This is where CLADES can promote local research for quite different ecological niches and yet also collect and standardize the methodologies and results to share them more broadly.

Research priorities were defined after CLADES conducted a survey of all its members, applying a set of performance- indicators and evaluation methodology that assessed the technical viability and potential impact of the proposals offered by member NGOs. Each member's capabilities, staff skills, and principal weaknesses were inventoried. As a result of this survey, CLADES research support is directed at soil and water conser- vation, plant protection, cropping systems management, conservation of genetic resources, agroforestry, and animal husbandry. For example, after a competitive review in the early 1990s, CLADES selected 30 proposals for research grants to be completed in 1994. These research grants include:

Phytoveterinary strategies for goats in Pernambuco, Brazil. Cropping systems for Andean soils in Pacajes, Bolivia.

Biological control of major crop insect pests in Cajamarca, Peru.

Biological control of cotton pests in Argentina.

Water harvesting in coastal drylands in Chile.

Conversion studies of sugar beets from high-input to low-input management in Chile.

Agriculture and aquaculture based on raised fields and canals in Cauca, Colombia.

Communication and Information Program

Clearly it is important to publicize the experiences, leanings, and research being accumulated by CLADES and its members. The Communication and Information Program makes available to CLADES' members all the relevant technical information generated by the consortium's own research, as well as that from universities and other research groups. The program is also proving to be a key tool in decentralizing important information, bringing the information directly to those who need it in their rural development programs. Four main channels comprise this program:

1. The twice-yearly regional magazine, Agroecology and Development, disseminates the analysis of successful local experiences that promote and enhance food production and resource conservation, as well as information on research advances and training activities. Its issues are sent throughout Latin America and even across the world.

2. Regional newsletters, low-cost booklets, and training materials on specific topics are published to assist members and training of local extension workers and farmers. Publications include a manual on ethnoecology, programs for in situ conservation of crop genetic resources, and rapid rural appraisal.

3. Videotapes and slide programs have been produced to illustrate very practical concepts, tools, and methods of sustain- able agriculture.

4. Readers, containing up-to-date articles on relevant topics, have been compiled and distributed to training course participants.

Working Associations with Universities in the Region

Despite the worldwide explosion in academic activities related to conservation and sustainable development, there are few agricultural colleges in Latin America that have seriously integrated environmental concerns into their curricula. Without a critical mass of trained professionals, there is little hope that the future graduates will be able to redirect teaching and research programs, or orient public policy toward sustainability. For this reason, CLADES has been engaged in a collaborative program to help strengthen the training capabilities of selected Latin American universities in agroecology and sustainable rural development. CLADES has joined with the University of Andalusia, Spain, and the Latin American Association of Agronomy Schools (Asociacion de Escuelas de Agronomia en America Latina, ALEAS), to create the International Faculty of Agroecology and Development (Facultad International de Agroecologia y Desarrollo, FIAD). This university institution facilitates the dialogue between the sustainable development practitioners and scholars. Presently, courses for agronomy students are being designed, as well as a master's program to prepare academics in sustainable rural development.

In September 199 1, CLADES, in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), held a conference entitled "Developing an Agroecology Curriculum in the Latin American Agricultural College" in Santiago, Chile. This conference allowed NGO technicians and university professors to discuss the ways the existing agricultural curricula needed to be changed to incorporate environmental and suatainavle delopment concerns. The conference culminated with the signing of an agreement between CLADES and I I Latin American Colleges of Agriculture (Univ. de San Simon-Bolivia, Univ. Nacional de la Plata-Argentina, Univ. of Chile, Univ. Federal de Palotas-Brasil, Univ. Nacional Agraria La Molina-Peru, Univ. de la Republica-Uruguay, Univ. Nacional de Cajamarca-Peru, Universidad Autonoma de Chapingo-Mexico, Univ. Nacional del Nordeste-Argentina, ISCAH-Cuba, Univ. Mayor San Andres-Bolivia). The agreement defines the terms to develop a more integrated program of curriculum development, special professional training and internship programs, interdisciplinary research programs, and the production of training materials to strengthen the universities.

CLADES and the Broader Policy and Socioeconomic Issues

CLADES recognizes that profitability at the household level depends not only on what peasants and NGOs can do, but even more importantly, on the macro-conditions under which the peasant production operates. There are many policy obstacles that prevent peasants from fair competition in the market, thus limiting the chances for any agroecological strategy to be taken up at the household level. A major challenge for CLADES is, there- fore, to create alternative policy scenarios that reduce antipeasant biases in institutional and policy frameworks, and instead provi 'de peasants with access to land, resources, public services, appropriate technologies, credit, etc. CLADES maintains that solutions to major environmental problems in Latin America, such as solion to the problem of rural poverty. Therefore, extensive changes in the structural conditions and the policies that continuously produce widespread poverty are needed.

