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Strengthening people’s knowledge


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For the past half century agricultural innovation has denied a voice to the many groups who work outside the profession of science – farmers, food providers, women and the urban poor. The value of their expertise gained through practical experience must be recognised in the production and validation of knowledge.
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03 | 2016 - 32.1
Experiences in family farming and agroecology
Learning from citizens Farmers inspire their peers
A farmer-NGO-scientist synergy
Formerly known as LEISA Magazine
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Farming_Matters_advertentie.indd 2 14-03-16 12:18
In memoriam: Bertha Cáceres
Berta Cáceres, a hugely influential indigenous and peasant leader, grassroots feminist, environmental activist and
winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered in her hometown of La Esperanza, Honduras,
on 2 March 2016. It is a tragic ending to the life of
this courageous woman. Bertha Cáceres was the
co-founder and general coordinator of the National
Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of
Honduras (COPINH). Bertha had been repeatedly
threatened with her life for her peaceful but persistent
opposition against the Agua Zarca Dam on the
Gualcarque River. This dam threatens local people’s
major source of water and food. COPINH demands an
end to this dam and a full, independent investigation of
Berta Cáceres’ assassination. Many people worldwide
are joining these calls, demanding an end to the
repression of indigenous and peasant movements in
Central America. Bertha Cáceres has inspired many
people as an indigenous woman raising her voice in
the defense of community territory, land and water.
Our condolences go to Bertha’s family, to her
community, and to all who joined her in this struggle.
Farming Matters | March 2016 | 3
we realised that we could change this situation. In
practice it means talking to your husband or son
about the changes you want. We also want to
persuade the men to let us have our own land to
cultivate-- that would make a difference!
Making this film gave us the opportunity to discuss
our possibilities with each other, and with different
kinds of people with different ideas. I hope that
this film can motivate and mobilise all the women
in our situation to make changes in their lives.
By sharing our experiences about our situation
in cocoa production we created new knowledge
together about how to make change. We not
only learned how to film but also how to raise our
Interview by Margriet Goris independent researcher at
Wageningen University (The Netherlands) and documentary
film maker. Photo: Margriet Goris. Watch Léocadie Voho
and other female cocoa farmers in the self-made drama
series ‘Growing our Cocoa, Raising our Voices’
our cocoa,
raising our
My name is Léocadie Voho. I am 51
years old. I have seven children and
11 granddaughters. I live in Tienhoula,
a prefecture of Duékoué, in west Ivory Coast.
When I joined 24 other female cocoa farmers in
discussing our position as women in our country’s
certified cocoa sector, we could really see our
situation with new eyes.
We worked with researchers, film-makers and
the Fairtrade organization to make a film about
our work and our lives. We first started filling in
a seasonal calendar, including our daily schedule.
When we compared our calendars, we realised
that we really work a lot. But then we saw that the
real problem is not how much we work but the
price of cocoa and the money we get for it. When
we sell the cocoa, I should have my share to feed
my family. But the men sell the cocoa and I get
nothing. Trade isn’t fair after all.
We learned how to shoot with the video camera,
and how to make a script. We made a script about
our experience with cocoa and how the money
doesn’t make it home. It was in making this film that
4 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Strawberry fields
Agroecology as a science, movement and a practice
is a radical shift in our relationship with knowledge,
says Victor M.Toledo. As agroecology has gained
steam, and scientists began to value farmers’ knowl-
edge, there has been an ‘innovation in attitudes’.
Indigenous worldviews give rise to different ways of
understanding climate change. The Adivasi life cycle
in India was developed through a co-creation of
knowledge by youth and elders who were seeking to
resist externally imposed measures to combat climate
Rescuing our maize:
Building a network
Climate change seen
through indigenous
Interview: “Agroeocology
is an epistemological
A farmer and a scientist were the motor of change in
California’s strawberry sector over the past 30 years.
This partnership was initially seen as too radical. But
the effectiveness of their collaboration has not only
proven skeptics wrong, but has also changed and
evolved collective understanding of sustainability.
In defense of seed sovereignty in Jalisco, Mexico,
farmers have built a strong network to protect maize,
a major component of their cultural heritage. Utilis-
ing many ‘farmer to farmer’ knowledge-sharing tech-
niques, they are building a movement for autonomy.
Farming Matters | March 2016 | 5
4 | Farming Matters | March 2016
3 Farmers in focus: Léocadie Voho
6 Editorial: Co-creation of knowledge as a
practice, a science and a movement
9 Opinion: Elizabeth Mpofu
10 Strawberry fields forever
14 A farmer-NGO-scientist synergy
17 Youth and agriculture: Ludwig
Rumetshofer and Sylvia Kay
18 Interview with Victor M. Toledo:
“Agroeocology is an epistemological
22 Climate change seen through indigenous
26 Rescuing our maize: Building a network
29 Opinion: Olivier De Schutter
30 Locally rooted: Ideas and initiatives from
the field
32 Institutionalising dialogue in Rwanda
through innovation platforms
34 Inspired by peers: Farm Talks in
biodynamic agriculture
37 Co-creating the agricultural biodiversity
that feeds us
40 Perspectives: Strengthening people’s
44 Mind! New books on knowledge and
46 Globally connected: News from the
AgriCultures Network
47 Call for articles
6 | Farming Matters | March 2016
In agroecology, farmers continuously build
situation-specic knowledge that allows them to
develop under unpredictable and changing
circumstances. There are no xed prescriptions
in agroecology about how to produce, process,
market or store food, feed, medicine and bre.
Rather, different practices work in different ways
depending on each specic context and ecosystem.
This is why agroecology is knowledge-intensive and
why the combination of different types of knowledge is
so essential in agroecology.
Knowledge co-creation is especially relevant and
urgent in the context of climate change. Developing
climate resilient agriculture is all about building
knowledge related to locally rooted adaptation strate-
gies. Farmers’ knowledge of seeds, land, water and
other local resources are absolutely central in this
Solutions to problems or ways of improving produc-
tion emerge through experimentation, practice and
learning with others, especially because different types
of actors generate different types of knowledge. Bring-
ing people with various perspectives, experiences and
questions together can facilitate creativity and innova-
tion. Co-creation of knowledge happens when such
new knowledge emerges from sharing, learning and
working together with other people.
The various contributions in this issue take a look at
the following questions: what kind of knowledge are
we creating in agroecology? How can learning and
sharing turn into co-creation of knowledge? How can
farmers become equal players in co-creation of knowl-
edge with scientists, policy makers and others? How is
co-creation relevant for the agroecological movement?
What knowledge and whose
knowledge? In agroecology, knowledge about
the way the farming system works as a whole is impor-
tant. Often, innovation requires knowledge about the
relationships among elements of the agroecosystem, for
in the practice, science
and movement
of agroecology
Knowledge building is central to agroecology rooted in family farming. But why?
What type of knowledge, and whose knowledge is mobilised? This issue of
Farming Matters explores what we really mean by co-creation of knowledge in
agroecology, why it is so essential for today’s challenges, and how it takes place
around the world.
Jessica Milgroom, Janneke Bruil and Cees Leeuwis
An artistic representation of co-creation of agroeco-
logical knowledge in Brazil. Photo: Edith van Walsum
6 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 7
though they make up 70% of the farmer population
worldwide (page 9).
Beyond individual learning
The diverse knowledge and ways of knowing of our
peoples are fundamental to agroecology. We develop
our ways of knowing through dialogue among them”
- Declaration of the Nyéléni Forum on Agroecology,
What distinguishes co-creation of knowledge from
individual learning is the collective generation of new
knowledge. Agroecology blends different types of
knowledge: traditional, indigenous knowledge,
farmers’ knowledge, and scientic knowledge, to
name a few. Each of these types of knowledge holds
different treasures. Indigenous practices often hold
clues about innovative ways of doing things, based on
years and years of experience, such as how to manage
pests using local, available resources. Farmers’ knowl-
edge can contribute context-specic insights about a
particular type of seed, planting dates, or soil resource.
Scientic knowledge can inform us about processes
and phenomena that are more difcult to see and
comprehend with the naked eye. Knowledge held by
urban citizens provides insights about new food cul-
tures and practices. Bringing together these types of
knowledge has led to ground-breaking insights in the
eld of agriculture. The partnership experience of
farmer Jim Cochran and academic Steve Gliessman
(page 10) is a good example of this.
As described eloquently by Elizabeth Mpofu (page
9), co-creation of knowledge occurs regularly in day-
to-day life as people ask and discuss questions in an
attempt to resolve problems, and as they jointly put
solutions into practice. From such a process, and this
example insects, pests and companion plants (see page
10). Or -in the social world- between farmers’ prefer-
ences and diverse varieties of crops (see page 14).
Questions and uncertainties are also a highly rel-
evant form of knowledge; knowing what we do not
know can shape further inquiry and courses of action.
Both in the experiences from Mexico and from India
people came together and organised around a quest
for knowledge (pages 22 and 26). This is also evident
from the article on page 37 which points at our lack of
knowledge about effective policies that work for agro-
And in order to act, we need knowledge about how
(through what methods and procedures and skills) a
desirable outcome such as higher yields, healthier
soils or better nutrition may be achieved. Last but not
least, co-creation may involve knowledge about people
involved in the process. This is relevant because inno-
vation often requires alignment between people who
depend on each other to get something done.
While scientic knowledge aims to be largely ex-
plicit, a lot of relevant knowledge and skill in agricul-
ture is tacit, implicit or hidden in (women) farmers’
practices and in their heads. Bringing it to the table
may require deliberate exploration, elicitation and
discovery. It is therefore critically important to invest
time and resources in informal interaction and the
facilitation of high quality dialogue. Experiences in
Rwanda and the Netherlands (pages 32 and 34) indi-
cate that in these processes, it is necessary to rst es-
tablish trust among different actors.
Furthermore, as the article on pages 40 to 43 points
out, questions about whose knowledge ‘counts’, and
why this matters is a fundamental one - but rarely ad-
dressed, As a result, practical knowledge held by food
producers is often grossly unrecognised. This may es-
pecially be the case for women’s knowledge, even
Using new technologies for sharing knowledge in India. Photo: Supriya Biswas
8 | Farming Matters | March 2016
often happens in agroecology, innovations can emerge
that are not only technical but that are also social or
political in nature. Innovation often emerges over
time and requires repeated meetings and sharing. As
an experience in Honduras (page 14) indicates, a long
lasting commitment between the actors is therefore
fundamental for these processes.
Co-creation between practice
and science A very specic and important, but
delicate type of knowledge co-creation happens
between farmers and scientists, as many of the articles
in this issue demonstrate. This has a long history.
When co-creation of agricultural knowledge is
mentioned today, the rst kind of co-creation that most
people think of is that between scientists and farmers.
Already in the 1940s, British soil scientist Sir Albert
Howard wrote his famous book ‘An Agricultural
Testament’ in which he beautifully describes different
systems of compost-making as practiced by Indian
farmers. It became more widely recognised in the
1970s that working together with farmers could
improve the relevance of agricultural research and the
likelihood that its results would reach farmers. A
plethora of participatory methods have been developed
since then and nearly 50 years of agricultural research
ensued that involved farmers in one way or another.
While many of these processes remained top-down,
and farmers were only nominally consulted or involved
as ‘beneciaries’, more radical thinking and practice
emerged in which farmers were seen as researchers in
their own right. These notions were at the roots of the
birth of ILEIA and its magazine in 1984. This kind of
thinking manifested itself in, for example, the Farmer to
Farmer methodology which originated in Central
America, and many other initiatives which together
formed the basis for the agroecology movement. At the
heart of many such approaches is Paulo Freire’s adagio
that poor and exploited people can and should be
enabled to analyse and change their own reality.
And this work continues to evolve. This issue of
Farming Matters moves away from the lab-to-land
mentality in knowledge sharing and looks at existing
practices and processes in which farmers truly engage
in processes of co-creation. The stories presented on
these pages indicate that farmers can be central players
in co-creation of knowledge. Although it is still not the
norm, there are cases where farmers have a role in
setting the research agenda, carrying out the research
and analysing the results (see for example page 26).
As top-down processes are increasingly met with
bottom-up resistance, perhaps one of the most remark-
able changes that can be noted over the last decade of
participatory research is the co-creation of a new atti-
tude towards the role of farmers in co-creation process-
es, from both the farmers and the scientists (Interview
with Victor M. Toledo page 18).
Creating knowledge in the
movement Agroecological movements are
growing stronger around the world. Much of this
movement building evolves around knowledge
sharing about identity, history, territory, culture and
strategy, leading to collective advocacy and organisa-
tion as well as other types of political use of knowl-
edge in interactions with others. The Nyéléni
processes that bring together various actors around
food sovereignty and agroecology are testimony to
the strength that can be generated by knowledge
co-creation processes (page 17).
Another example can be seen in India (page 22),
where communities are building resilience to climate
change through an innovative assessment of the
impacts of and responses to climate change in their
region. This has given them strength to stand up
against the externally imposed REDD (the UN pro-
gramme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation
and Forest Degradation). Three authors from Coven-
try University argue (page 40) that fundamentally re-
thinking and reshaping the co-creation of knowledge
can advance the struggles of social movements who
are striving for agroecology and food sovereignty.
This issue of Farming Matters offers a rich palette of
practices of knowledge co-creation in agroecology.
Around the world, people are generating insight into
some of the key factors that can strengthen co-creation
processes. As agroecology is gaining momentum as a
practice, a science and a movement, further explora-
tion of these factors is necessary. The crucial next step
will be to embed these insights rmly in fundamen-
tally new types of practice, policy and research for
healthy food systems based on farmer-led agroecology.
