Autonomy is defined as the independence of an actor and/or a system from the exterior. This concept refers to the room for action and interactions of an actor and/or a system with respect to its environment. In farming systems, autonomy is often addressed at the farm level. It questions the dependence on external resources of the system (seeds, fertilizers, feeds, but also technologies, …). In recent decades, the intensification of agricultural systems has resulted in a loss of autonomy due to increased productivity, specialization and farm sizes. Agroecology proposes to put autonomy at the heart of the systems, as a founding value and a lever for action by promoting internal exchanges. An agroecological system is less dependent on inputs and external trade because it mobilizes biological diversity and natural processes. Different forms of autonomy (food, financial, decision-making, etc.) can be envisaged at different levels of organization. Hereafter are two examples of technical and socio-economic autonomy.
In agroecology, from a technical point of view, the feeding autonomy has a preponderant place in the management of the system. The challenge is to design food systems based on locally produced resources. The feeding autonomy is a means of giving the farmer freedom of action with regards to external supplementary inputs. It can be addressed at the level of the farm, but also at the scale of small territories where material exchanges between farmers take place.
In agroecology, from a socio-economic point of view, autonomy is declared a founding value for some farmers who seek to be freed from the predominant role of para-agricultural actors (banks, industries, research, …). The idea is to promote available local resources in order to recreate other exchange systems between actors who share common values. This vision of autonomy, which is more political, carries a conception of agriculture whereby it should remain in the hands of farmers. Considered on a territory-scale, it brings together producers and consumer-citizens for the construction of local agro-food systems.