CLADES increasingly strives to:

* Determine ways Latin American NGOs can influence agricultural and environmental national policy.

* Define strategies so the NGOs can transcend their small-scale

impact, to effectively "socialize" agroecological development strategies.

* Foster research on specific policy changes and assess the impacts of such changes on socioeconomic and environmental parameters.

CLADES seeks to address several key questions:

What economic policies will favor a more equitable and sustainable agriculture in each country?

What set of technologies will minimize adverse environmental effects without significantly compromising benefits?

What would be the comparative economic return of export agriculture and peasant agriculture using alternative farming systems under current or less distorted policy conditions?

What are the production efficiencies of alternative technologies when compared with conventional high-input technologies?

What kind of applied research will be necessary to generate and promote agroecological technologies that enhance economic viability, but reduce ecological costs?

What are the natural resource costs and benefits of the various technologies?

Relations with Northern Institutions

From the beginning, CLADES initiated its relations with northern institutions based on the concept of "partnership." The basis of the partnership has been CLADES' working agenda: the formulation of an agroecological proposal, the creation of professional capacities within NGOs, and the reinforcement of local institutional capabilities to foster rural development.

A significant group of European, American, and Canadian donor agencies have committed their support to CLADES' working plan. The plan has created the conditions for a North-South partnership that has gone beyond providing funds, into sharing the responsibilities and challenges included in CLADES' agenda. Leaving aside confrontational attitudes, CLADES proposes a negotiating table between institutions of the North and South, built upon a working plan that specifies the technological needs of the Latin American peasant production unit. Several participants committed to agroecology in different ways sit at this table: Southern NGOs, university researchers and professors from the South, donor agencies of the North (mostly the US and Canada), and Northern research and advocacy institutions.

The strategy of the common table has increasingly led to a collaborative arrangement whereby the search for agroecological, technological innovation has been a shared task between northern and southern actors. Concrete activities have taken place, all reflecting the spirit of cooperation with which the table was conceived:

Annual or bi-annual meetings between CLADES' Secretariat and the donor agencies and foundations to discuss needs, opportunities, and tasks accomplished.

Collaboration from US scientists/researchers in CLADES' courses and workshops.

Travel by selected CLADES technicians to California to visit research projects and on-farm experiences in organic production.

Cooperation and exchange of information with northern institutions interested in particular issues (i.e. Rodale International, RAFI, IIED, ILEIA, WRI, IFOAM, PAN, etc.).

CLADES' working plan has assigned an important role to northern institutions interested in particular development and conservation issues, such as pesticide regulation, seed conservation, tropical rain forest protection, and agroecological research. In fact, CLADES provides an institutional arrangement to channel their contribution through representative organizations, avoiding a dispersion of efforts through parallel activities and ad hoc organizations.

In summary, the partnership has initiated a much needed South North dialogue on issues of relevance to rural development and conservation of natural resources. An exciting result of North South partnership is the opening of mutual benefits. Because CLADES has access to professional expertise that is available in several member institutions, some northern NGOs can use these resource persons to train their project officers. On the other hand, these contacts with donor agencies and institutions can facilitate the access of Southern NGOs' personnel to research centers and universities in the North.

Source: Based on An Agroecological Working Team Promoting Sustainable Rural Development With Small-Scale Farmers in Latin America, written by Andres Yurjevic and Miguel Altieri, published in Journal of Learning 1, ICFID, Canada, 1995, pp. 39-46. Information also drawn from "Monitor Report: Consorcio LatinoAmericano sobre Agroecologia y Desarrollo (CLADES), " a report for the Inter-American Foundation by Peter Rossett, Center for Latin American Studies at Stanford University.

Contact Person: Andres Yurjevic, Executive Secretary
CLADES (Consorcio Latinoamericano sobre Agroecologia y Desarrollo)
Casilla 97 Correo 9
Santiago, CHILE
Phone: 56-2-234-11-41 or 56-2-233-70-92
Fax: 56-2-233-8918

From: For All Generations, Making world agriculture more sustainable (p.275-283). A WSAA Publication, Edited by: J.Patrick Madden and Scott G. Chaplowe.