Jessica Milgroom and Janneke Bruil work at ILEIA, the
Centre for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture and the
publisher of Farming Matters,
Cees Leeuwis ( is a Professor of
Knowledge, Technology and Innovation at Wageningen
University in The Netherlands.
Participatory Rural Appraisal in China. Photo: Jian Ren
Farming Matters | March 2016 | 9
Elizabeth Mpofu ( is the
General Coordinator of La Via Campesina and the
chairperson of the Zimbabwe Organic Smallholder
Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF).
Learning is a lifetime activity. Nowhere is this clearer
than in agriculture, and especially among women
farmers. Being responsible for over 70% of agricultural
production on our continent, we farm through knowledge
sharing. In complex and closely knit social groups, starting in
early childhood, knowledge is birthed, nurtured and passed
on. This knowledge relates to a wide range of topics, such
as seed selection and storage, farming methods, nutrition
and traditional medicine.
Our grandparents used to tell us: ‘chara chimwe hachitswanyi
inda’, meaning: ‘for a person to achieve his or her goals they
need help, ideas and knowledge from other people’. So we
share knowledge as we walk to fetch water, gather firewood,
during traditional ceremonies and as we take our children to
clinics. Every space in our community is a space to learn and
share what one knows.
As women, despite historical negligence because of
patriarchy, we have used co-creation of knowledge to assert
our rights and to strengthen the position of rural women. We
formed groups and started to engage in farmer-to-farmer
learning. We organized seed fairs to share the diversity of our
own native indigenous seeds and we organised food fairs to
showcase our traditional foods. This enabled us to link with
consumers. By sharing ideas and sharing knowledge we
joined other women’s organisations and lobbied together
for favourable agricultural policies. This helped us to better
understand how government structures operate.
As we women are responsible for producing enough food
in times of climate change, we decided to work with other
farmers and progressive researchers to co-create new ways
and means of farming. After many years of perfecting our
ways of farming, and because our social, ecological and
economic contexts are changing, scientists and policy
makers are beginning to embrace our knowledge. They
see the value of our methods of ecological farming, now
called agroecology, that is rooted in indigenous knowledge
systems, and seeks harmony and respects mother nature.
Our way of farming is currently being propagated as a way
to solve the climate crisis and reduce poverty. Through
knowledge co-creation with progressive scientists and many
others, we as women farmers are working towards achieving
food sovereignty (not food security) and producing enough
food for our families.
10 | Farming Matters | March 2016
The central coast of California, with its
Mediterranean climate, is an important
strawberry growing region. Strawberry
production here, as in many other
locales, is highly dependent on expen-
sive, energy-intensive, and environmen-
tally harmful off-farm inputs.
The current system of industrial, conventional
Professor Steve Gliessman and farmer Jim Cochran
are among the movers and shakers of the strawberry
sector in California. Since the 1980s they have been
experimenting with sustainable ways to grow strawberries
and with alternative food networks. Committed to the
agroecological transition, they built a powerful farmer-
researcher partnership that was groundbreaking for
farmers, academia and the strawberry industry as a whole.
Steve Gliessman and Jim Cochran
Strawberry fields
A farmer-researcher partnership
Photo: Manolis Kabourakis
strawberry production in California can be traced back
to the early 1960s. Before that time, growers treated
strawberries as a perennial crop, rotating each eld out
of strawberries for several years. However, when the
soil fumigant methyl bromide (MeBr) was introduced
in the 1960s, growers started to manage strawberries as
an annual crop, planted year after year and fumigated
with this pesticide on the same piece of land. In the
10 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 11
Level 2: Input substitution During
the rst few years of our farmer-researcher partnership,
which began in 1986, we worked together in a
comparative trial of strawberries going through the
3-year conversion process required for organic certica-
tion. Jim was growing strawberries using conventional
inputs and management side by side with strawberries
Co-creation from the perspective of
farmer Jim Cochran
“As a farmer, I will notice something in my fields
and ask Steve about it. Many years ago I took over
a ranch and it was half planted in artichokes and
half planted in Brussels sprouts. I plowed the field,
grew a cover crop and planted strawberries in the
whole field. I noticed that the strawberry plants in
the Brussels sprout half were doing much better
than the plants in the artichoke half. I remembered
having read something about crop rotations, so
I asked Steve. People had stopped crop rotation
more than 50 years ago when they began to apply
chemicals, so it was sort of lost knowledge. Steve
set up trials on my land and started looking at
that particular crop rotation. He eventually found
evidence that it was effective and that it wouldn’t
be necessary to use chemicals anymore. This is
the ideal way for a collaboration to work.
One of the larger goals of our collaboration which
I definitely supported, was to change the farming
system. At that time there was no information
available. If I went to the farm advisor asking
about particular crop rotations, he was no help.
He would say: “Jim you are crazy, the solution
to that is to fumigate and it works like a charm”.
When I told him I don’t want to do it that way
he would say “well then, I am sorry, I can’t offer
you that much”. So when Steve came, he really
solidified my path, because I was sort of flying
blind. I didn’t write down my rotation schedule,
I didn’t write down my yield per block, I just sort
of observed that stuff. He provided the scientific
matrix in which to put the information that I was
starting to collect.”
An agroecology researcher and UCSC students
gather data from the comparative study of organic
and conventional strawberry management, at Jim’s
Swanton Berry Farm, Davenport, CA, 1987.
Photo: Steve Gliessman
early 1980s, as interest in organic food became a po-
tential market force in agriculture and issues of pesti-
cide safety and environmental quality came to the
fore, farmers began to respond. For 30 years, the Uni-
versity of California, Santa Cruz has been working
with farmers to study this process.
In this context, a particularly fruitful partnership
emerged between the two of us: an academic (Steve
Gliessman) and a strawberry farmer (Jim Cochran). It
was serendipitous that Jim’s rst plantings at Swanton
Berry Farm in Davenport, California were just over
the fence dividing his eld from the home Steve was
living in at the time. Over that fence our talk about
the transition to organic strawberry production led to
the rst side-by-side comparative trial. At Jim’s farm,
our thinking and our practices evolved, using his land,
varieties and practices, his workers, and many of his
This article tells the story of our journey of co-crea-
tion. From this collaboration, grounded theory about
levels in the transition process to sustainability
emerged as our thinking evolved. We believe these
levels provide useful insight into how to scale out or
scale up the agroecological transition process, as well
as the changing role of science (see table on page 13).
Level 1: Input reduction Even before
our partnership began, extensive research was carried
out to discover more effective ways of controlling pests
and diseases so that industrial inputs could be reduced
and their environmental impacts lessened.
12 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Level 4: Alternative food
networks Consumers have been a very
important force in the transition towards sustainability.
Jim began to sell organic strawberries at Farmers’
Markets, where he could sell directly to consumers
and capture a larger percentage of the sales price.
Later he added to this other approaches that were
even more direct, such as on-farm strawberry picking
and a farm stand that includes the sale of processed
products such as pies and jams. Later, students at the
UC Santa Cruz convinced the campus dining service
managers to integrate local, organic, and fair-trade
items—including Jim’s organic strawberries—into the
meal service.
Level 5: Rebuilding the food
system The knowledge partnership has brought
about immense changes. However, several sustain-
ability challenges are connected with this dramatic
growth in strawberry production that can only be dealt
with at the next level. For example, soil erosion and
nutrient leaching have been observed in organic
strawberries planted over a large area. Groundwater
depletion and salt water intrusion into aquifers in
strawberry growing regions is occurring. What might
be called ‘level-5 thinking’ should include considera-
tion of such issues, as part of a concern for the health
of the entire system. And this must include more
complex social issues such as labour and food justice.
As early as in 1998, Jim has integrated social justice
into his farming practices through a contract with the
United Farm Workers (, and 15 years
later he also received AJP certication (www.agricul-
Continuously linking research,
practice and social change
The results of our partnership extended far beyond
Jim’s farm. In the early days of our collaboration, we
held farmer eld days to showcase both our research
ndings and the farming practices. Jim’s success
became an incentive for other local growers to begin
transitioning their farms, especially using substitution in
order to gain organic certication. Over the years, our
research results were published, we have participated in
grown under organic management. In the organic
plots, each conventional input or practice was substi-
tuted with an organic equivalent. For example, rather
than control the two-spotted spider mite with a
miticide, benecial predator mites (Phytoseiulis
persimilis) were released into the organic plots and this
was monitored. By the end of the third year, ideal rates
and release amounts for the predator—now the norm
for the industry—had been worked out.
However, the agroecosystem was still basically a
monoculture of strawberries, and problems with
disease increased. The big question was whether the
strawberry production system could be strengthened
through diversication.
Level 3: Redesign It was at this point in
the early 1990s that a whole-system approach began
to come into play. Based on the concept that ecosys-
tem stability comes about through the dynamic
interaction of all the components of the system, we
jointly conceived of ways to design resistance to the
problems created by the monoculture system. Jim
realised he needed to partially return to the tradition-
al practice of crop rotations that had been used before
the appearance of MeBr. Based on Steve’s earlier
alleopathy research, we redesigned the system with
diversity and complexity that would help make the
rotations more effective, and in some cases, shorter.
We designed the crop rotations using crops in the
mustard family in the rotations and as cover crops, so
that their toxic natural products could be produced
on the farm. It took more research to choose the
right species and show the best impacts, and under-
stand the ecology of interactions.
Rather than rely on externally sourced biopesti-
cides, we incorporated natural control agents,
keeping them present and active on a continuous
basis. Perhaps the most novel redesign idea was the
introduction of rows of alfalfa into the strawberry
elds as trap crops for the western tarnished plant bug
(Lygus hesperus). Some of these changes came from
agroecological research, and others were based on
‘re-learning’ some of the practices used for strawberry
production before the 1960s.
An ideal strawberry agroecosystem, with rotations
that include diversified crops and cover crops, with
the entire system surrounded by nature. Swanton
Berry Farm. Davenport, CA. Photo: Steve Gliessman
A view of the first strawberry conversion compa-
rison, with side by side organic and conventional
management plots, 1986-1989, at Swanton Berry
Farm, Davenport, CA. Photo: Steve Gliessman
12 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 13
a variety of workshops, conferences, and short courses
on organic strawberry production, and we used the farm
as a place to continuously link research and practice.
In the two central coast counties of the US, where
so many strawberries are grown, there were a total of
35,630 organic-certied acres in 2012, more than
seven times the organic acreage recorded in 1997.
The total farm gate revenue from organic farming in
these counties was $247.7 million in 2012, represent-
ing a dramatic increase of more than 2000 % from
1997. A parallel increase in organic strawberry produc-
tion occurred over this same time period.
When Jim rst decided to transition to organic
farming, everyone told him that it was not possible to
successfully grow commercial organic strawberries.
And when we joined forces in 1986, we were consid-
ered to be too radical in our thinking if not actually
crazy. But in fact, one of the most valuable parts of
the collaboration has been having a friend with the
same line of thinking. It really was a two way co-crea-
tion, with research results being presented to Jim, dis-
cussions back and forth about possible changes in the
farming practices and systems, bringing in research
ideas from other projects, sharing them and coming
up with possible ways to put them to work on the
farm, etc. We helped to keep each other going over
30 years of challenges. Through our partnership, we
both evolved in our understanding and reasoning
behind change processes toward sustainability.
Building this relationship took time, trust, exibility,
and a willingness to share knowledge, values, and
belief systems. Such a participatory and action-orient-
ed relationship is an essential component of the way
agroecology must operate in order to promote either
the scaling out to other farmers, or scaling up in the
food system to promote real change. We have had to
constantly be on the look out for co-option and con-
centration, by the large-scale vertically integrated and
market oriented strawberry industry, or conventional
agricultural research universities.
We have had many conversations over the years
about how we have done agroecology together. We
both are committed to maintaining and nurturing our
strong belief in the need for whole food system
change. We have learned together that agroecology is
not just an academic activity. It is the broad integra-
tion of research, farming practice, and social change
actions. Without all three, it is not really agroecology.
Steve Gliessman ( was the founding
director of the University of California, Santa Cruz,
Agroecology Program, one of the first formal agroecology
programs in the world. He was the Alfred and Ruth Heller
Professor of Agroecology in the Department of Environ-
mental Studies at UCSC until his retirement in 2012.
Jim Cochran ( is the owner of
Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California, and the first
commercial organic strawberry farmer in California.
The levels of transition to sustainable systems and the role of the three components of agroecology
Level Scale
Role of agroecology’s three aspects
Science Practice Movement
1 Increase efficiency of
industrial practices
Farm Primary Important
Lowers costs and lessens
environmental impacts
2 Substitute alternative
practices and inputs
Farm Primary Important
Supports shift to alternative
3 Redesign whole
Farm, region Primary
Develops indicators of
Builds true sustainability at
the farm scale
Builds enterprise
viability and societal
4 Re-establish
connection between
growers and eaters,
develop alternative
food networks
Interdisciplinary research
provides evidence for need
for change and viability of
Forms direct and supportive
Economies restructured;
values and behaviors
5 Rebuild the global
food system so that
it is sustainable and
equitable for all
Global Supportive
Trans-disciplinary research
promotes the change
process and monitors
Offers the practical basis for
the paradigm shift
World systems
Source: adapted from Gliessman 2015.
14 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Farmers are plant breeders when they select and save the
seeds of the plants best adapted to the conditions in their
fields. For over two decades, farmer breeders have been
working with scientists and NGOs to develop new bean
varieties. In a context of high agrobiodiversity, limited
public sector agricultural research capacity and extension
services, the process has not always been smooth. Against
all odds, this collaborative effort, which has brought
scientific knowledge together with farmer knowledge, has
positioned farmers at the forefront of innovation for climate
change adaptation. This article highlights lessons learned
over 20 years about the power of knowledge co-creation.
