Rice seeds grown using the principles of agroecology. Photograph: Martin Godwin
Holding rice seeds in her hands, villager Emilia Alves Manduca explains to other smallholder farmers how the community where she lives – Mato Grosso, in the central-west region of Brazil – escaped from poverty and became self-sufficient.
She has travelled more than two days by bus to participate in thenational agroecology meeting, in Juazeiro, Bahia. With a shining smile, she says that for the past six years they have grown more than 30 types of crops with no pesticides at Roseli Nunes, in the city of Mirasol D'Oeste, as part of the Brazilian Landless Workers movement.
"I used to work in a big farm, applying pesticides. I had to go to the hospital twice because of the side effects," says Alves.
Central-west Brazil, where most live on soybeans and maize, consists mostly of monocultures. In 2013, the region farmed a record volume of soybeans and maize, producing over 78.5m tonnes. However, most of it is not used to feed the population: it is exported to produce biofuels.
For Alves, a smallholder farmer, her rice seeds are a symbol of the strength of family farming. That seed was a result of an exchange she made with quilombolas (communities descended from slaves) that have selectively bred seeds for more than four generations. This is part of a worldwide movement led by Latin America, called agroecology.
In response to problems caused by agribusiness, including contamination of natural resources, increases in food prices, soil infertility and health problems, agroecology has emerged as a marriage between science, traditional agriculture and social movements.
Family farming, the practice which agroecology is based on, involves about 500 million people worldwide, according statistics from UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Agroecological farmers produce relatively more food. In South America, family farming takes place on 18% of the territory and produces about 40% of its food.
Strengthening networks is important. The Agroecological Network of Azuay, in Ecuador, brings together 19 small farmers' groups for fairs and markets. Growth of agroecological farming increased from 23,000 hectares (56,810 acres) in 1996 to 403,000 in 2008, generating $395m (£231m) and creating 172,000 jobs (pdf).
Agribusiness denies affecting people's health and ignores the fact that food production in Latin America and the Caribbean can easily meet the needs of its population. The problem of hunger is not due to a lack of food, but a lack of access for the poorest.
Agroecology guarantees land to peasants, species diversity, decent work and food sovereignty, among other principles. It is different from organic production, which is based on the same industrial model as agribusiness – which is made by a few people for a few," says Paulo Petersen, co-ordinator of the NGO ASPTA.
Chilean Miguel Altieri, professor of Agroecology at the University of Berkeley and member of Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology calls the movement a new agrarian revolution, which opposes the green revolution. "Agroecology is the only viable option to meet the region's food needs in this age of increasing oil prices and global climate change."