Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Research Article

Ecological agriculture: Principles, practices, and constraints1

Fred Magdoffa1 c1

a1 Department of Plant and Soil Science, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05401, USA.


The practice of ecological agriculture involves building the strengths of natural ecosystems into agroecosystems, purposely disturbed to produce food and fiber. The overall strategies include using practices that (a) grow healthy plants with good defense capabilities, (b) stressing pests, and (c) enhancing populations of beneficial organisms. These are accomplished by enhanced habitat management both above ground and in the soil. Many of the practices that contribute to the overall strategies are well known—such as intensive use of cover crops or reduced tillage. Reasons for why they have not been more widely used are discussed. The special challenges facing ecological agriculture in the poor countries of the Third World are also discussed. Re-engaging national governments in the active support of their agriculture and addressing the structural inequalities (including access to land) are essential to overcome the many problems facing farmers in the poor countries.

(Accepted January 02 2007)

Key Words:

  • ecological agriculture;
  • agroecology;
  • soil management;
  • crop management;
  • farm subsidies;
  • Third World agriculture


c1 *Corresponding author:


1 Modified from the keynote address to the conference ‘Sustainability in the Balance: Juggling Environmental Health, Economic Profitability and Social Equity in the Global Food System’, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, 11 April, 2006.