Sally Humphries, Juan Carlos Rosas and Marvin Gomez
Photo: FIPAH
A farmer-
14 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 15
or scientists provide farmers with advanced lines of
unreleased materials to choose from. CIAL members,
trained in participatory research by NGOs, have
learned formal selection techniques allowing them to
conduct successive selections on their farms. In order
to ensure adaptation to local conditions, new varieties
are screened rst on a very small scale before selected
varieties are tested on a larger scale and nally,
successful varieties are propagated. To date, the
partnership between Zamorano, NGOs, and CIALs
has led to the development of 23 new bean varieties.
Institutionalised co-creation
Often, the participatory plant breeding process shows
differences in the criteria used by farmers compared to
those typically chosen by the scientic community.
For farmers, taste and early maturation play an
important role in the selection, whereas breeders
generally seek to improve disease resistance, yield, and
architecture. By engaging in joint research, farmers
and scientists have succeeded in developing varieties
that are more adapted to farmers’ needs and condi-
tions, increasing the adoption rate of new beans and
reducing the time between research and dissemination
of materials.
Amilcar’ is the name of a farmer and
of a new variety of bean. The
variety, which is praised for its excel-
lent culinary properties, was
identied by Amilcar’s wife at an
early stage of a bean trial and then
improved by Amilcar with the support of researchers.
Using genetic marker technology, Zamorano breeders
subsequently identied a line of the Amilcar variety
that is resistant to bean golden yellow mosaic virus.
Disease-resistant Amilcar seed has become a regional
commercial success. For Amilcar the farmer, the bean
variety is a source of personal pride because it is highly
appreciated by his community.
Participatory Plant Breeding The
economic contraction in Honduras during the 1980s
led to a decline in agricultural research and the
disappearance of agricultural extension from public
sector services. This left the private and not-for-prot
sectors to deliver fee-based extension services. These
were inaccessible to most family farmers cultivating
the steep, marginal hillsides of north-central Hondu-
ras. It is these farmers who are most vulnerable to
climate change-related food insecurity.
Honduran hillside farmers have selected their own
seed for countless generations without knowledge of
more formalised breeding methods. Farmers select for
steady yields, but these also tend to be low. In 1993,
the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture
began to train local teams of farmers in research skills
in ‘Local Agricultural Research Committees’ known as
CIALs for their Spanish acronym (Comités de Investi-
gación Agricola Local). Shortly afterwards, two local
NGOs, the Foundation for Participatory Research with
Honduran Farmers (FIPAH) and the Program for
Rural Reconstruction (PRR), started to support this
initiative through their own programming. In 2000, in
collaboration with the Pan-American Agricultural
School (Zamorano), scientists at Zamorano and NGO
agronomists began to specically focus the CIAL re-
search on participatory plant breeding. Since then,
this research initiative has snowballed into a farmer-
NGO-scientist synergy that has both made a place for
itself in the regional seed market and become indis-
pensable to the country’s research network.
Innovative processes emerge
The CIAL research process begins with a participatory
diagnosis and ranking of local agricultural problems,
which CIAL members decide to address. Experiments
take the form of controlled trials in which farmers
compare different varieties on their farms. In participa-
tory plant breeding, farmers collaborate with scientists
at Zamorano, who may either cross a popular local
bean variety with an improved one at farmers’ request,
Farmer researchers evaluate beans for pests and
diseases. Photo: Omar Gallardo
It is the synergy between
farmers, NGOs, and
scientists that provides
added value to the
breeding process
16 | Farming Matters | March 2016
This experience has shown that when farmers are
put into the driver’s seat and provided with the tools to
conduct formal research, they successfully develop the
varieties that most suit their needs. This is evidenced,
for example, by the selection of drought-tolerant and
shorter maturation varieties that do well in poor hill-
side soils and help farmers ‘to escape the drought’.
Additionally, those participating in the program use
agroecological management approaches, including
making and integrating natural fertilisers and pesti-
cides, as well as introducing greater crop diversity into
their elds. As a result, they have managed to substan-
tially reduce ‘los junios’, the hungry period.
The CIALs benet from the strong local demand
for varieties generated through participatory plant
breeding by the region’s farmers, creating an econom-
ic incentive for participatory plant breeding research.
Individual actions that lead to innovation, such as the
selection of locally suitable varieties, are also moti-
vated by collective values that come from being part of
a CIAL and the prestige gained from sharing new vari-
eties with family and friends.
Lessons learned Typically, agricultural
research has characterised farmers as passive recipients
of aid rather than mainstays of their own research
agendas. Conventional plant breeding is usually
supply-driven: new varieties are released without
knowing whether or not farmers like them. This
mindset not only devalues local knowledge, but also
increases existing differences in power relations
between farmers and researchers. Participatory plant
breeding on the other hand, is demand-driven. In
Honduras, giving skilled farmer researchers an
important role has not only beneted the formal scien-
tic sector, but has also achieved a fundamental shift
away from the top-down model of conventional
breeding of the past.
As the Honduran experience shows, participatory
plant breeding is not simply adaptive research where
farmers ddle with breeders’ materials. In this context,
it is the synergy between farmers, NGOs, and scien-
tists that provides added value to the breeding process.
The experience described here underlines the poten-
tial of farmer-centred approaches to support climate
change adaptation and mitigation. The diversity of
varieties created through participatory plant breeding
puts them at the cutting edge of climate change adap-
tation. It also shows us that research support must be
sustained over the long-term in order to allow for trust-
ing partnerships to evolve between the different
players. Moreover, to incentivise farmers’ long-term
engagement in participatory plant breeding research,
seed regulatory systems must allow for the develop-
ment of small seed enterprise.
Sally Humphries ( is Associate
Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropol-
ogy at the University of Guelph, Canada.
Juan Carlos Rosas ( is Professor of
Genetics and Plant Breeding at the Escuela Agricola
Panamericana, Zamorano, Honduras.
Marvin Gomez ( is an agrono-
mist with the Foundation for Participatory Research with
Honduran Farmers (FIPAH). He is USC Canada’s project
head in Central America.
Farmers drive the research agenda in Vallecillos,
Honduras. Photo: Omar Gallardo
CIAL farmers supported by USC Canada hold
selection trials for beans in La Esperanza.
Photo: Dana Stefov/USC Canada
Research support must be
sustained over the long
term in order to allow
for trusting partnerships
to evolve between the
different players
Farming Matters | March 2016 | 17
Ludwig Rumetshofer (31) is a farmer and
a member of ÖBV- Via Campesina Austria.
Sylvia Kay (29) is a researcher with the
Transnational Institute in the Netherlands.
They are part of the steering committee for
the Nyéléni Europe Forum in October 2016.
For more information:
Join the European food
sovereignty movement !
Between the 26th and 30th of October in Cluj
Napoca, Romania, the second Nyéléni
Europe Forum for Food Sovereignty
will be held. Drawing together between 700 –
1000 older and younger participants from 42
countries throughout wider Europe, it will serve
as a celebration of the full spectrum of the food
sovereignty movement comprising peasants and
small farmers, fishers, pastoralists, shepherds,
indigenous peoples, trade unions, consumers
groups, NGOs, local authorities, researchers and
many others.
The richness and diversity of the movement shows
how increasing numbers of people, organisations
and networks are coalescing around the shared
language of food sovereignty and agroecology.
It is also testament to the vast knowledge that
is being co-created by these groups on how to
organise food and agricultural systems that work
both for people and the environment. It is crucial
that those who care for, work on, live on the land
and produce plentiful and healthy food are at the
centre of that system.
In contrast to the assumption that knowledge
trickles down from above, the global Nyéléni
movement starts from the grassroots level. We
look at how knowledge can be built from the
bottom-up, through exchanges between people
with different backgrounds and experiences,
and can contribute towards shared strategies
for building a more food sovereign Europe. The
creativity and energy of young people is key
in this process. Without shying away form the
contradictions, tensions and challenges that such
a project brings with it, the Nyéléni process acts
as a safe and inclusive space for the exchange of
good practices, skills and experiences.
These kinds of spaces are constantly under threat
by those who wish to practice a narrow, elitist form
of knowledge creation. There are constant efforts
to co-opt the core concepts of food sovereignty
activists, such as the dangerous mingling between
agroecology and climate smart agriculture or
sustainable intensification. Under the mantra of
‘resist, build and transform’, the global Nyéléni
movement thus seeks to put forward both
defensive and proactive strategies for furthering
food sovereignty based on horizontal knowledge
sharing and creation. We believe that such a
democratising approach to knowledge is essential
to making the vision of food sovereignty a reality,
in Europe and beyond. We warmly invite you to
become a part of this exciting process.
The first Nyéléni
Europe Forum in 2011
18 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Victor M. Toledo is a Mexican ethnoecologist and social
activist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
His work focuses primarily on the study of agroecological
and knowledge systems. In this interview, Victor M. Toledo
explains why co-creation of knowledge is an integral part
of agroecology and discusses the changes that are needed
for this form of agriculture to gain ground in the global
arena. He argues that agroecology is in itself a major shift
in our relationship with knowledge.
Interview: Diana Quiroz
is an epistemological
Photo: Olga Yanira Juagibioy
18 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 19
What is the role of knowledge
in agroecology? To answer this question, I
would like to recall Alexander Wezel’s denition of
agroecology. Our French colleague dened it, rst, as
a science. This is obvious, since agroecology generates
scientic knowledge in the strictest sense. However,
agroecology, like many other hybrid disciplines (for
example, political ecology, environmental history, and
ecological economics) is an epistemological and
methodological leap that generates new ways of doing
science. That is, agroecology is already a new scien-
tic paradigm. It is a politically and socially commit-
ted science.
Second, agroecology is also a practice. That is, it
involves practical and technological innovation. But
this is not technological innovation that arises in re-
search centres, and then is passed on to farmers. No.
Here, technological innovation results from both tradi-
tional peasant local knowledge and the knowledge of
agroecologists, who are usually educated in the aca-
demic tradition.
Finally, agroecology is also a social movement. This
is seen, for example, in the Latin American agroecol-
ogy congresses, which are basically encounters
between academia, producers, farmers’ organisations,
and social movements.
What is the role of the
(agroecological) farmer in
spaces for social innovation?
I would like to place my answer to this question in the
context of the incipient global environmental, social,
and economic crisis, and how some Latin American
experiences are examples of possible solutions to this
First, there is the example of Cuba. After the col-
lapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba, who exchanged
sugar for oil, was suddenly confronted with a lack of
both energy and a market for its most important agri-
cultural product. The country went through very dif-
cult times. Being forced into self-reliance, people
organised themselves in neighbourhoods, city quarters,
and cities, and found a way out of the food crisis
through agroecology. The conversion to agroecology
was so successful that the government had no alterna-
tive but to support it. Similarly, the most important
farmer movements of Brazil (among them, the Land-
less Farmers’ Movement) are successfully addressing a
serious social crisis (land grabbing) also by adopting
agroecology as their main paradigm.
Another example that illustrates the role of farmers
comes from Mexico and Central America, where
farmers use the ‘campesino a campesino’ (farmer to
farmer) methodology. This methodology involves
farmers sharing their knowledge to help each other
use agroecological principles in local conditions. Also
in Mexico, coffee-producing indigenous communities
carry millenary knowledge and, I dare say, are the pio-
neers of organic coffee production worldwide.
Because of the interest that this generated among
agroecological scientists, Mexican agroecology is rec-
ognised to be rmly rooted in the traditions of indig-
enous Mesoamerican cultures. Their experience has
been one of the catalysts of the agroecological move-
ment in the country (see page 26-28).
What do agroecological
scientists do to contribute to
co-creation of knowledge?
Overall, one fundamental principle of agroecology is
the recognition of the value of traditional agriculture.
Through valuing and learning from ancestral wisdom,
innovation emerges. In agroecology we act through
what we call a ‘dialogue of knowledges’. This has to do
with the decolonisation of the mind. Agroecological
scientists do not think they know it all (as is the case in
orthodox science). They are not like conventional
agronomists, who approach peasants with an attitude
of supremacy and arrogance. Agroecologists do not
teach farmers or producers how things are done. They
engage in an intercultural dialogue that accepts that
science is not the only way of looking at, transforming,
and emancipating the world.
Wixarrica farmer blesses a recently harvested maize
field in West-Central Mexico. Photo: Raúl Hernández
20 | Farming Matters | March 2016
In Latin America, for example, agroecological scien-
tists are being inuenced by what is called the ‘episte-
mology of the South’. This is a process of decolonisa-
tion from the cultural bias we have inherited from
European thought. This is seen in the process of the
decolonisation of the mind, where the region’s most
critical thinkers question paradigms such as ‘progress’,
‘development’, and ‘competition’. These paradigms
are precisely those that support the agroindustrial food
production system.
Can you give us an example
of an agroecological system
created from this ‘dialogue
of knowledges’? Take the example of
coffee, which is arguably the world’s most important
agricultural product. Under conventional thinking,
market demand drives the modernisation of coffee
production systems, that is, growing it as a
monoculture and at a large scale, using machinery,
pesticides, and agrochemicals. Coffee produced
agroecologically, on the other hand, is grown by small
farmers. In Mexico particularly, indigenous
communities grow non-conventional coffee under
shade in highly diversied agroforestry systems. There,
a cash crop was integrated in the traditional
management of truly anthropogenic forests. In other
words, coffee, a relatively new product, was introduced
into systems that already existed since pre-Hispanic
It is important to stress that agroecology does not try
to avoid modernity; rather, it posits an alternative mo-
dernity. Not a modernity that destroys tradition, but a
modernity that departs from tradition; modernity that
respects traditional wisdoms and cultures and that
seeks the encounter of knowledge and experiences.
