Dictionary of Concepts

Learn more about the key concepts in agroecology. Are you curious to understand what “phytoremediation” is? Keep reading to find out.


  • Agro-waste

    Agro-waste, also known as agricultural waste, refers to the organic waste generated as a by-product of agricultural activities such as crop production, livestock farming, and forestry. It includes crop residues, manure, animal bedding, wood chips, and other plant and animal materials that are no longer needed or useful in the production process. 

    Agro-waste can be a significant environmental issue if not managed properly, as it can lead to soil degradation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. However, it can also be a valuable resource if recycled or reused through various processes such as composting, anaerobic digestion, and bioenergy production. Reference: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/agricultural-waste

  • Agroecology

    Defined by the FAO: “simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. It seeks to optimise the interactions between plants, animals, humans, and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.” Reference: https://www.fao.org/agroecology/overview/en/

  • Agroecosystem

    An agro-ecosystem is a cultivated ecosystem, usually corresponding to the spatial unit of a farm and whose ecosystem functions are valued by humans in the form of agricultural goods and services
  • Agroforestry

    Agroforestry is the integration of woody vegetation, crops and/or livestock on the same area of land. Trees can be inside parcels or on the boundaries (hedges). Reference: http://www.europeanagroforestry.eu/about/agroforestry-europe

  • Agronomy

    the science of agriculture, specifically with regard to industrial-scale farming and profit maximisation
  • Apiculture/ Beekeeping

    Creation/maintenance of bee colonies. Honey production
  • Arable (Land/Cultures)

    Usually in reference to annual crops or land used to grow them.


  • Beneficial/ Auxiliar Fauna

    A group of animal species, usually insects, capable of controlling agricultural pests and diseases
  • Biofertilizer

    Natural/biological fertilisers
  • Biopesticide

    Pesticides of natural/biological origin


  • Calf

    Young cow
  • Carrying Capacity

    No. of animals that a given area of pasture can support without degradation, over a given period of time
  • Chlorophyll

    Green plant pigment responsible for photosynthesis.
  • Compost

    Product resulting from the decomposition of organic matter
  • Conventional farming

    A farming method that includes the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms, allowing this type of farms to be less depending on cultural (crop rotation, inclusion of crops fixing atmospheric nitrogen), biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity
  • Cover Crop

    Plants grown to protect the soil
  • Crop

    Cultivated plant/species
  • Crop Residue

    Plant material left in fields after harvest
  • Crop Rotation

    Agricultural technique: alternating crops between seasons on the same plot
  • Cultivar

    Variety of a particular species of agricultural interest
  • Cutting

    A piece of a plant (leaf, stem or root) that can be used to produce a new plant.


  • Ecological or ecosystem resilience

    Ecological resilience can be defined in two ways. The first is a measure of the magnitude of disturbance that can be absorbed before the (eco)system changes its structure by changing the variables and processes that control behaviour. The second, a more traditional meaning, is as a measure of resistance to disturbance and the speed of return to the equilibrium state of an ecosystem. Reference: EEA: https://www.eea.europa.eu/help/glossary/chm-biodiversity/ecological-or-ecosystem-resilience

  • Endemic

    Plants that belong to a certain geographical area and are generally confined to that location
  • Erosion (Soil)

    Wear and transport of the soil surface, usually caused by running water or wind.
  • Evapotranspiration

    The amount of water that transpires through a plant's leaves combined with the amount that evaporates from the soil in which it is growing. Used as a guide to the amount of water a plant needs per day/week/year.
  • Extension (Rural)

    Applying and disseminating scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices by educating farmers.
  • Extensive Livestock Production

    Production systems with low productivity per head of cattle and agricultural area. Extensive grazing


  • Fallow

    Land left uncultivated ("fallow") between agricultural cycles
  • Farm to Fork Strategy

    The Farm to Fork Strategy is the EU strategy that aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system that should have a neutral or positive environmental impact, help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts, reverse the loss of biodiversity, ensure food security, nutrition and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade.  Reference: https://food.ec.europa.eu/horizontal-topics/farm-fork-strategy_en
  • Fodder/ Forage

    Green or dry animal feed. Hay.


  • Grafting

    The process of attaching a stem or shoot of one plant (scion) to the stem of another (rootstock).
  • Green Deal

    The Green Deal is a package of measures introduced by the European Commission in 2019 to help the EU become climate neutral by 2050. It aims to transform the European economy to a sustainable and low carbon one, with a focus on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Green Deal covers various sectors including industry, agriculture, transport, and building. Reference: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en
  • Green Manure

    Green manure is a cover crop sown on an agricultural plot to fertilise the soil for the next crops.


  • Hay

    Dry, preserved food for animals.


  • Inputs

    Expenses and materials needed for agricultural production
  • Intensive Grazing

    grazing system in which a pasture is intensively grazed by animals for a small number of days and then left to rest before being grazed again.
  • IPM (Integrated Pest Management)

    manage and eradicate pests by choosing suitable plants that provide good growing conditions for auxiliary fauna and minimise pests rather than annihilating them.
  • Irrigation

    Water the plants.


