Sustainable Intensification: Agroecological Appropriation Versus Contestation?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Prominentenzimmer (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Les LEVIDOW, Senior Research Fellow, United Kingdom
The ‘sustainable intensification’ agenda has sought to make conventional agro-food chains more environmentally sustainable through a ‘toolkit’ incorporating agroecological methods, GM crops, no-till (optionally with herbicides), etc.  There have been ambivalent responses – welcoming recognition of agroecological techniques, but also resenting their appropriation for productivist aims.  Indeed, the concept ‘sustainable intensification’ blurs the distinction between an agroecological agenda and Green Revolution capital-intensive agenda.  In Europe a hostile response has come from CSO-farmer alliances promoting agroecology to link several objectives: knowledge-exchange about biodiversity,  farmers’ independence from input suppliers, food sovereignty and short food-supply chains remunerating farmers for agroecological methods.   

This tension arises from a neoproductivist paradigm seeking to reconcile productivist aims with resource conservation.  It faces the challenge to locate the environmental sustainability and resilience of national food-supply systems within current globalisation patterns (Marsden, 2012).  The  tension can be illuminated by the theoretical framework ‘food regime’, for analysing potential transitions beyond the agro-industrial regime which has been globally dominant since the 1970s.   New strategies for capital accumulation have incorporated ‘green’ or ‘quality’ products which were previously associated with alternative trajectories from social movements.  This tendency has been theorised as a nascent corporate-environmental food regime (Friedmann, 2005, 2009); this concept helps to contextualise sustainable intensification.

The tension around that concept can also be illuminated by innovation-systems theory, whereby a niche innovation can either transform the wider regime or else accommodate it. The latter ‘conform’ strategy seeks to persuade dominant institutions that the innovation eventually can become competitive without long-term external support.  Disagreements arise over proposals for institutional reform, depending on whether the empowerment strategy is to conform or transform (Smith and Raven, 2012).  This framework helps to analyse how agroecological methods can play the role of incorporation and/or contestation vis a vis the dominant agro-food regime.