Nor can we afford the romantic thought of ‘all we
have to do is rescue tradition’. Tradition also has its
own failures and limitations. This example of agroeco-
logical coffee production is a beautiful case of how the
combination of modernity and tradition can generate
very advanced systems of food production.
What is needed for this
‘dialogue of knowledges’ to
gain more recognition at
universities and research
institutes? First, we must understand that
when a dilemma involves two fundamental ways of
producing food, a conict will, of course, arise. In
science, agroecology challenges a whole system of
research and dissemination of knowledge, thereby gen-
erating a battle that takes place at universities and
technology and research centres.
However, in my experience of the last twenty-ve
years, in Latin America there are increasingly more
programmes where agroecology is either taught or
researched. The force that drives this process is proof
Indigenous communities are at the forefront of
agroecological coffee production.
Photo: Enrique Carrasco
Intercropping coffee and tomatoes.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
“Generating innovation
through a ‘dialogue of
knowledges’ has to do
with the decolonisation
of the mind”
20 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 21
that this is not only an epistemological revolution, but
also a cognitive and cultural one.
An example of this is that of the Andean region, par-
ticularly Bolivia, where an agroecology PhD pro-
gramme was set up a few years ago by former gradu-
ates of the University of Cordoba’s (Spain) PhD pro-
gramme on agroecology and sustainable development.
The majority of these new Bolivian graduates are
either farmers of Aymara origin or the children of
these farmers. This programme was not only the rst
one of its kind in Latin America, but it is one reputed
for its high academic level. In the meantime, agro-
ecology programmes have also started in Honduras,
Colombia, and Mexico. I think that agroecology
should become as widespread in the world has it has
become in Latin America.
Moreover, I should also highlight another especially
important counterforce (one which I belong to) that
runs in parallel to the agroecological science-practice-
movement: ethnoecology. By focusing on traditional
knowledge, ethnoecology is expanding the paradigm
of mainstream scientic knowledge to one that in-
cludes traditional knowledge. This is a force that in-
creases at an impressive rate, especially among young
researchers who promote the integration of different
types of knowledge for the future of humanity.
What do you think is needed
for this paradigm shift to occur
at a global scale? In the coming years we
will be entering a period where we will need to dene
this new paradigm. This will imply that we need to
discuss the role of science and research in terms of
culture, ethics, and even politics. What we need is a
science that responds to a world in crisis, a science
that effectively addresses a very signicant ecological
and social emergency.
We are currently experiencing the breakdown of the
great dogmas, of the great myths of modernity, and
although we are moving towards replacing them in
our discussions, much remains to be done in practice.
We must be honest and recognise that although tradi-
tional knowledge has gained importance, convention-
al science still treats the producers of this knowledge
as mere objects of study. Through the ‘dialogue of
knowledges’, the researcher becomes involved in the
defence of knowledge and starts to accept the need for
a new scientic paradigm.
This brings me back to the rst question in this in-
terview. The role that knowledge plays in agroecology
as a science-movement-practice provides an example
of what a paradigm shift could look like. Moreover,
the different agroecological experiences in Latin
America provide examples of how to respond to this
crisis. From this perspective, it can be said that agro-
ecology is, in itself, an epistemological revolution.
To read more about agroecology in Latin America
visit: and LEISA
Revista de agroecologia,
Victor M. Toledo. Photo: Luis Ponciano
“Agroecologists engage
in an intercultural
dialogue that accepts
that science is not the
only way of looking
at, transforming, and
emancipating the world”
22 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Dialogue amongst the different
members of The Food Sovereignty
Alliance, India resulted in co-creating
knowledge, strategies and actions to
strengthen our food sovereignty and
cope with climate change. The Food
Sovereignty Alliance, India works to reclaim and
democratise local community control over food and
agriculture systems (see page 40-43). Members of our
alliance include organised groups of Dalit people,
Adivasis, small and marginal farmers, pastoralists, and
co-producers. The co-producers are a political
constituency of the alliance, who may not be directly
Adivasi communities have come together to collectively
represent their cultural, agronomic and climatic calendar
as they know it. Youth members have been using the
life cycle to reflect on the effects of climate change
and people’s responses to it. This is a case of collective
learning that reflects indigenous worldviews.
Sagari R Ramdas
engaged with food production themselves, but work in
solidarity with the Alliance. Co-creating knowledge is
a key element in our movement through which
innovative and creative solutions emerge. I share one
such example through this article in which, through
co-creation of knowledge, we developed our own way
of assessing the impacts of climate change and
strengthening our coping strategies in our villages.
Rejecting top-down solutions
The establishment of REDD/ REDD+ (Reducing
Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
programme), in 2010, as a key strategy to combat
Photo: Charanya, Food Sovereignty Alliance India
Climate change seen
through indigenous
22 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 23
In the course of one of the dialogues, at a meeting
of Adivasi elders and youth, different groups were busy
drawing their communities’ life cycles on paper and
we realised that this life cycle was in fact a lived,
dynamic, indigenous epistemology that could be used
by communities to assess and record the impacts of
climate change in their indigenous territories and on
their lives. There was tremendous excitement. Young
people from the community took the lead in creating
a collective vision of their communities’ cycle of life.
They began working with both male and female elders
of the community recording their narratives and mem-
ories in spoken word, art, poetry, stories or songs. They
translated all of this onto paper and on their walls.
There was unanimous consensus of a circular repre-
sentation of the life cycle.
In the case of some of the indigenous communities
there existed another layer of information of ‘how it
was 70-80 years ago’, in came from existing literature.
For instance, books about Gonds the Chenchus and
the Konda Reddis, include intricate descriptions of
people’s lives, centred around their relationship to
their territories and seasonal cycles. This was used by
the community as additional information about cli-
matic events on the life cycle (see page 25).
The life cycle in action After illustrat-
ing the cycle as ‘we know it is’, according to the
communities’ experience, the young folks of the
community began to use the life cycle to assess in real
time, the trends each year. This was done by record-
ing what was happening in the present and comparing
climate change, has been applauded by world leaders.
In practice, REDD entails sinking carbon in standing
stocks of trees, and raising new plantations, often on
indigenous territories. From previous such models of
carbon trade that had been tested in their territories,
indigenous peoples were aware of how such policies
and programs alienated Adivasis from their territories
and forests. They had been forced to relinquish
customary practices and forest governance, undermin-
ing indigenous resilience and climate coping strate-
gies and threatening local food sovereignty.
An indigenous alternative In 2010,
Adivasi Aikya Vedika, a member of the Food Sover-
eignty Alliance, was invited by the Indigenous Peoples
Biocultural Climate Change Assessment (IPCCA), to
join a global initiative of indigenous peoples to assess
climate change impacts and also to develop indig-
enous peoples’ response strategies to extreme climatic
events drawing from their knowledge, experience,
wisdom and worldviews. The Adivasi community
became deeply involved in identifying a framework of
enquiry to facilitate local assessments of climatic
impacts and response strategies. Intense dialogue
amongst the different Adivasi communities and
co-producers resulted in the idea of reconnecting with
the indigenous rhythm of life or ‘life cycle’. This life
cycle is a representation of how the community
members live their lives, based on the Adivasi world-
view. It describes their relationship to their territories,
seasons, food, forests, and the cultural cycles of life, in
time and space.
Savara community mapping their territory and life cycle. Photo: Charanya, Food Sovereignty Alliance - India
24 | Farming Matters | March 2016
it with established life cycles. They compared the
owering and fruiting of trees, the appearance or not
of birds and insects, the onset or delay of weather
patterns, and sowing and harvesting cycles. They also
used the life cycle to identify forces that threaten or
strengthen indigenous resilience. Most signicantly
what emerged was that villages with strong function-
ing village councils were far more resilient than
villages with poorly functioning village councils. For
instance, village councils which had rejected planta-
tions showed higher diversity of food crops and thus
resilience to climatic changes, than villages where
individual families were persuaded to replace food
crops with plantations on their lands.
The life cycles illustrate the resilience of communi-
ties in the face of climatic variability. For instance, in
2012, the Savara community of Bondiguda village re-
corded how in the month of Lologain (approximately,
the month of May), the usual season to sow diverse
food crops, rains were scarce (see page 25). Around
the same time, the community recorded how the
forest department tried to convince, and in many in-
stances force, the community to raise tree plantations
on their food crop lands, saying this would bring both
money and rains. The constant refrain of the forest
department is that growing trees will bring more rain.
Discussions in the village revealed that despite the
scarce rains and the pressures of the forest department,
the village residents preferred not to establish tree
plantations on agricultural land and instead continued
to grow food. This continued planting ensured that
there was food for the year, and seeds for the future. In
this case, the life cycle exercise also made visible com-
munities’ commitment to autonomous food produc-
tion despite external pressures to use the land for other
The life cycle approach not only continues to be
used by the Adivasi communities to develop the idea,
but it has also been adopted in other territories. It has
proven to be an extremely effective approach for a
number of reasons. It readily captured impacts of
climate change, but this was just the rst step of the
process. The life cycles have been a critical tool for
communities to discuss their own lives and situations.
They have been a means for the communities to un-
derstand their own resilience and to share their inno-
vative adaptation strategies with each other. They help
communities to actively assert their knowledge and
strategies in the wake of climate change, offering con-
crete proposals that build indigenous resilience as well
as mitigate the effects of climate change. In other in-
stances it also stimulated intense discussions on steps
to be taken by the community to halt and prevent the
entry of mining, dam and plantation projects.
They used the life cycle
to identify forces that
threaten or strengthen
indigenous resilience
Comparing the life cycle to experiences in the present. Photo: Food Sovereignty Alliance - India
24 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 25
Savara Adivasi Life cycle. Vykunta, Adivasi Aikya Vedika, India
The life cycle exercise
also made visible
communities’ commitment
to autonomous food
production despite external
pressures to use the land
for other purposes
Road ahead A major challenge continues to
be state and global policies that refuse to recognise
these indigenous approaches and epistemologies as
valid. States are still determined to push false carbon
trade arrangements, such as REDD/REDD+ as the
solution to climate change, despite evidence of
another way forward based on Adivasi peoples
worldviews and life practice. However, through the
life cycles, communities are increasingly able to
condentally reject the government’s climate change
Dr Sagari R Ramdas ( is a
veterinary scientist, a member of the Food Sovereignty
Alliance, India, and is learning to be a farmer.
26 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Throughout history, the ‘milpa’ has been
the basis of Mesoamerican agriculture.
The milpa is an agroecological practice
where maize (Zea mays), edible gourds
(Cucurbita spp), and beans (Phaseolus
spp) are intercropped in association with
woody, medicinal, and fodder plants, as well as fruit
trees. Maize is more than a crop in Mexico, its centre
of origin and diversication. It is the backbone of the
A network of communities in West-Central Mexico has
rescued its traditional landraces of maize. This experience
shows that the benefits of defending an ancestral
good is not only limited to regaining cultural identity
and agrobiodiversity. The defence of native maize has
become a space where old and new knowledge redefined
agriculture and where people achieved food sovereignty,
technical autonomy, and a new sense of community.
Jaime Morales Hernández
Rescuing our maize:
Building a network
rural diet and culture; it lies at the heart of rural life. It
is central to Mexican identity and a vital resource for
all Mexicans.
Nowadays, however, Mexican agriculture is domi-
nated by agroindustry and pursuing an agricultural
model that has had serious social and environmental
impacts in the country’s rural areas. Moreover, it has
provoked the disappearance of milpa-based family
farming – once the largest food producing sector of
Photo: RASA
26 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 27
called ‘seed-keepers’, the farmers committed to taking
care of these varieties, conduct experiments and carry
out community planting projects with these varieties.
They are also exhibited and exchanged at fairs and at
regional meetings. Moreover, the seeds have also been
the starting point for a participatory plant breeding
programme. In this programme, seed-keepers, in dia-
logue with other farmers and advisors, recover old vari-
eties, breed new varieties and experiment with differ-
ent management practices. Furthermore, the seed-
keepers are also responsible for sharing specic seed
related knowledge with other farmers. The recovery
and improvement of maize varieties, as well as seeds
of other plants grown in the milpa systems, can there-
fore be seen as an important result of the co-creation
of agroecological knowledge.
Farmers, advisors, technicians, and scientists also
come together in regional-level ‘maize encounters’.
These encounters evolve around the exchange farmer-
bred maize seed and other seeds grown in the milpa,
such as beans and squash. In doing so, the participants
also exchange knowledge about cultivation techniques
and various uses for the seeds.
During tours, network members visit sites outside of
the state of Jalisco to learn from successful experiences
in sustainable agriculture. These tours require the
commitment of the network’s farmers and other com-
munities to support each other mutually in their own
development processes. Finally, RASA farmers organ-
ise workshops on agroecological techniques such as
planting and experimentation in their own family
the country and a major source of labour. Industrial-
ised agriculture is also a serious threat to native maize
diversity and Mexican cuisine, which was declared an
intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2012.
A collective dialogue In response to
this situation, various movements emerged in defence
of maize in rural and urban areas. The Network for
Sustainable Agricultural Alternatives (RASA, in
Spanish) is one of them. RASA is a cooperative which
was created in 1999 in Jalisco state in West-Central
Mexico. It consists of about 100 families of farmers,
peasants, indigenous peoples, women, consumers, and
advisors from twenty different municipalities. Striving
for sustainable family farming, RASA bases its
activities on three pillars: co-creation of knowledge,
strengthening rural-urban linkages through fair trade,
and conservation of agrobiodiversity through the milpa
The activities of RASA are based on the belief that
knowledge created through dialogue between farmers
and scientists must be the starting point for rural sus-
tainability (see page 18-21). As a farmer explained:
“We have been practicing agriculture since we were
little children. Our knowledge allows us to approach
traditional farming as a sustainable form of agricul-
ture. Our relationship with the technicians and profes-
sionals in RASA is based on mutual respect and col-
lective dialogue. Learning becomes the foundation
that allows new knowledge to settle in. It yields in-
sights that lead to innovative techniques and tools and
that enhance our sustainability and autonomy.
