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Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems, second edition
by Stephen R. Gliessman

Reviews of the text

Also available in Spanish, Farsi, and Portuguese

The Author

Stephen R. Gliessman,Alfred E. Heller Professor of Agroecology
Department of Environmental Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz
Building on a background in ecology, Dr. Gliessman has accumulated over 30 years of teaching, research, and production experience in the field of agroecology. His international experiences in tropical to temperate agriculture, small-farm to large-farm systems, traditional to conventional farm management, hands-on to academic activities, and organic to synthetic chemical approaches have provided a unique combination of materials and perspectives to incorporate into the book.

Purpose and Audience

Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems, Second Edition, is intended to reach a broad national and international audience and teach the ecological foundations for sustainable agriculture. It is designed for use in undergraduate-level courses in agroecology or sustainable food systems. The text's grounding in ecological science is solid enough, however, for it to be adapted for use in a basic ecology course. It is written for students with some knowledge of the life sciences, yet can be understood by a diligent non-science major. The book is available in English, and the first edition is available in Spanish, Portuguese, and Farsi, and is currently being translated into Italian.

The Agroecology Theme

The author defines agroecology as the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems. An ecosystem framework is shown to be essential for determining (1) if a particular agricultural practice, input, or management decision contributes to or detracts from sustainability, and (2) the ecological basis for the functioning of the chosen management strategy over the long-term. Such an orientation is essential for developing alternatives that reduce purchased external inputs, lessen the impacts of such inputs when they are used, and establish a basis for designing systems that help farmers sustain their farms and their farming communities.

Organization and Content

The book is divided into four sections. The first outlines the reasons why an agroecological approach to agriculture is needed, as well as defining and describing both agroecology and sustainable agriculture. With a primary focus on crop plants, the second section focuses on the interaction between the individual crop organism and the environment, building an autecological framework for understanding how factors of the environment function and can be managed. The third section examines system level interactions, stressing the need for understanding the emergent qualities of populations, communities, and ecosystems that are of value in sustainable agriculture. The book concludes with a final section that proposes a framework for setting the parameters for sustainability, outlines the indicators that can best inform us if we are moving in the necessary directions, and explains how to broaden the agenda of sustainability to include the whole food system. Humans and human society must be integrated with the ecological knowledge of agroecosystem sustainability, bringing us back to the understanding that agroecosystems are, after all, the coevolution between a culture and its environment. In this balance lies true sustainability.

For a more detailed picture of the book's content, look at the table of contents.

An Accompanying Laboratory Manual

A laboratory manual, Field and Laboratory Investigations in Agroecology, Second Edition, has also been published to accompany the textbook. The manual will allow instructors to enhance the teaching of agroecology by giving students opportunities to get their hands on the concepts. Investigations are developed in five categories: 1) studies of environmental factors, 2) studies of population dynamics in crop systems, 3) studies of interspecific interactions in crop systems, 4) studies of farm and field systems, and 5) food system studies. The investigations are preceded by information for the instructor as well as the student on carrying out successful field and laboratory exercises. The investigations are adaptable to different climates, seasons, facilities, and available time.   

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The manual's table of contents lists the titles of the investigations.



additional agroecology books


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Agroecosystem Sustainability: Developing Practical Strategies
Edited by Stephen R. Gliessman
Series: Advances in Agroecology
Published year: 2001


Preserving the productivity of agricultural land over the long term requires sustainable practices in food production. This book covers topics that range from a particular region to more global efforts to develop sets of indicators of sustainability.


  • Presents the results of empirical studies that determine if a particular agricultural practice, input, or management decision is sustainable
  • Provides a clear definition of the ecological foundation of agroecosystem sustainability
  • Covers practical ways of improving or increasing agroecosystem sustainability
  • Includes unique, valuable methods for assessing sustainability
  • Integrates the social and ecological parameters of sustainability
  • Links social and ecological indicators of sustainability



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Agroecosystems Analysis: Agronomy Monograph Number 43
Edited by D. Rickerl and C. Francis
Published year: 2004


