The Launch of SOCLA North America

Stella Carnegie | 12.01.2016

On November 17 2016, over 50 researchers, students and farm activists gathered in UC Berkeley’s Moffitt Hall to celebrate the launch of the North American chapter of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA NA)

Clara Nicholls, President of SOCLA and Professor of Agroecology and Rural Development at UC Berkeley, was joined by Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at UC Berkeley since 1981 in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of Food First, to share their vision of the social change that this new chapter has the great potential to bring.

Clara introduced SOCLA’s mission and history with an emphasis on Agroecology’s roots in Latin America. She shared the intention of the Latin American chapters to research, analyze and develop a deep understanding of agroecology and its political and social implications on the farm level, while adding that it is time to scale up, to expand agroecology from a farm practice to a way of life, to a way of protecting territory.

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The movement for agroecology is driven but also hindered by its success. Eric pointed out that in Latin America, agroecology originated as a practice, a science and a political movement, successfully challenging the practice and the ideology of industrial agriculture. In the US, reformist approaches to agricultural development have taken great pains to erase agroecology’s political and social origins. This artificial separation between the political and the practice of agroecology—common in North American academic and policy settings—strips it of its power to bring about social change.  In response, along with linking US and Latin American agroecologists and farmers, SOCLA NA seeks to demonstrate the integral importance of agroecology’s political contribution. Miguel Altieri explained that SOCLA NA will help grow this movement, in an integral way, across the Americas.

Since 2007, SOCLA has promoted the exchange of agroecological knowledge and wisdom between scientists, farmers, and activists, helping to make agroecology the social, political and academic force that it is today.

Over the last 20 years, Food First has dedicated time and energy to agroecology and to social movements, amplifying voices of farmers and researchers on the front lines of social change. Food First’s research and publications “help explain the structures of capitalist agriculture and agrarian capitalism and how that has affected our landscapes, affected our food system, affected our workers, and affected our farmers,” Eric explained. This partnership in creating and developing SOCLA NA is another way Food First can institutionally express that commitment.

The launch of SOCLA NA represents the launch of the alliances essential to “mobilize social movements, to be a part of social change, and to create the type of political will we need to introduce the tremendous structural changes in land and attitudes…now, more than ever,” he concluded.

So what now? What work in North America can cultivate the “catalytic momentum” taking place in other parts of the world? What work particular to the North American context will help to scale out or amplify agroecology in all its aspects?

This is exactly the question that SOCLA NA will address, not just to scale up agroecology, but to build a strong movement. Already, SOCLA NA has seen a tremendous response to this new chapter, so now it’s time to organize, to come together across the Americas in hopes of extending the network across the globe.

Eric explained that SOCLA NA will join the Bay Area and many cities throughout the US, where agriculture is being reinvented, “where people are decolonizing their diets and growing their own food on any spaces they can get their hands on…with all its social and political connotations.”

Clara explained that in North America, we need to organize in the urban areas, where the food justice movements are organizing. Alongside SOCLA Latin America, SOCLA NA will engage in a bilateral exchange of knowledge and research as well as create and organize their own concrete activities fueled by a strong political vision. The US, Miguel emphasized, will need a lot of international solidarity for the resistance movements to flourish. With the current social and political climate, Clara explains, the time is now; people are waking up so it is time to give them the network and support they need to cultivate social change.

Leonor Hurtado was introduced as the SOCLA NA Coordinator. Leonor is a Food First fellow from Guatemala, where she worked against mining in indigenous areas. Her work helped to understand that mining is truly an agrarian problem, and this was her first engagement with agroecology.

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