Big philanthropists are looking at agroecology


‘Global Alliance for the Future of Food’ – a network of 25 philanthropic organizations that address the issues of global food and agriculture, from different perspectives – preceded COP28 by presenting in Dubai, on 1 December 2023, an appeal to increase funding tenfold favor of agroecology and regenerative agriculture. (1)

The large philanthropic organizations that express the so-called ‘inclusive capitalism’ – after decades of promoting GMOs in Africa and Asia as (failed) solutions to solve food security crises – finally recognize agroecology as the way forward for sustainable development and the mitigation of ‘climate change’.

1) Agri-food systems and greenhouse gas emissions

Agri-food systems are identified by GAFF as the human activities with the greatest impact on greenhouse gas emissions at a planetary level. The whole of the activities, from the change of land use to the management of packaging waste, is estimated to produce around a third of greenhouse gas emissions. (2).

Agricultural activities only and livestock are considered to express, according to GAAF:

– the main anthropogenic source of nitrous oxide emissions;

– half of methane emissions;

– 23% of greenhouse gas emissions. (3)

Agriculture at the same time is the activity most affected by climate change, which puts food security at risk. Healthy soils, on the other hand, perform fundamental ecosystem services for humans such as carbon absorption, water purification and plant nourishment. As well as mitigating the damage of floods and droughts. (4)

2) Agroecology, the ideal solution

The solution ideal for guaranteeing safe, nutritious and sustainable food for all the populations of the planet is identified in agroecology. Agroecology is a set of practices that take into consideration ecology, the socio-cultural, technological, economic and political dimensions of food systems. Because food, livelihoods and health (human and environmental) can no longer be considered separately. (5)

Agroecology allows us to optimize the interaction between human beings and natural ecosystems, including animals and plants. It allows us to increase soil fertility and preserve biodiversity, thanks to the elimination of the use of pesticides and other agrotoxics. (6) A valuable tool to contribute to SDGs in the UN Agenda 2030 and halve emissions of ‘greenhouse gases’ (GHGs), as envisaged by the European ‘Green Deal’. (7)

3) Agroecology, the proposals of philanthropic organizations

The objective declared by philanthropic organizations it is extremely ambitious, almost utopian. Convert 50% of agri-food systems to agroecology and ‘regenerative’ agriculture – a concept that is not as clear, potentially misleading – by 2040, 100% by 2050. Taking into account that:

– the costs of the transition towards regenerative systems are estimated at US$ 240-250 billion/year, a figure well below the current agricultural subsidies (approximately US$ 635). This figure also represents less than 5% of the hidden costs of agri-food systems currently estimated at 12 trillion dollars/year (FAO, SOFI report, 2023), (8)

– 61% of public aid in agriculture (approximately US$ 385 billion/year) still finances environmentally harmful activities that hinder the transition. It is therefore necessary to move these subsidies towards regenerative agroecological approaches, in antithesis to what has been achieved in the European Union in the post-2022 Common Agriculture Policy reform (9,10)

– current overall investments (private and public) for the ecological transition amount to around 44 billion dollars a year, to which must be added around 300-700 million investments by philanthropic organisations. These investments should be increased tenfold.

4) Tools

An ecosystem of organizations structured on the global, (macro-) regional and national levels should work on the political (advocacy), financial and operational fronts. In order to promote investments and provide material and technical support, at local level:

  • digital platforms to provide tailored insights to serve stakeholders, best practices, business cases, investor news, disclosure and policy priorities;
  • technical research and development in close collaboration with acceleration platforms and national research centres;
  • digital infrastructures focused on open innovation and social capital;
  • peer-to-peer learning initiatives that effectively generate and participatory knowledge dissemination.

 5) Provisional conclusions

The transition of agri-food systems towards agroecology is essential to guarantee their sustainability in the medium and long term, to the benefit of farmers and breeders as well as the environment and public health. As demonstrated, among other things, in an important study by the IDDRI institute (Institute for Durable Development and International Relations) in 2019. (11)

The giants of philanthropy invite every organization to implement the strategies deemed appropriate in the territory where it operates. ‘To promote change, projects defined by local leaders can be financed or power dynamics can be shifted by collaborating with those involved in protecting biodiversity, farmers’ organizations and indigenous populations.. (1)

From words to deeds, Big Ag and the large agricultural confederations (i.e. Copa-Cogeca and Farm Europe in the Old Continent, Coldiretti in Italy) continue to boycott the ecological transition, rather than representing the interests of farmers who believe in it and are committed to it. And politics continues to be totally subservient to their lobbies, as demonstrated by the almost complete failure of the EU ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy. (12)

Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei


(1) Global Alliance for the Future of Food. Cultivating Change: Accelerating and Scaling Agroecology and Regenerative Approaches. December 2023
The philanthropic organizations participating in GAFF are: African Climate Foundation, Agroecology Fund, Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development, Builders Initiative Foundation, Climate Emergency Collaborative Group, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation, Erol Foundation, European Climate Foundation, Funders for Regenerative Agriculture , Global Alliance for the Future of Food, GRACE Communications Foundation, IKEA Foundation, India Climate Collaborative, Instituto Clima e Sociedade, Instituto Ibirapitanga, Laudes Foundation, Macdoch Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Oak Foundation, Platform for Agriculture and Climate Transformation, Porticus, Robert Bosch Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Sall Family Foundation, Walton Family Foundation

(2) United Nations. FAO: Food systems contribute more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. 9.3.21

(3) IPCC. Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

(4) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Soil protection, the European Parliament calls for binding rules. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 25.4.21

(5) FAO. Agroecology knowledge hub.

(6) Dario Dongo, Camilla Fincardi. Agroecology, SDGs, salvation. The FAO Decalogue. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.4.20

(7) Dario Dongo. European Green Deal, the new strategy in the EU. Égalité. 13.12.19

(8) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. FAO, SOFI report 2023. The hidden costs of agri-food systems. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 13.11.19

(9) Dario Dongo. PAC post 2020, smoky gray. We need an organic revolution. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 22.10.20

(10) Marta Strinati. CAP post-2022, the failure of the ecological transition in agriculture. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.11.21

(11) Dario Dongo, Sabrina Bergamini. 10 years of agroecology to save Europe, the IDDRI study. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 25.3.19

(12) Dario Dongo. No to reducing pesticides, yes to glyphosate. ToxicEurope. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.11.19

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.


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