       Agroecology is a scientific discipline that seeks to provide an objective, ecologically based assessment of the structure, function, multidimensionality, and spatial scale of food systems. Scientists and educators have long struggled with the complexity of learning about agricultural and food systems. Agroecology is a complex science, one that links the ecological, economic, social, ethical, and legal aspects of food production.
       Agroecosystems Analysis, Agronomy Monograph Number 43, provides practical and scientifically based guidelines as well as specific indicators of agroecosystem structure and function to help students and professionals unravel this complexity. The authors approach the topics across a hierarchy of spatial scale from the microbiological to the landscape and regional levels. This perspective is important to promote better understanding of the flow of agroecosystem functions from the physical structuring of the field, the farm, the landscape, and the region.
       Most agricultural scientists and many of today's courses in current curricula focus on the production aspects of agriculture. The goals of increased crop yields and animal production are inherent and assumed in the design of cropping, grazing, and cropBanimal systems. Yet we know that sustainability of agriculture and food systems will depend on more than production. For this reason, the indicators used to assess systems in the following chapters reflect biological, ecological, economic, and social dimensions of agroecosystems. The science of agroecology has developed as a framework within which we can objectively measure and evaluate food and fiber systems. The editors and authors of Agroecosystems Analysis intend the monograph to serve as both a professional research reference and a textbook for advanced undergraduates or graduate students. Each chapter contains study questions. The monograph concludes with a glossary and subject index.
       This monograph provides an excellent overview of the current state of the science of agroecology. Leaders in this field give detailed analyses of key topics such as multidimensional thinking, multifunctional economic analysis, whole-farm planning, agricultural conservation at the landscape scale, agroecosystem functions that benefit society, and ecological morality. A critical analysis of our current approach to designing agricultural research, teaching, and funding programs is provided, followed by an alternative vision of how we should redesign these programs in more holistic, sustainable manners. Research and education priorities, suggested across a spectrum of spatial scales for the full breadth of key topics in agroecology, will be valuable guidance for farmers, researchers, teachers, students, and policymakers.




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Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Fair Trade, Sustainable Livelihoods and Ecosystems in Mexico and Central America
Edited by Christopher M. Bacon, V. Ernesto Méndez, Stephen R. Gliessman, David Goodman and Jonathan A. Fox
Published year: 2007


Our morning cups of coffee connect us to a global industry and an export crisis in the tropics that is destroying livelihoods, undermining the cohesion of families and communities, and threatening ecosystems. Confronting the Coffee Crisis explores small-scale farming, the political economy of the global coffee industry, and initiatives that claim to promote more sustainable rural development in coffee-producing communities. Contributors review the historical, political, economic, and agroecological processes within today's coffee industry and analyze the severely depressed export market that faces small-scale growers in Mexico and Central America.

The book presents a series of interdisciplinary, empirically rich case studies showing how small-scale farmers manage ecosystems and organize collectively as they seek useful collaborations with international NGOs and coffee companies to create opportunities for themselves in the coffee market. The findings demonstrate the interconnections among farmer livelihoods, biodiversity, conservation, and changing coffee markets. Additional chapters examine alternative trade practices, certification, and eco-labeling, discussing the politics and market growth of organic, shade-grown, and Fair Trade coffees. Combining interdisciplinary research with case-study analysis at scales ranging from the local to the global, Confronting the Coffee Crisis reveals the promise and the perils of efforts to create a more sustainable coffee industry.



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The Conversion to Sustainable Agriculture: Principles, Processes, and Practices
Editor(s): Stephen R. Gliessman, University of California, Santa Cruz; Martha Rosemeyer, Evergreen State College..
Published year: 2010


With all of the environmental and social problems confronting our food systems today, it is apparent that none of the strategies we have relied on in the past?higher-yielding varieties, increased irrigation, inorganic fertilizers, pest damage reduction?can be counted on to come to the rescue. In fact, these solutions are now part of the problem. It is becoming quite clear that the only way to keep the food crisis from escalating is to promote the conversion processes that will move agriculture to sustainability.

Under the editorial guidance of agroecology experts Martha Rosemeyer and the internationally renowned Dr. Stephen R. Gliessman, The Conversion to Sustainable Agriculture: Principles, Processes, and Practices establishes a framework for how this conversion can be accomplished and presents case studies from around the world that illustrate how the process is already underway. The book provides a four-stage transition process for achieving sustainability and an in-depth analysis of the global efforts to make farms more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

An international team of chapter contributors explores ways to lessen dependency on fossil fuels and pesticides, and examines each step in the conversion process. They also describe the process of monitoring change toward sustainable agriculture while integrating social and economic analysis within scientific practices. Serving as both a core textbook for students and a comprehensive reference for agricultural practitioners, this volume is a valuable resource for the change that is needed in our food system now and in the future.