  • Layering

    Layering is the type of vegetative multiplication that consists of bending a branch of the mother plant until it is buried in the ground. The buried part takes root and, when it is rooted, it can separate from the mother plant, thus obtaining an independent plant.
  • Leaching

    The process of removing soluble materials by passing water through the soil
  • Legumes/ Pulses

    Plants that take nitrogen from the air and pass it on to the plant for it to use. The seeds grow in pods. Some legumes are lucerne, soya, clover and peanuts
  • Liming/ Limestone

    Adding lime or other basic (alkaline) material to increase the soil's pH.
  • Loam (Soil)

    Classification of soils that are not markedly sandy or clayey. Intermediate" soils.


  • Market Garden

    Intensive production of vegetables for sale, usually on a small scale but with a wide variety of products.
  • Microorganisms/ Microfauna/ Microflora

    Microscopic living beings (bacteria, fungi, etc.) of vital importance to the health of soil and plants.
  • Monoculture

    a large plantation of a single crop
  • Mulch

    Any loose material, usually organic, placed on the ground as a protective cover (ground bark, sawdust, dry leaves or straw).


  • N-P-K

    N (Nitrogen) - P (Phosphorus) - K (Potassium) -> the three most important chemical elements for plants. Basis for fertiliser formulation
  • Native Breed

    Variety of an animal species that has been domesticated by man for breeding and selection purposes, associated with a particular geographical territory.
  • Neem

    A botanical insecticide that is non-toxic. It is derived from the Neem tree (azaderachta indica).
  • No-till

    Agricultural practices that do not mobilise the soil.
  • Nutrient

    Any element or chemical compound essential for the growth and development of an organism


  • Open Pollinated

    Any plant that has been pollinated in the field. The seeds produce plants that are identical to their parents
  • Organic Matter

    Dead plant or animal material (such as manure) found in the soil.
  • Overgrazing

    Allowing animals to graze in a pasture for long periods of time without giving the plants a chance to recover


  • Paddock

    A subdivided section of pasture
  • Perennial

    (Permanent) Plants that live for several
    growing seasons.
  • Pests

    A subdivided section of pasture
  • pH

    Measure by which the acidity (--pH) or alkalinity (++pH) of soil or water is classified. A pH of 6 to 7.5 is considered "ideal" for most agricultural crops
  • Photosynthesis

    The process by which green plants use the sun's light energy to produce sugar from water and air
  • Phytoremediation

    Phytoremediation is the use of green plants to treat and control wastes in water, soil, and air S.C. McCutcheon, S.E. Jørgensen (2008): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978044463768000069X
  • Pollination

    Process that leads to fertilisation and plant reproduction. Pollen transport.
  • Polyculture

    cultivation of several crops in association with each other; the opposite of monoculture
  • Poultry

    (Poultry) Chickens, ducks, geese, farmed turkeys
  • Propagation

    In horticulture, this expression refers to the different ways of growing new plants.
  • Pruning

    A method of cutting leaves or branches within limits in order to remove dead or diseased foliage or branches. Also used to control or direct growth, increase the quality or yield of flowers or fruit and ensure the growing position of the main branches to increase structural strength.


  • Quality seeds

    Seeds that are varietally pure with a high germination percentage, free from pathogens, and with a proper moisture content and weight. Quality seed insures good germination, rapid emergence, and vigorous growth


  • Raised Beds

    A raised garden bed that offers better drainage, aeration and warmer soil than a conventional bed
  • Rootstock

    The rootstock is the plant whose lower part (root and stem base) is used for grafting. The upper part is called the scion.
  • Ruminants

    herbivores with a stomach composed of four compartments (Sheep, Goats, Cows)


  • Silage

    conservation of forage for animal feed based on lactic fermentation of plant matter
  • Substrate

    Material where plants and fungi grow (potting soil) (compost)
  • Support Species

    Plants that create the right conditions for the growth of crops of commercial/productive interest
  • Sustainable land management practices

    Sustainable land management (SLM) comprises measures and practices adapted to biophysical and socio-economic conditions aimed at the protection, conservation and sustainable use of resources (soil, water and biodiversity) and the restoration of degraded natural resources and their ecosystem functions. https://www.fao.org/land-water/land/sustainable-land-management/slm-practices/en/


  • Tap Root

    Main root from which lateral/secondary roots branch out
  • Thinning

    Thinning/separation of seedlings
  • Tuber

    The underground structure of a plant. Crops such as potatoes, carrots, beetroot, etc.


  • Water Table

    The upper limit of the part of the soil or underlying rock material that is fully saturated with water. Groundwater
  • Watershed

    An area of land that collects and discharges water into a single stream or other outlet
  • Wind Break

    A strip of trees or shrubs that serves to reduce the force of the wind
  • Woody Plant

    They are generally perennial plants (i.e. vines, shrubs, trees and bamboos) that have permanent stems. These branches increase in size every year.


  • Yield

    the quantity of a crop produced at a given time or in a given place