Farmer-to-farmer In RASA, knowledge
co-creation processes are based on the ‘farmer to
farmer’ method, where a considerable number of
farmers from the network are supported by others to
act as trainers and advisors for other farmers. These
activities are planned and organised collectively and
they take various forms: experimentation, seed
recovery, encounters, tours and workshops.
RASA trains its own group of advisors in agroecologi-
cal experimentation to support producer groups. This
training involves participatory assessments, design of
experiments, eld observations, evaluation of results
and reporting skills. It takes place throughout key
moments of the agricultural cycle and is strengthened
during meetings, workshops and tours. Farmers who
are trained serve as support for other farmers as
‘tutors’. Some scientists also assist in these experi-
In its own sustainable agriculture training centre,
RASA established a regional maize seed fund ve
years ago. The fund’s objective is to propagate and
preserve the varieties that farmers perceive as threat-
ened- currently including about 35 maize varieties. So
A RASA community workshop.
Photo: Patricia Karenina
28 | Farming Matters | March 2016
plots and in their communities. These are dynamic
educational and social events.
Growing through co-creation
In an adverse context marked by the advance of
industrial agriculture, knowledge co-creation has
accompanied every effort the of RASA network’s
members. These processes have allowed a move away
from industrial agriculture, towards more sustainable
milpa-based family farms. The results are impressive.
The network’s family farms now grow an average of
8 species of fruit trees, 17 species of vegetables, 4 dif-
ferent types of grasses, 6 species of legumes, and 10
medicinal plants. They also tend to an average of ve
species of domesticated animals. This agrobiodiversity
allows them to regain food sovereignty in the family, to
withstand the rural crisis driven by agroindustry, and
to achieve autonomy in their production systems. The
families of the RASA network with more than 10 years
of experience in agroecology are not only able to meet
their food, education, and basic health care needs but
their incomes are also 40% above the national average.
In all cases the starting point for evolution has been
the collective sharing and development of the knowl-
edge held in traditional farming practices such as the
use of native seeds. Throughout this process, the
vision of members of RASA was based on elements of
peasant identity such as freedom, justice and dignity,
and respect towards others and to nature. By fostering
a caring attitude towards earth, nature and life, this
identity shapes sustainable practice in a thoughtful
way. As RASA members say: “Talking about seeds
brings our people and our knowledges together”. Ini-
tiatives such as the effort of RASA to defend our native
seed, guarantee spaces where knowledge about sus-
tainable management practices can be co-created, and
where we make our own decisions, strengthening
farmers’ autonomy and self-management.
Jaime Morales Hernández ( is a
researcher at the Western Institute of Technology and
Higher Education (ITESO) in Guadalajara, Mexico.
A ‘maize encounter’ in which farmers exchange
seeds. Photo: Manuel Ayala Velazquez
Varieties of native maize. Photo: Patricia Karenina
Farming Matters | March 2016 | 29
Olivier De Schutter (
is a Professor of at the Catholic University of Louvain
and at the College of Europe, and he is co-chair of
IPES-Food. He was the UN Special Rapporteur on the
Right to Food from 2008-2014.
Olivier De Schutter
The transition towards sustainable food systems has
often been conceived on the basis of two sets of
instruments: legal regulations that impose certain
ways of acting and prohibit others, or economic incentives
such as taxes and subsidies to reward good practices and
discourage less good practices.
This classic view of transition operates on the basis of a
conception of power that is top-down and centralised. In
this view, power is something we take, grab, or fight for,
instead of a much more decentralised concept that needs
to be exercised across society. Also, this view on transition
imposes uniform solutions across the board without taking
into account local contexts, available local recourses, and
the motivations that people have to act together. This way
of conceiving the transition to sustainable food systems is
now recognised as insufficient. We must think of another
A different understanding of transition starts from the bottom
and from local solutions, rather than from the top and the
centre of political power. Alternative food networks are
bourgeoning at the local level and are defining solutions for
the future based on local knowledge. Another characteristic
of new transitions is that the solutions do not come from
technicians or experts or those who retain a monopoly of
knowledge. The solutions come from ordinary women and
men who invest time and energy in working out alternatives
for their immediate environment.
Beginning from the local also allows building hybrid
government systems in which politicians, economic actors
and civil society organisations can join efforts in one single
forum to rethink their food systems and invent new solutions.
Now the challenge for public action is therefore to redefine
its grammar in order to learn from these local-level, citizens-
led initiatives.
The two views must be reconciled. Traditional top-down
tools remain useful in certain contexts, but perhaps the state
-and politicians more generally- should also understand that
they need to learn, observe what is going on, be surprised by
what these initiatives can teach them and, finally, they have
to put public action at the service of citizen-led initiatives.
This is an excerpt from a speech that was delivered to the
Voedsel Anders conference on fair and sustainable food
systems, February 2016, Wageningen, the Netherlands, (See page 46)
Photo: Daniel Gomez
30 | Farming Matters | March 2016
he Flemish farmer network –
Biobedrijfsnetwerken (BBN) supports the
development initiatives that bring farmers,
advisors, and researchers together to tackle
agricultural production challenges. For example,
farmers from Greenow, a cooperative of organic
farmers in Flanders, Belgium came together to nd
a way to meet the high standards of retailers. These
farmers, with inspiration from advisors and researchers
increased the shelf life of their potatoes. The potatoes
are brushed instead of washed and therefore retain
their avour and take longer to perish. Moreover,
the farmers designed and produced a paper bag that
has a personalised label to inform consumers who
produced their food and where it came from. Farmers
have a lot of knowledge they can share, whilst other
stakeholders, such as advisors and researchers, can
provide complementary expertise to help the farmers
innovate their management practices.
Contact: Sabrina Proserpio
Farmers give potatoes a new life
Two (or more) heads are better than one, goes the old saying, and
the same is true in agroecology. As we see here, when people from
diverse backgrounds come together, their different perspectives and
experiences are fertile ground for creativity and innovation to blossom.
Crops and livestock:
You can have them both
armers in Koutiala, a district in Southern
Mali grow cereals to feed their families and
keep cows for milk and as a form of savings.
There, all the arable land is currently under
cultivation. During the four months of the rainy
season, farmers prioritise the
cultivation of cereals over fodder
production for livestock. A
shortage of feed for the animals
during the dry season leads to
low milk production and high
mortality of cattle. Farmers, in
partnership with a local NGO
and researchers from local
and international research
centres jointly determined
the most promising pattern of
intercropping maize with cowpea, a crop with high
fodder value. Together farmers and researchers
experimented in small plots. With intercropping at the
right moment in the rotation, farmers can feed their
livestock without compromising food self-sufciency
of their household. By collecting
extra manure in the stall, farmers
could fertilise the cereals and the
extra income from the milk could
be re-invested in farm assets or
goods for the family: “This is a
key lesson that we will bring back
to our families”.
Contact: Gatien Falconnier
30 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 31
Solving the challenges of
social entrepreneur farmers
n 2015, Neo-Agri association and MakeSense
started the AgriSenseTour in France to help
farmers overcome their entrepreneurial challenges
by working together with… gangsters! Ok, not
real gangsters, but members of the MakeSense
community who call themselves that way and who
facilitate one-hour creativity workshops to help social
entrepreneurs overcome obstacles. These workshops
are called “Hold-Ups” (because the name ts nicely
with the concept of being a gangster) and particularly
target new peasants. There is no need to be an expert
to take part in a Hold-Up, anyone can participate.
Hold-Ups foster co-creation by and between farmers
and citizens. They use creative techniques to help
participants share ideas and sometimes even resources.
From growing shiitake mushrooms on brewery waste
to creating a system of organic waste collection
and composting to sharing transport costs to access
consumers, Hold-Ups have helped farmers design
innovative agroecological techniques. Moreover,
anyone can learn to prepare and facilitate a Hold-
Up thanks to an online open source library of tools
which can be accessed upon (free) registration as a
MakeSense community member.
Contact Sidney Ortun Flament and Bruno Macias
Responding to climate change locally
n anthropologist, an agrometeorologist and
Universitas Indonesia students and other
scientic and administrative support staff have
teamed up with rice farmers in Indramayu
(Java) and on Lombok, to face changing local climatic
patterns. The aim is to generate reliable climate services
on which farmers can base their crop management
decisions. This is done through co-production of
knowledge that is rooted in scientic and local expertise
and takes place in mutually supportive undertakings.
They consist of conducting eld experiments, rainfall
measurements and agroecological observations (soil,
plants, water, biomass, pests) on a daily basis. With
these data that farmers collect, farming strategies are
jointly developed and discussed monthly in Science
Field Shops. Including monthly climate predictions,
farmers and scientists learn about agrometeorological
consequences of climate change locally. Training of
Trainers allows upscaling of the Science Field Shops.
Contact: Kees Stigter ( and
Yunita T. Winarto (
32 | Farming Matters | March 2016
The high altitude hills and cooler
temperatures of the Great Lakes Region
of Central Africa provide the ideal
conditions for agriculture. However,
population pressure and years of civil
conict have caused soil exhaustion and
limited the availability of spare land, as well as
paralysed agricultural advisory and extension services,
resulting in poor access to markets. Not surprisingly,
farm households in parts of this region rank among
the most food insecure and malnourished in the
world. Although there is great uncertainty about the
type of solutions that will effectively solve these
problems, it is clear that developing, testing, and
implementing these solutions require collaboration
between several groups of stakeholders.
A platform of farmers, retailers and service providers,
civil society organisations, NGOs, government officials,
and researchers improves livelihoods in Rwanda. Through
interaction and collaboration, these groups experiment
with various technological and institutional innovations,
thereby tackling local agricultural challenges. This
experience illustrates the importance of institutionalising
a space where knowledge can be co-created.
Marc Schut on behalf of the CIALCA / Humidtropics East and Central Africa Team*
dialogue in Rwanda through
innovation platforms
Collective action To facilitate this
collaboration, ‘multi-stakeholder innovation platforms’
(IPs) started in 2013 in Rwanda as part of a larger
research-for-development programme called Humid-
tropics. An IP is a space for learning and change. It is a
group of individuals with different backgrounds and
interests. The objective of these IPs is to facilitate
knowledge co-creation through joint problem analysis,
priority setting, testing of innovations, and learning.
To start off, (inter)national agricultural research or-
ganisations, together with the government and devel-
opment partners, identied sites in the Great Lakes
Region with agricultural potential to improve liveli-
hoods and market opportunities, and to reduce land
degradation. In Rwanda, for example, a small team of
Humidtropics and government researchers together
Photo: Marc Schut
32 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 33
Despite the growing condence, challenges kept
emerging. This demanded even more collaboration
and problem solving by IP members. One of these
challenges related to the farmer’s lack of access to
manure. To address this problem, farmers decided to
set up a system among themselves in which each
farmer IP member paid 1.3 USD monthly. With this
money, the group bought a sheep that was given to
one of the members. Each month, another member
received a sheep and, once the sheep reproduced, the
lamb was given to another IP farmer.
In order to evaluate the collaboration process, com-
munity and national IP reection meetings were or-
ganised at the end of each season. During these meet-
ings, specic research or development activities were
abandoned or adopted, depending on the reections
and the changing priorities of the IP members.
Looking back Almost three years after their
inception, some lessons have been learned regarding
the performance and impact of IPs for knowledge
co-creation. Putting resources in the hands of stake-
holders enabled them to steer the research and
development agenda, and to implement activities that
no other projects or businesses were able to support.
Having IPs at the local and national levels can bridge
different innovation processes. Addressing community-
level barriers (e.g. access to land, inputs, credit, and
markets) often requires change at higher policy levels.
The regular IP reection meetings stimulated
short-loop learning and timely adaptation of research
and development activities to support collective
action. The experience here shows that community
level IPs can provide the space necessary for different
types of knowledge, experiences, skills, resources, and
attitudes to come together and co-create innovation.
However, collaboration between different groups of
stakeholders across different levels is also difcult.
People have different interests, needs and objectives
that sometimes clash. We are continuously learning
about what works and what does not work as we move
Marc Schut: ( is responsible for
coordinating the social science activities for the Humidtrop-
ics research programme. For more about this initiative see:
Schut et al. (2016) in Experimental Agriculture.
with a representative of the national peasant organisa-
tion decided to focus on Kadahenda, in the north of
the country. There, they teamed up with local authori-
ties and different farmer groups. They identied op-
portunities to boost agricultural production in the
region, and decided that improving the quality of and
access to potato (Solanum tuberosum) seed would be a
good starting point.
A journey starts In February 2014, a group
of Kadahendan farmers, representatives from govern-
ment and the private sector, as well as researchers and
NGOs came together to take this further. After discuss-
ing concrete research and development activities,
such as testing different potato varieties, intercropping,
and pest and disease control, the rst community IP
was launched.
The members of this IP were involved in the selec-
tion of the varieties and designing the activities. Vol-
unteer farmers conducted trials on their land, while
government and research organisations provided
inputs such as seeds and management advice. To
support the community level IPs, a national level IP
was established to provide science advice and services.
Despite the initial enthusiasm, however, the young IP
did not manage to get any potato seed into the ground
because the involved organisations did not manage to
mobilise resources to do so.
