Les Levidow: Divergent Pathways for Sustainable Agriculture: Contending accounts in EU-level research agendas


Published on

Presentation at the STEPS Conference 2010 - Pathways to Sustainability: Agendas for a new politics of environment, development and social justice


Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Les Levidow: Divergent Pathways for Sustainable Agriculture: Contending accounts in EU-level research agendas

  1. 1. Divergent Pathways for Sustainable Agriculture: Contending accounts in EU-level research agendas Les Levidow Open University Pathways to Sustainability conference, STEPs Centre 23 Sept 2010
  2. 2. <ul><li>Preliminary results from the FP7 project, ‘Co-operative Research on Environmental Problems in Europe’ (CREPE), which includes a study of </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Innovation Narratives in EU agricultural research’ </li></ul><ul><li>Funded by Science in Society programme, FP7, 2008-10 </li></ul>
  3. 3. Sustaining what development? <ul><li>Nowadays most policies and innovations are promoted as ‘sustainable development’. </li></ul><ul><li>Different accounts of what is to be sustained. </li></ul><ul><li>Tension between the three pillars – social, economic, and environmental sustainability – is widely acknowledged. </li></ul><ul><li>But each pillar has multiple interpretations, so the tension runs more deeply. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Sustainable development’ has become an ambiguous concept – even a contested one. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Which Sustainable Agriculture? <ul><li>Likewise sustainable agriculture has various accounts, especially in Europe, partly due its diverse agricultural systems and ‘multi-functionality’ policies. </li></ul><ul><li>As agri-industrial systems have caused damage and have undergone greater criticism, various remedies are being called ‘sustainable agriculture’. </li></ul><ul><li>Each account has narratives or storylines diagnosing current problems in ways favouring a specific future Europe as desirable – or even as necessary, to avert catastrophe – in the name of sustainable agriculture. </li></ul><ul><li>Such remedies express contending accounts of progress, innovation and relevant knowledge </li></ul>
  5. 5. Questions <ul><li>What are various accounts and pathways of sustainable agriculture in the European policy context? What is to be sustained? </li></ul><ul><li>How do these accounts diagnose problems to favour specific pathways and research priorities? </li></ul><ul><li>How do EU-level research agendas favour some accounts of progress, innovation and relevant knowledge? </li></ul><ul><li>Contending accounts and pathways can be analysed as divergent paradigms of sustainable agriculture. </li></ul><ul><li>Literature has several binary typologies. </li></ul>
  6. 7. Narratives of European progress <ul><li>European Research Area (ERA) promotes a Knowledge-Based Society, especially aiming to enhance global competitiveness through technoscientific advance, towards a more sustainable Europe . </li></ul><ul><li>Renewed Sustainable Development Strategy: ‘Gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage by improving resource efficiency, inter alia through the promotion of eco-efficient innovations’. These are meant to ‘break the link between economic growth and environmental degradation’ (CEC, 2006). </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Resource efficiency’ has become central to the Europe 2020 strategy. </li></ul><ul><li>Such warnings and hopes function as master narratives, especially by conflating innovation, technoscientific advance and societal progress. </li></ul>
  7. 8. Contending meanings <ul><li>Eco-efficiency narratives are exemplified by the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE). </li></ul><ul><li>Key terms – knowledge, biological resources and economy – have many different meanings. </li></ul><ul><li>Stakes are raised by climate change and environmental vulnerability of agriculture. Greater ‘resilience’ is defined in contending ways – e.g. biodiverse agricultural systems vs eco-efficient inputs: ‘The mere fact that energy crops will help to mitigate the effects of climate change should be used to raise broad public support and acceptance of GM energy crops.’ (Technology Platform Plants for the Future, 2007) </li></ul>
  8. 10. KBBE as governance partnership <ul><li>KBBE = ‘the sustainable, eco-efficient transformation of renewable biological resources into health, food, energy and other industrial products’. Policy agenda links all those sectors. </li></ul><ul><li>Sustainable agriculture = more efficiently using ‘renewable resources’ to increase productivity. </li></ul><ul><li>Such agendas have been shaped by a partnership between European Commission and European Technology Platforms (ETPs), as ‘industry-led’ networks to increase R&D funding and so fulfil Lisbon agenda. </li></ul><ul><li>Officially representing ‘all relevant stakeholders’, ETPs help to set R&D agendas, as a governance method for linking technoscientific development with institutions, thus marginalising alternative options. </li></ul>
  9. 11. KBBE as horizontal integration across industrial sectors www.bio-economy.net
