Agroecology is a scientific discipline that uses ecological theory to study, design, manage and evaluate agricultural systems that are productive but also resource conserving. Agroecological research considers interactions of all important biophysical, technical and socioeconomic components of farming systems and regards these systems as the fundamental units of study, where mineral cycles, energy transformations, biological processes and socioeconomic relationships are analysed as a whole in an interdisciplinary fashion.
Agroecology is concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimising the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of modern technologies. In industrial countries, modern agriculture with its yield maximising high-input technologies generates environmental and health problems that often do not serve the needs of producers and consumers. In developing countries, in addition to promoting environmental degradation, modern agricultural technologies have bypassed the circumstances and socio-economic needs of large numbers of resource-poor farmers.
The contemporary challenges of agriculture have evolved from the merely technical to also include social, cultural, economic and particularly environmental concerns. Agricultural production issues cannot be considered separately from environmental issues. In this light, a new technological and development approach is needed to provide for the agricultural needs of present and future generations without depleting our natural resource base. The agroecological approach does just this because it is more sensitive to the complexities of local agriculture, and has a broad performance criteria which includes properties of ecological sustainability, food security, economic viability, resource conservation and social equity, as well as increased production.
To put agroecological technologies into practice requires technological innovations, agriculture policy changes, socio-economic changes, but mostly a deeper understanding of the complex long-term interactions among resources, people and their environment. To attain this understanding agriculture must be conceived of as an ecological system as well as a human dominated socio-economic system. A new interdisciplinary framework to integrate the biophysical sciences, ecology and other social sciences is indispensable. Agroecology provides a framework by applying ecological theory to the management of agroecosystems according to specific resource and socio-economic realities, and by providing a methodology to make the required interdisciplinary connections.