Solving problems, growing
confidence T
o address this problem, Humid-
tropics provided ‘platform-led innovation funds’. What
was special about these funds was that the members of the
IP could decide how to spend them. From that moment
on, the intensity of activities in Kadahenda increased.
Community IP members started meeting whenever they
felt there were problems that required a group discussion.
Slowly but surely, IP members in Kadahenda gained faith
in the platform, and farmers helped one another planting
and harvesting, and shared problems and their potential
solutions with the whole group. Additionally, experienced
farmers assisted new members to become familiar with
the IP and its activities.
Members of the national level Innovation Platform
in Rwanda and Humidtropics management visiting
the potato fields of the Kadahenda Innovation Plat-
form. Photo: Alain Hero Ngamije
* Chris Okafor, Cyrille Hicintuka, Sylvain Mapatano, Desire
Kagabo, Emmanuel Njukwe, Solange Zawadi, Dieuwke
Lamers, Pierre Celestin Ndayisaba, Mariette McCampbell,
Murat Sartas, Piet van Asten and Bernard Vanlauwe
( /
34 | Farming Matters | March 2016
As we pass the rows of lettuce,
cabbage and leek, the farmer whose
biodynamic farm we are visiting
tells us about the birds he has
spotted lately, the newly-built
nature trail, and the pond where a
rare lily last seen 15 years ago has reappeared. The
other biodynamic farmers participating in the Farm
Talk, two large-scale vegetable producers who each
farm more than a hundred hectares, and a dairy
farmer, listen, observe and ask questions. Our host
shows us the triangular area between the pond, the
hedge and the eld, long-infested with stinging nettle,
which he nally turned into a hay meadow. Later, as
we sit at the kitchen table in the farmer’s house
In the Netherlands, a peer review method for farmers
arose as an alternative to the biodynamic certification
system. By collectively observing and discussing site-
specific challenges, these biodynamic farmers experience
first-hand the power of collaboration and drive
commitment to sustainability beyond the standards of
biodynamic certification.
Evelien de Olde and Petra Derkzen
Inspired by peers:
Farm Talks in
biodynamic agriculture
reviewing all of the biodynamic aspects of the farm,
the visiting farmers suggest the possibility of adding
more animals to the farm system in order to close the
nutrient cycle. The farmer already keeps bees for
honey, and the new hay meadow is only big enough
for two cows or heifers. Other options are weighed.
Eventually, the host farmer and his wife decide to
explore the possibilities for integrating animal
husbandry into their farming activities in the coming
Initially known as the ‘Mansveltscore’ (after one of
the co-founders of this method, Jan Diek van Mans-
velt), Farm Talks were developed in 2008 by the bio-
dynamic farming association and the Demeter certi-
cation organization in the Netherlands as a potential
Photo: Evelien de Olde
34 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 35
farm’s various tasks around people with special needs
and capacities, and to deliver orders timely while
dealing both with several care institutions and inclem-
ent weather, all the same time. Although these images
vary greatly among participants, they often seem to
convey a similar message. Moreover, the exercise
makes room for creativity and imagination to be ex-
pressed and paves the road for a deeper discussion
about the farm.
After ‘characterising’ the farm, participants rate its
performance on the same eight themes the farmer had
used to evaluate her own farm before the visit (see
gure on page 36). In the peer review phase, the host
farmer discusses her own appraisal and compares her
ratings to the scores given by her peers. Differences in
the evaluations often form the basis for new insights.
From the discussion, issues that could be developed or
that required attention are noted. Then, the host
selects the aspects she would like to work on, develop,
improve, nd out or learn. She formulates a specic
action plan to reect these goals that begins with ‘I
alternative to the certication system. The method was
regularly evaluated and adjusted but it was decided in
2013 that the outcomes of the Farm Talks were not
suitable for inclusion in the accreditation for Demeter
certication. Nonetheless, the Farm Talks continue as
a practice that provides a space for farmers to evaluate
and learn from each other’s experiences to support the
development of their own farms, and of biodynamic
farming in the Netherlands. Approximately 130 Dutch
farmers currently participate in the Farm Talks.
Exploring opportunities In each
Farm Talk a group of four to ve peers representing
different agricultural sectors visit the farmer whose
farm is evaluated. During the biannual visits, a coach
from the biodynamic farming association facilitates
the process. The host farmer discusses the strengths
and challenges faced on the farm, and together with
her peers, examine possibilities for development.
Through discussion, participants explore the meaning
of biodynamic farming and sustainability. This
contributes to a collective and context-specic
understanding of these concepts.
During the review, the farm is characterised and
evaluated against predetermined biodynamic princi-
ples. In anticipation of a Farm Talk, the host farmer
prepares the visit by revising a set of questions to evalu-
ate her own farm based on eight different, yet related
themes (see the gure on page 36). Additionally, each
host denes possible development actions for the
farm. Although the structure of each Farm Talk varies,
four phases are observable.
Collective, yet context-specific
understanding First, during a short tour,
the host shows the farm focusing on the parts that
either represent a challenge for the farmer or that are
unique and pleasant. Next comes a crucial feature of
Farm Talks: ’characterising’. The aim of characterising
is to capture the essence of both the farm and the
farmer as they are on the day of the visit. This is done
after the tour, before the farm is systematically
discussed. Sitting at the table, all farmers and coaches
take a moment in silence to visualise an image, word,
or picture that represents the essence of the farm and
farmer. This vision should represent their feelings and
perceptions beyond the explicit questions and answers
that have been previously exchanged.
Care farming is a popular practice in Western
Europe that involves the use of farming practices for
therapeutic purposes. Recently, during a farm visit at a
care farm, images such as a ‘Rubik’s cube’ or a ‘wizard
juggling many plates in the air’ and an ‘octopus’ came
to the minds of the farmer peers. These images re-
ected the farm’s complex organization. Everyone was
impressed with the host farmer’s ability to organize the
Farm Talks host Sander Koster, at his farm.
Photo: Frederieke Bosch
This special
constellation of
backgrounds helps to
develop innovative ideas
and insights
36 | Farming Matters | March 2016
An atmosphere of trust In the Farm
Talks, groups consist of farmers from different sectors.
This special constellation of backgrounds helps to
develop innovative ideas and insights, as well as to
prevent discussions that are too specialised from taking
place. The role of the coaches is important to give
structure to the meeting and to create a safe and
positive atmosphere where challenges can be shared
openly. The coach can facilitate the process by
interfering when discussions become too technical, by
shifting in focus to another farmer, or by introducing
aspects not yet discussed.
A Farm Talk requires a frank reection of the
aspects that work well on the farm and those that can
be improved, as well as an atmosphere of trust and
openmindedness. This is cultivated through transpar-
ently communicating the expectations of the talk, an
appreciative inquiry and a collaborative and positive
attitude. An atmosphere of trust allows colleagues to
ask questions and support the farmer through explor-
ing their basic motivations, assumptions, and values
together with them, as well as helping them to estab-
lish specic development actions.
Evolving together The experiences here
emphasise the importance of an honest reection and
critical discussion of on-farm challenges. Transparency
and good facilitation within an atmosphere of trust
add to an integrative farm characterisation and actions
for future development. Discussing the meaning of
biodynamic farming within the context of a specic
farm supports the co-creation, understanding, and
dissemination of the concept. This is seen in the
example at the beginning of this article. After the farm
tour, the group of farmers discussed the biodynamic
principle of integrating livestock into the system to
close the nutrient cycle. The participating farmers
gained something. For the farming couple, this meant
the opportunity to explore different options for
integrating more animals onto their farm. All other
farmers were reminded of the importance of rumi-
nants in biodynamic farming for improving soil
fertility. Farm Talks not only enable farmers to inspire
one another, but they also help to deepen farmers’
own understanding of sustainability, which benets
society at large.
Evelien de Olde ( is a PhD candidate at
Aarhus University in Denmark and Wageningen University
in the Netherlands.
Petra Derkzen ( coordinates the
Demeter certification for biodynamic agriculture at the
Demeter Foundation in the Netherlands.
Max van Tilburg guides a Farm Talk tour on his
farm. Photo: Frederieke Bosch
Biodynamic farmers discuss challenges on the farm
of Piet van IJzendoorn. Photo: Evelien de Olde
Farm Talk participants rate the farm’s performance
according to different themes.
Drawing: Evelien de Olde
Farming Matters | March 2016 | 37
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innovated by collecting, sowing and selecting seeds.
Food producers shared knowledge, together with their
seeds and breeds, with peasants in other territories
across countries and continents where, in turn, the
co-creation of knowledge greatly expanded agricul-
tural biodiversity suited to diverse ecologies, environ-
ments and human needs. The result is many hundreds
of thousands of different plant varieties and thousands
of livestock breeds and aquatic species which have
The co-creation of knowledge about agricultural
biodiversity is an essential part of peasant strategies for
survival and autonomy. Facing the threats of the industrial
model of production and consumption, peasants and
social movements are defending agroecology and their
dynamic management of agricultural biodiversity. Together
with others, they are building collective knowledge about
developing localised, biodiverse food systems, about
reclaiming access to their territories and about engaging
in research and policy making as principal actors.
Co-creating the
that feeds us
been selected or adapted to serve specic require-
Common to the worldviews of many peasant food
providers is the belief that all of nature is living and
that human beings are part of the family of living crea-
tures and the environment, not outside of it. These
worldviews have deep implications for how peasants
and other small scale food providers create knowledge.
Nature shapes the possibilities of life for human socie-
ties. Culture, beliefs and our values, in turn, shape
how we take care – or do not take care – of nature.
Awareness of the links between nature and culture are
explicit in many societies. And in many others, where
that awareness has been lost, people are organising
and taking action to reclaim this awareness. Humans
and other living beings have been engaged in an
ancient relationship of mutual interaction shaping
each other’s existence in a process of co-evolution.
This process of co-evolution has created agricultural
biodiversity and the agroecological systems it supports.
Its dynamic management is an essential part of long-
38 | Farming Matters | March 2016
diversity. Community supported agriculture based on
agroecology, and associated processing, can sustain
biodiverse production by selling a wide range of varie-
ties of cultivated and wild plants, breeds of livestock
and sh species. For example Andean breeds of
alpaca, which produce a diversity of 11 colours of
alpaca bre and are well adapted to the harsh environ-
ment, require a supportive market to fend off the lu-
crative but biodiversity-blind market which demands
uniform white alpaca bre that is subsequently dyed
Peasants are engaging in research that increases ag-
ricultural biodiversity of plants, livestock and aquatic
organisms. Their research respects collective rights
and encourages the co-creation of diverse knowledges.
For example in Iran, evolutionary plant breeding,
which is a strategy for rapidly increasing on-farm bio-
diversity, farmers cultivate very diverse mixtures of
hundreds or even a thousand or more of different vari-
eties and allow these to evolve and adapt to their local
conditions. These evolutionary populations are living
gene banks in their own elds from which seeds from
the most adapted varieties and mixtures are used for
sowing crops.
Autonomous and self-organised
participation in policy forma-
tion Peasants are now included in policy formation.
Democratic decision making processes including
peasants have now been realised as a result of pressure
from peasant organisations. In the UN Committee for
World Food Security (CFS), for example, peasants can
term peasant strategies for survival and autonomy. Ag-
ricultural biodiversity is the manifestation of the crea-
tivity and knowledge of peasants as they engage with
the natural environment to satisfy their needs. It em-
bodies a dynamic and constantly changing patchwork
of relations between people, plants, animals, other
organisms and nature, continuously responding to new
challenges and nding new solutions.
Threats and responses Agricultural
biodiversity, and the creativity and collective knowl-
edge on which it is based, is threatened by the
industrial model of production and consumption. In
response, peasant societies and social movements are
organising locally, regionally and internationally to
defend agroecology and regenerate their dynamic
management of agricultural biodiversity in the
framework of food sovereignty. Together with other
relevant actors, for example NGOs and like-minded
scientists, they are improving collective knowledge
about how to respond.
This results in very diverse, multilayered strategies.
Peasants are developing their interlinked and localised
models of production and consumption and, espe-
cially women, are providing biodiverse foods for au-
tonomous food systems and local food webs served by
local, and sometimes cross-border, markets.
Peasants are ghting to reclaim access to their ter-
ritories, migratory routes and shing grounds. Secur-
ing their control over their territories allows them to
regenerate agricultural biodiversity, above and below
ground and in waters, through, for example, agroecol-
ogy, agroforestry, artisanal sheries, community man-
agement of mangroves, and mobile pastoralism. In
Colombia, for example, peasants are proposing to
regain control over their territory and renew a relation-
ship with nature that does not lead to its destruction,
as at present. They want food production based on the
traditional knowledge of respect for the natural envi-
ronment, using agroecology. In Palestine, restrictions
of access to coastal waters are severely affecting the
diverse and the food security of Palestinians in the
Gaza Strip.
Peasants are asserting their inalienable rights for col-
lective control over seeds and biodiversity. They are
developing Maisons des Sémences, supporting peasant
seed networks, seed fairs and maintaining diverse
breeds of livestock and diverse sheries. Even in
regions degraded by industrial systems, local food pro-
viders are re-learning the importance of biodiversity.
For example, French bakers cum seed breeders are
regenerating varieties of wheat suited to the local envi-
ronment and artisanal baking, meeting local demands
for high-quality breads.
Peasants are producing, and often processing, local
foods, feed, fuel and bre for markets that support bio-
Gaza fishers protest the blockade of their fishery.
Photo: Kevin Neish
Farmer examining a field of an evolutionary popula-
tion of wheat in Sahneh, Kermanshah, Iran.
38 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 39
now debate issues with the same rights to express their
views as other actors, including governments. A
critical issue under discussion is the oversight of the
governance of agricultural biodiversity and agroecol-
ogy, in terms of their contributions to food security.