  10. 12. Biomass factory? <ul><li>KBBE vision changes the meaning of agriculture. </li></ul><ul><li>Future farm is imagined as a factory for biomass. </li></ul><ul><li>Its components are to be identified, mined, decomposed and recomposed in new ways. </li></ul><ul><li>Converging technologies become essential for identifying and validating characteristics of components. </li></ul><ul><li>Farms become ‘oil wells of the 21st century’. </li></ul><ul><li>Some organic residues are essential for maintaining soil fertility, so studies also attempt to identify how much. </li></ul><ul><li>Biorefineries and related processes are being designed to recycle waste, but technological designs expand the definition of ‘waste’ and could even generate extra waste for new industrial processes. </li></ul>
  11. 13. European Technology Platforms: Harvesting the Potential
  12. 14. Alternative pathways: Technology Platform Organics <ul><li>Organic farming researchers have developed a Technology Platform Organics, on grounds that organic systems ‘are an important and fast-growing part of the European knowledge-based bio-economy’. </li></ul><ul><li>Promote agro-ecological knowledge for sustainable production with high-knowledge and low external input. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Organic farming is a highly knowledge-based form of agriculture involving both high tech and indigenous knowledges and is based on the farmer’s aptitude for autonomous decision making’ (TP Organics, 2008). </li></ul><ul><li>‘ New approaches of participatory research, knowledge exchange networks, development of decision-making tools (including internet based tools) as well as coaching and mentoring are frequently advocated… At the same time, organic farmers and growers contribute actively to the development of new knowledge and techniques’ (TP Organics, 2008). </li></ul><ul><li>Farmers seek to gain more of the value that they add, especially through short supply chains that valorise an overall product identity, recognised by consumers. </li></ul>
  13. 15. Intensification, organic style Schematic representation of the three themes for organic food and farming research (TP Organics, 2008)
  14. 16. Alternative diagnoses & solutions <ul><li>EU Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) represents member states. Appointed expert group to carry out foresight exercises, leading to reports in 2007 and 2008. </li></ul><ul><li>Raised problem: member states have been dismantling the institutional basis for disinterested science, public good training and agricultural extension services, thus undermining farmers’ knowledge and disconnecting it from agricultural research. </li></ul><ul><li>Proposed solutions: agroecological approaches, in situ genetic diversity, producer-consumer links, etc. Farmers’ knowledge of biodiverse resources for reducing systemic vulnerability and increasing resilience. </li></ul><ul><li>Report questioned remedies based on lab science, e.g. agbiotech and genomics. </li></ul>
  15. 17. Agricultural Knowledge Systems <ul><li>SCAR foresight report proposed to recognise and expand networks called Agricultural Knowledge Systems (AKS). </li></ul><ul><li>‘ AKS for instance would focus on ways to reduce the length of food chains, encourage local and regional markets, give more scope for development and marketing of seeds of indigenous crop varieties and foodstuffs, and restore the diversity of within-field genetic material, as well as of farming systems and landscape mosaics…. </li></ul><ul><li>Resilient agri-food systems rely on ecosystem services that are generally public goods produced and reproduced jointly in the course of economic activity’ (SCAR CEG, 2008). </li></ul><ul><li>Promotes a co-research relation among all knowledge-producers, including farmers, towards experimenting sustainable agriculture in its diverse forms. </li></ul>
  16. 18. Conclusion: sustaining what agriculture? <ul><li>Sustainable agriculture has contending pathways, each inspired by narratives of progress for a future Europe. </li></ul><ul><li>Dominant pathway frames sustainability problems as inefficiency to be remedied through lab knowledge and efficient techno-fixes. Favours capital-intensive knowledge for a greater input-output efficiency in using renewable resources. Turns agriculture further into a factory for producing decomposable biomass which can be recomposed into products for global markets. </li></ul><ul><li>Alternative pathways promote farmers’ agro-ecological knowledge of local resources. Farmers can gain more of the value that they add, especially through short supply chains that valorise a product identity, recognised by consumers. </li></ul><ul><li>Beyond a competition for public funds, these pathways favour different power relations, especially between farmers and the agri-input supply industry. </li></ul>
  17. 19. Contending paradigms <ul><li>Those contending accounts can be analysed as divergent paradigms: Life Sciences and decomposability, versus Ecologically Integrated methods and comprehensive product identity. </li></ul><ul><li>Divergent paradigms use and recast similar terms – each in its own image. </li></ul><ul><li>In context of KBBE, these paradigms promote divergent accounts of biological resources, economic relations, knowledge and research priorities. </li></ul><ul><li>AKS concept may provide an opportunity to highlight alternative agendas, within a common space for interchanges between divergent paradigms. </li></ul>