This is a priority of peasant organisations for the
agenda of the CFS. Peasants’ representatives are
urging similar forms of engagement in the Interna-
tional Seed Treaty (ITPGRFA) and the Commission
on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture so
they can more effectively champion the policies
needed to sustain agricultural biodiversity and realise
Farmers’ Rights, and challenge policies that serve
monopoly interests in the food system.
Peasant knowledge is key, but it must be in dialogue
with other knowledges. Yet, recognition by many inter-
national and national institutions of the importance of
peasant knowledge rarely means giving priority to it.
In reality, where multiple knowledge systems are con-
cerned, the supremacy of positivist (modern) science
is tacitly assumed by those serving monopoly power.
Attempts to incorporate indigenous or peasant knowl-
edge and public or citizen science often include only
those aspects that are consistent with positivist science.
Given the substantial economic and political in-
vestment in research that undermines the develop-
ment of knowledge in support of agricultural biodiver-
sity, an urgent issue is to give precedence to the co-
creation of knowledge, by peasant producers and other
like-minded actors, which will challenge the domi-
nance of positivist science. It is crucial to identify how,
together, we can develop the knowledge needed to
reclaim research for the public good; to realise
changes in governance that will ensure the implemen-
tation of research that is directed towards enhancing a
wide range of agricultural biodiversity, sustained eco-
logically in the framework of food sovereignty. This,
perhaps, is one of the greatest challenges for the co-
creation of knowledge.
This article is based on a report prepared for the
Working Group on Agricultural Biodiversity of the
International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty
(IPC Rome Secretariat -
Peasants give life to biodiversity
This 16 page brochure is based on a report prepared
for the Agricultural Biodiversity Working Group of
the IPC for Food Sovereignty and (enclosed with
this magazine). The report titled “Biodiversity for
Food and Agriculture: the perspectives of small-
scale food providers”, is a Thematic Study for FAO’s
report on the “State of the World’s Biodiversity for
Food and Agriculture.” The brochure, in Arabic,
English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, and the
fully referenced paper in English, are available.
40 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Padma, who has travelled 300 miles from
her village in the Eastern Ghats, joins a
group of the Gond indigenous people of
central India next to a small govern-
ment-built reservoir at the edge of their
ancestral forest. Her hosts have built a
large structure from materials usually used for wed-
dings. This is to be the venue of interactions between
Adivasis (India’s indigenous people) small farmers,
pastoralists and Dalits. They have come together with
those who do not farm, but who are concerned about
food sovereignty.
In the past era of scientism, the insights of farmers
like Padma were excluded from processes where
knowledge was validated and policies were formulat-
ed. The 2015 gathering in which she is participating is
one of the spaces being claimed by many such com-
munities. Eating, meeting and sleeping in the same
makeshift tents, food producers enter into dialogue
with others involved in the food system as part of a
growing social movement - India’s Food Sovereignty
Alliance (see also pages 22-25). They share stories and
critically reect with scientists, local government of-
cials and other policy makers.
During the meeting they discuss government poli-
For the past half century
agricultural innovation has
denied a voice to the many
groups who work outside
the profession of science
– farmers, food providers,
women and the urban
poor. The value of their
expertise gained through
practical experience must
be recognised in the
production and validation
of knowledge.
Tom Wakeford, Colin Anderson, Charanya R.,
and Michel Pimbert
people’s knowledge
Photo: Food Sovereignty Alliance - India
40 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 41
world’s multi-faceted food crises.
A broad shift to agroecology requires a deepening of
democracy that breaks the knowledge monopoly held
by professional scientists and powerful institutions,
particularly policy-makers. It also requires political
and cultural transformation that empowers food pro-
ducers and citizens in the governance of public agri-
cultural research. It must support the autonomous
knowledge production processes carried out by citi-
zens, local communities and social movement organi-
sations such as India’s Food Sovereignty Alliance and
international platforms such as La Via Campesina.
Networks and collaboration
From this perspective, innovation and development
based on agroecology emerges from creative processes
of knowledge co-production and mobilisation carried
out by diverse collectives of farmers, citizens and sci-
entists. Around the world, these processes are gather-
ing momentum through farmer-to-farmer networks,
participatory action research and other equitable col-
laborations between food providers, researchers and
A series of farmers’ juries, initiated by the Deccan
Development Society’s Prajateerpu in 2001, have suc-
cessfully challenged the displacement of people by
mechanised agriculture in India. During the last two
years, both the Food Sovereignty Alliance and older
groups, such as the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha
(KRRS), have combined an agroecological, evidence-
based approach with strong grassroots campaigning.
This has undermined the top-down narratives of geneti-
cally modied crops, land consolidation and mechani-
sation being the route to better livelihoods and health.
It has allowed traditionally trained scientists to enter
into dialogue with these social movements and is
opening new opportunities for social movements to in-
uence agricultural development in India.
Agroecology has been rightly called a practice, a
cies relating to seeds, water and land in relation to the
threats these may bring to their livelihoods. The event
builds on twenty years of knowledge sharing and
movement building by a network whose origins are
rmly rooted in the teachings of Paulo Freire and the
many Indian pioneers of democratic practice and criti-
cal thinking in communities. The lack of nancial
support for such efforts from large NGOs does not
hold the movement back. On the contrary, organising
accountable structures from the bottom-up, alongside
horizontal working practices, strengthens the move-
ment’s resilience.
Mainstream agricultural development has been
largely based on scientism – a worldview based on im-
position of a logic based on nineteenth century
physics that ignores or displaces local and indigenous
knowledge systems. Policies based on scientism gener-
ally promote top-down technologies and development
that is indifferent to local priorities or involvement.
The imposition of green revolution technology in the
global South has often been argued to increase pro-
ductivity, but it has done little to decrease hunger. It
has had dire consequences for the environment, food
and nutritional security and the resilience of people
like Padma.
Science has an important role to play in agricultural
development. However, the marginalisation of local
knowledge and priorities, combined with the over-
whelming focus of science on improving yield, has
pushed agroecosystems and rural livelihoods to break-
ing point. The Food Sovereignty Alliance is not alone
in arguing that research that focuses on technological
xes without addressing the politics of knowledge and
the democratic decit in the governance of food
systems and society is incapable of addressing the
Performing a play as a stimulus for discussions at
the Food Sovereignty Summit, Telangana, India,
2015. Photo: Food Sovereignty Alliance - India
Research that focuses
on technological xes
without addressing the
politics of knowledge and
the democratic decit in
the governance of food
systems and society is
incapable of addressing
the world’s multi-faceted
food crises
42 | Farming Matters | March 2016
science and a social movement. Equal attention to
each pillar of this knowledge triangle – practical, sci-
entic and political knowledge – is key to unlocking
the potential of agroecology. Yet, practical, local
knowledge is undervalued by mainstream research
and development institutions. Questions about whose
knowledge ‘counts’ as being more or less valid, and
why this matters, are generally left unasked.
Rejecting scientism
Although some mainstream institutions and scien-
tists are starting to pay attention to agroecology, their
narrow framing of agroecology as a science and the
intentional ignoring of the deeply political and social
nature of agroecology and agroecological knowledge
systems is another example of the bias that is inherent
in scientism.
For example, participatory technology development
(PTD) has traditionally emphasised technical innova-
tions as the solution to sustainable agriculture, obscur-
ing the political, institutional and cultural contexts.
Using such a framework means that farmers like
Padma are given passive parts in development
schemes. Their presence in so-called participatory pro-
cesses are merely a means of policy makers gaining
legitimacy for decisions that they have already made.
This democratic deceit allows the structural violence
perpetrated by neocolonialist, neoliberal and institu-
tionally racist policies to go unchallenged.
The danger of a narrow understanding of agroecol-
ogy as scientism was made clear when the FAO organ-
ised a technical symposium in Rome on agroecology
in September 2014. Encouragingly, this was the rst
major FAO meeting to focus on agroecology, and has
since been followed up with regional level consulta-
tions in Asia, South America and Africa. However, at
the Rome meeting, scientists dominated the agenda
and civil society representatives were only marginally
represented. The organisers restricted the meeting to
so-called technical discussions, attempting to censor
debates about politics. Presenters were discouraged
from discussing political topics related to biotechnol-
ogy, seeds and especially food sovereignty.
This decoupling of the political from the practical
and the technical puts agroecology at risk of being co-
opted by mainstream institutions. Social movements are
rejecting this type of development as false agroecology
with its overemphasis on elite scientic knowledge. For-
mally trained scientists have a role, but equally impor-
tant are the local knowledge, practice and the experi-
ence that citizens (whether producers or co-producers)
have gained through their lives on the farm or even at
the market, shopping for dinner and cooking.
Social movements as sites of
knowledge mobilisation
The political dimension of agroecology requires that
its practitioners and advocates move beyond concep-
tions of the co-production of knowledge to take up the
mobilisation of existing and newly co-produced knowl-
edge as a part of political struggles to transform the
food system.
Social movements are bringing citizens together to
articulate the knowledge that forms the foundation of
agroecology, enabling collective analysis of the prob-
lems that need to be addressed and providing a
common platform that can help raise awareness and
mobilise people for political change.
One example is the International Forum for Agro-
ecology in Mali in February 2015 organised by the
International Planning Committee for Food Sover-
eignty and La Via Campesina. At this forum, food pro-
viders from around the world collectively articulated a
declaration that had been drawn up through a bottom-
up process. The statement denes agroecology from
International Forum for Agroecology, Nyéléni Cen-
tre, Mali, 2015. Photo: Colin Anderson
A broad shift to agroecology
requires a deepening of
democracy that breaks the
knowledge monopoly held
by professional scientists and
powerful institutions
42 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 43
Practitioners and
advocates must take
up the mobilisation of
existing and newly co-
produced knowledge
as a part of political
struggles to transform
the food system
the perspective of a range of more-or-less democrati-
cally organised social movements. This declaration
should be a key reference point for all agroecological
projects that claim to be politically progressive.
These efforts at participatory democracy are inevita-
bly awed and we are nding that there is much to
learn from other struggles for social justice, such as the
US civil rights movement, anti-colonial movements in
the global South and the international networks of
people living with HIV/ AIDS. However, the Mali
statement marks another important step towards more
democratic processes of co-production and mobilisa-
tion of knowledge amongst social movements.
Experiential learning
There is an urgent need for public investment in
agroecological research – however it is essential that
the governance of public research be democratically
controlled in the interests of food providers and the
public. The democratisation of agroecology research
needs to occur throughout the research and develop-
ment cycle. Non-elites who bring expertise from their
life experience, must be part of redesigning scientic
and technological research, evaluations of results and
impacts of research, the choice of upstream strategic
priorities, and the framing of overarching policies.
In the past, narrow concepts of participatory re-
search conned non-researchers to ‘end of the pipe’
technology development (e.g. participatory plant
breeding). We now need to move to a more inclusive
approach in which previously excluded groups can
dene the strategic priorities of research and govern-
ance regimes before funds are allocated for potentially
damaging programmes.
Time for transformation
Rejecting the philosophy and value system of scient-
ism that underpinned the green revolution, Padma and
other experts-through-experience around the world seek
further opportunities to embrace more participatory
modes of knowledge building and mobilisation. The
holistic vision and value systems that underpin this
knowledge radically depart from mainstream research
and innovation systems. We need to build a framework
with people coming from diverse worldviews that is
capable of transforming the dominant industrial food
system. Only then can we shift towards social justice,
sustainable livelihoods and environmental democracy.
Tom Wakeford (,
Colin Anderson ( and
Michel Pimbert ( are from the
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, at Coventry
University in the UK, which established the People’s
Knowledge working group
Charanya R. ( is member of the
Food Sovereignty Alliance India
(Twitter: @peepsknow).
International Forum for Agroecology, Nyéléni Centre, Mali, 2015. Photo: Colin Anderson
44 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Adapting to climate uncertainty in African agriculture:
Narratives and knowledge politics
Stephen Whitfield. 2015. Routledge 210 pages. ISBN: 9781138849334
Risk, uncertainty, ignorance, ambiguity –these are not simple words of speech but
rather conditions of incomplete knowledge. This book examines the challenges of
adaptation in smallholder farming in Africa, analysing the social, economic, po-
litical and climatic uncertainties that impact on agriculture in the region and the
range of solutions proposed. Drawing on case studies of genetically modified
crops, conservation agriculture, and other ‘climate smart’ solutions in eastern and
southern Africa, the book identifies how uncertainties are framed ‘from above’ as
well experienced ‘from below’, by farmers themselves. It provides a compelling
insight into why ideas about adaptation emerge, from whom, and with what im-
plications. Deeply thought-provoking, the book is an important guide for innova-
tive thinkers in the design and implementation of climate smart agriculture in
Understanding nature: Case studies in comparative
Hub Zwart. 2008. Springer Netherlands. 286 Pages. ISBN: 9781402064920
‘Real’ knowledge of nature is a notion that we strongly relate to science, and for
good reasons. Through research, the sciences have produced robust and reliable
forms of knowledge, using methodologies that can usually be trusted upon. At
the same time, laboratories and similar research settings are highly artificial envi-
ronments that constitute rather modified versions of reality.This work departs
from the recognition that science is not the only route to understanding nature.
Notably, works of literature such as novels, plays, and poems on nature may be
based on careful observations, quite elaborate and true to life. Comparative epis-
temology is a discipline that critically analyses the relative validity and value of
various knowledge forms. Drawing upon this disciplinary perspective, this book
compares the works of prominent representative of Western science with the writ-
ings of their literary counterparts. It is a major contribution to the expanding field
of Science and Literature Studies, allowing basic insights from the sciences and
the humanities to mutually challenge and enlighten one another.
The diversity of knowledge. Reections on the Agrobiodi-
versity@knowledged programme
Henkjan Laats, Edith van Walsum, Janneke Bruil, Danielle Peterson (Eds). 2015. 34 Pages.
Knowledge about agricultural biodiversity is among the most valuable assets held
by family farmers, and a key to their food security and food sovereignty. Despite
this importance, this knowledge is disappearing at an alarming rate. In recogni-
tion of the need for greater knowledge building and sharing on agrobiodiversity,
Hivos and Oxfam-Novib hosted a three-year program to facilitate agrobiodiver-
sity knowledge sharing between family farmers, civil society organizations, and
research organisations. Drawing on real experiences, this publication offers in-
sights into international knowledge community building, as well as to the rich di-
versity of knowledge cultures of the diverse participants. The reflections in this
book offer a clearer picture of the ‘backstage’ communication and action required
for the agroecological movement.
44 | Farming Matters | March 2016 Farming Matters | March 2016 | 45
Living knowledge
Jens Dorland & Michael Søgaard Jørgensen (Eds). 2014. Aalborg University, Copenhagen,
Denmark. 379 pages. ISBN: 9788793053021
This publication presents around 30 papers and work-in-progress papers submit-
ted to the 6th Living Knowledge Conference held in Copenhagen, April 9-11,
2014. While there have been some advances in increasing citizen participation in
community-based research and in policy processes and decision-making, there is
still a long way to go before citizens and civil society organisations are fully ac-
cepted as equal partners and providers of knowledge and expertise to solve soci-
etal challenges. The Living Knowledge conference stemmed from the recognition
that the time has come to recognize civil society as producer of knowledge. The
cases presented in this book include innovative ideas and initiatives in agroecol-
ogy, permaculture, and urban agriculture, which communities and civil society
organizations over the world have developed and organised.
Knowledge politics:Governing the consequences of
science and technology
Nico Sterr. 2015. Routledge.252 pages. ISBN: 978159451087
‘Knowledge politics’ is, according to author Nico Sterr, a phenomenon that has
emerged as a consequence of new technologies and society’s response to them.
This book discusses Western society’s response to the wealth of technological in-
novations developed since the 1970s, including genetically engineered foods,
reproductive cloning and the reconstruction of the human ancestral genome. The
author explores the fusion of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and transgenic
human engineering, whose products may, as its proponents claim, some day cure
disease, eliminate pollution, and generally improve human survival. Knowledge
Politics shows how human civilization has reached a new era of concern about the
life-altering potentials of new technologies. Concerns about the societal conse-
quences of the expansion of scientific knowledge are being raised more urgently
and are moving to the centre of disputes in society and to the top of the political
agenda. This work discusses the consequences of knowledge politics and socie-
ty’s possible approach to solving conflicts over present and future scientific inno-
Towards an agroecological transition in Southeast Asia:
Cultivating diversity and developing synergies
Jean-Cristophe Castella and Jean-Francois Kibler (Eds). 2015. GRET, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
92 pages.
This publication came into being as an endeavour to provide a broad, yet non-
exhaustive, overview of the current situation of agroecology in the Great Mekong
Region. Starting from the early 1990s, a multitude of initiatives have emerged in
this region for supporting agroecology. The French Agency for Development
(AFD) has been an active supporter of these initiatives, especially in relation to the
promotion of Conservation Agriculture and the establishment of the Conservation
Agriculture Network for South East Asia (CANSEA). The book is divided in two
sections. The first one provides an analysis of the diversity of practices, actors and
experiments related to the main schools identified in the six countries: organic
farming, IPM and integrated crop management, home gardens and VAC, SRI,
Conservation Agriculture, and Agroforestry. Section II highlights common chal-
lenges for up scaling agroecology in the Great Mekong Region and shows evi-
dence of the interest of regional stakeholders for promoting synergies through
46 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Members of the AgriCultures Network are working together
to advance family farming rooted in agroecology. Here is our
latest update. Stay posted at
The Netherlands:
Food conference
The second ‘Voedsel Anders’ (Food
Otherwise) conference took place in
Wageningen, the Netherlands, in
February 2016, bringing together
over 1000 people. The conference,
co-organised by AgriCultures
Network member ILEIA, offered
over 60 sessions about practical and
political ways to make the transition
towards fair and sustainable food
The event provided a space for the
exchange of ideas and experiences
on topics such as agroforestry, seeds,
closed-loop farming, short chains,
community-supported agriculture,
new peasants, urban farming, land
rights, and trade policies. It was sup-
ported by dozens of farmer net-
works, civil society organisations and
research institutes.
Among the keynote speakers were
Jyoti Fernandes of La Via Camp-
esina and Irene Cardoso, chair of
the Brazilian Agroecology Alliance
and ILEIA board member. Olivier
De Schutter, former UN Rapporteur
on the Right to Food, made a contri-
bution on the role of bottom up
learning in transition to more sus-
tainable food systems (see page 29).
In a reection, Professor Jan Douwe
van der Ploeg of Wageningen Uni-
versity stated that “this conference
radiates power. We see that people
in many places are constructing
creative elements for the future that
lead to new connections, build resil-
ience and contribute to the transi-
tion. And much of that starts with
struggle”. Videos, reports and
photos of the conference are avail-
able at
Ethiopia: First issue
of Wegel magazine
The AgriCultures Network is proud
to welcome a new member on
board: MELCA Ethiopia, a strong
and well respected organisation that
works for healthy ecosystems,
vibrant cultures and improved lives
of communities. Supporting agro-
ecology is a key strategy for MELCA
and a starting point for its member-
ship of the AgriCultures Network.
Through a collaboration between
MELCA and Best Practice Associa-
tion, YNSD, ISD, Mekele Universi-
ty, PAN-Ethiopia, PANOS Ethiopia
and Prolinnova Ethiopia, the rst
issue of Wegel magazine was pro-
duced in January. It is the fth re-
gional magazine of the AgriCultures
Network. The name Wegel is in-
spired on a traditional Ethiopian
farming tool. The coordinating
editor of Wegel, Mersha Yilma, is
very pleased: “Wegel provides a
crucial new space for farmers and
other actors in Ethiopia to share,
learn, collaborate and act for sus-
tainable agriculture and healthy
foods.The rst issue, dedicated to
the importance of healthy soils, can
be downloaded in both Amharic
and in English here: www.melca-
Farming Matters | April 2013 | 47
Farming Matters
Experiences in family
farming and agroecology
Farming Matters is
published quarterly by
P.O. Box 90, 6700 AB,
Wageningen, the Netherlands
Visitors address
Lawickse Allee 11, 6701 AN
Wageningen, the Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)317 760 010
Editorial team
This issue has been compiled
by Jessica Milgroom, Diana
Quiroz, Janneke Bruil, Romée
Marchand, and Edith van
Subscription rate for one year
(four issues): organisations € 45
individuals € 20.
Online subscriptions are free.
Subscribe at www.
The AgriCultures Network
ILEIA is a member of the
AgriCultures Network; ve
organisations that provide
information on agroecology
and family farming worldwide,
and that publish: LEISA revist a
de agroecología (Latin America
in Spanish), LEISA India (in
English, Hindi, Kannada,
Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi,
Tamil, Telugu), AGRIDAPE
(West Africa, in French),
Agriculturas, Experiências
em Agroecologia (Brazil,
in Portuguese) and Wegel
(Ethiopia, in Amharic).
Yvonne Dijkshoorn – Twin
Media bv, Culemborg, the
Koninklijke BDU Grasch
Bedrijf B.V., Barneveld, the
The ILEI A programme is
funded by Sida and DGIS.
Cover photo
Dana Stefov/ USC Canada
(see article on page 14)
The editor s have taken
every care to ensure that the
content s of this magazine
are as accurate as possible.
The authors have ultimate
responsibility, however, for the
content of individual ar ticles.
Volume 32.1
ISSN: 2210-64 99
ILEIA uses the Attribution-
Alike 3.0 Unported Creative
Commons Licence.
For details please see
Measuring the impact of agroecology
The September issue of Farming Matters will explore
how to better prove the effectivenes of agroecology.
Agriculture and the rural world perform important
roles in addressing the multiple crises of today:
hunger and malnutrition, poverty, climate change,
environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity,
water, gender inequity and health. The Sustainable
Development Goals, recently endorsed by the United
Nations, explicitly mention the need to transform our
current input heavy food systems in order to make
them more sustainable and contribute to solving these
global challenges.
There is ample evidence that agroecology driven
by family farmers can contribute to addressing
these challenges in an integrated way. But why is it
continuing to be difcult to ‘prove’ the effectiveness of
agroecological practices?
One challenge is that farmers’ indicators or criteria
to judge the effectiveness of agricultural practices
differ from those of mainstream policy makers and
scientists. The dominant agricultural paradigm sees
the maximisation of yields of single crops as a key
indicator of effective agriculture. But family farmers
may use several additional criteria, in line with the
multifunctionality of their farming system.
Innovative farmers continuously assess the
effectiveness of their farming practices, because
they want to know the added value of new practices
compared to what they were doing earlier, or to what
others are doing. They carefully observe their crops
and their animals to assess the resilience of their
system. They may ‘read’ their farm’s resilience by
observing changes in biodiversity, nutritional value,
income and risk diversication, health, labour quality
and general quality of life.
Because of this discrepancy in indicators it can be
challenging to convince scientists, policymakers and
other farmers about the effectiveness of agroecological
practices. The September issue of Farming Matters
seeks to bridge these differences and contribute to
a new perspective on indicators for agroecology’s
multifunctional contributions to society.
What (additional) indicators are family farmers
using to assess the effectiveness of agroecology at the
farm, landscape and community level? And which
indicators are emerging at the aggregate level to
assess the multifunctional benets for agroecology to
society at large? How can we show the contributions
of agroecology to the Sustainable Development
Goals? What are the challenges when demonstrating
the impact of agroecology, and how are these
challenges overcome? How can we demonstrate in a
convincing way the crucial role agroecology can play
in responding to the crises of our time? What can we
learn from existing practices?
We invite you, our readers, to share your experien-
ces. Articles for the September issue of Farming
Matters should be submitted before 1 June 2016.
Farming Matters is published by ILEIA, the Centre for learning on sustainable
agriculture. ILEIA is a member of the AgriCultures Network, a global network
of organisations that shares knowledge on agroecology and family farming.
A different understanding of transition
starts from the bottom and from local
solutions, rather than from the top and
the centre of political power.
– Olivier De Schutter, Page 29
engage in an
dialogue that
accepts that science
is not the only
way of looking at,
transforming, and
emancipating the
– Victor M Toledo, Page 18
– Elizabeth Mpofu, Page 9
– Tom Wakeford, Colin Anderson and Michel Pimbert, page 32
Full-text available
Agroecology represents a holistic approach in the transition to food system sustainability, integrating different dimensions, including knowledge creation, practices redefinition and social mobilisation. This study aims to explore the processes underlying the implementation of the agroecological approach and its transformative potential, focusing on the learning processes that lead to the development of new, shared systems of knowledge, values and beliefs, and to the growth of reflexivity and agency. It aims at deepening the understanding of these processes by analysing the reintroduction of agrobiodiversity in crop/food systems, considering this as a founding element of the agroecological model. Three initiatives located in Italy are investigated to that end. The study analyses role, mechanisms and potential of co-learning processes that develop within the multi-actor networks involved, uncovering enabling and hindering factors. It focuses on the role, reciprocal articulation and cumulative effects of three elements: actors involved and ways of interacting, types of knowledge mobilised and facilitation actions carried out. The findings highlight that the factors ensuring effectiveness of mutual learning, such as modes of actor interaction and, particularly, facilitation, are crucial. At the same time, the mechanisms that intervene seem increasingly complex, showing the need for deeper research and adequate forms of support.
Full-text available
Across the world, organised groups of farmers participating in just and sustainability transformations encounter multiple obstacles. Through solidarity manifested in iterative processes of questioning, co-learning, collective action and reflection, and value creation for themselves and for others, some succeed in overcoming them. This article investigates how a district organic farmer association in Zimbabwe is encountering and handling group solidarity challenges arising from shifting from local to district level coordinated organic production and marketing. Based on the use of change laboratory, this paper explores solidarity at the local niche and networked district level to seek insights into the qualities of T-learning.
Engaging the lively debates about the next expression of neoliberalism, this study suggests that it is evolving into philanthrocapitalism. After a brief discussion of the trajectories from neoliberalism, the article addresses the core ideology of philanthrocapitalism. The central thesis explores how philanthrocapitalism is moving beyond the requirement of ‘business practices’ for recipients of donor funds, into enforcing ‘business rule’ on to the public domain. Although philanthrocapitalism is most debated in the fields of health care and education, this article uses empirical analysis of international agricultural policies trying to enlist Southern Africa policies. It explores how philanthrocapitalist rule is reducing transparency, participation and deliberation within the public domain, well beyond requesting efficient business practices for greater food security. It concludes with how smallholder farmers are actively organising to resist business rule over their genetic resources and farming practices.
Water and Resilience, at Coventry University in the UK, which established the People's Knowledge working group Charanya R. ( is member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance India
  • Michel Pimbert
Michel Pimbert ( are from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, at Coventry University in the UK, which established the People's Knowledge working group Charanya R. ( is member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance India ( (Twitter: @peepsknow).
Photo: Colin Anderson 44 | Farming Matters
  • Nyéléni Agroecology
  • Centre
International Forum for Agroecology, Nyéléni Centre, Mali, 2015. Photo: Colin Anderson 44 | Farming Matters | March 2016
Colin Anderson ( and
  • Tom Wakeford
Tom Wakeford (, Colin Anderson ( and