New Publication Series: Perspectives on Agroecology Transitions

The ALC Agroecology Support Team in their work with the McKnight CCRP program launches a new publication series: Perspectives on Agroecology TransitionsThis series of short publications explores different aspects of agroecology transitions. It focuses on praxis, which is the continual consideration of theory/reflection with practice/action. This helps us to think deeply about our work and how to best contribute to social transformation. These short publications, each available in French, Spanish and English, are intended to be used by agents of change in agroecology transitions (including farmers, activists, researchers, policy-makers and others). 

The first publications in the series have been released:

No. 1 – Sweet Rose in the Field

English; French; Spanish

A spotlight profile on Ross Mary Borja, Director of EkoRural in Ecuador and her reflections on agroecology transitions.

No. 2 – Embracing Critical Friendship for Agroecology Transitions

English; French; Spanish

Presents the idea of critical friendship as as a method for anyone seeking to become better agents of change in processes of agroecology transitions.

Further publications in the series are in the works and will be released occasionally as they are finalized. Stay tuned for more.

Join our Introduction to Agroecology Course this Spring

Join our Introduction to Agroecology Course this Spring

Looking for a crash course that brings a learning community together to explore the social, political, ecological and cultural dimensions of agroecology? Join in on our Intro to Agroecology course. This year’s offering is fully online and will bring you into an interactive learning environment with committed instructors and inspiring guest speakers. More information below.

Click here to learn more and to register.

Questions can be directed to the co-instructors Vic Izzo (victor.izzo@uvm.edu) and Martha Caswell (martha.caswell@uvm.edu).

This 4-week online course presents an in-depth overview of research and applications in the field of agroecology. The last week students will participate in a virtual experience that engages with practitioners from our widespread agroecology network.

The course seeks to provide students with both conceptual and practical content, covering the evolution of the field of agroecology, from its origins to the present, as it gains increasing recognition in scientific, policy, social movement and farming spaces. Students will engage in some of the debates agroecologists are now facing, as they grapple with maintaining the core characteristics of the field as it is increasingly applied by a wide diversity of actors. A special emphasis is placed on discussing the different expressions of agroecology as a science, a social movement and a practice. We will consider the intersections of agroecology and transdisciplinarity, as we integrate different knowledge systems to search for solutions to the current challenges of our agrifood systems. And finally, we will explore the use of participatory action research (PAR) and agroecology principles, as an essential approach to agroecological research and practice. We will cover international and domestic geographic perspectives, and examine, more in- depth, agroecology and PAR with 3-4 local Vermont farms.

COURSE DAYS & TIMES: 

  • Full Course timeline: May 23 – June 17, 2022

By the end of this course, students will be able to: 

  • Describe the state and evolution of the field of agroecology and engage in the debate on agroecology’s dimensions as a science, a social movement and a practice
  • Understand and apply a principles-approach to agroecology
  • Understand some of the opportunities and challenges of applying agroecology and PAR in three local Vermont farms
  • Understand the challenges and opportunities of applying agroecology as a transdisciplinary, participatory and action-oriented approach
  • Engage in active peer-to-peer learning with fellow classmates, instructors and guests.

Students taking it as a non-credit course will receive a Digital Badge signifying completion of the course.

Shifting Funding to Agroecology for People, Climate and Nature

A new report produced by ActionAid with the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative and Cultivate! on “Shifting Funding to Agroecology for People, Climate and Nature“.

Click here to read the new report:
Shifting Funding to Agroecology for People, Climate and Nature

The majority of public and philanthropic funding supports ecologically and socially damaging forms of agriculture and food systems. How can financing be transformed so that it fosters transitions towards more just and sustainable food systems and enables agroecology to meet its full potential? This is the question that underpins a stream of research led by Coventry University, the University of Vermont and AgroecologyNow!.

The Need to Transform Food Systems

We urgently need to transform food systems. The depth of the ecological and social threats we are facing are staggering. A growing pile of high-profile UN and scientific reports have shown how the industrial food system is failing to nourish people around the world and at the same time is directly linked to growing inequality, injustice, ill-health, climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse.

Business as usual is no longer an option and we need to transform how we produce, move around and consumer food. Agroecology reflects a paradigmatic shift that can guide our pursuit of more  just and sustainable food systems, and reflects a bold transformation that is becoming increasingly attractive, viable and urgent.

Our action research on agroecology transformations is a part of a growing body of work in social movements, civil society, academia and amongst food producers to figure out how we get from here to there: how do we transition from our current state of crisis and degeneration to just and sustainable food systems. The question of how to finance or resource these transitions is a vital, yet grossly underdeveloped area of work.


Video 1 – UVM’s Colin Anderson and Nina Moeller (from CAWR at Coventry University) presented results of their studies analyzing finance for agroecology at an official COP26 side event in Glasgow November 2022. “How effective is climate finance in catalzing an urgently needed paradigm shift in food systems?” with a resounding: “a lot remains to be done!” A representative of the Green Climate Fund listened. We can only hope the conversation will continue. Click this link to watch the recording.

Our recent brief highlights how, in an enabling policy context, agroecology has proven to achieve robust gains in poverty reduction, food and nutrition security, women and youth empowerment and biodiversity and climate resilience.

Agroecology applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. It includes practices aimed at mimicking or harnessing complex ecological processes, moving beyond the farm to include food production, distribution, consumption, and waste management.

Historically, although science plays an important role in developing agroecology, the knowledge that underpins agroecology has emerged from the practices of indigenous peoples and smallholders across the world. Agroecology is a scientifically and experientially justified practice of agriculture that (1) is sensitive to the ecosystems in which it takes place and (2) fosters the democratic participation of food producers, putting human rights and agency at the center.

Video 2 – In a recently published animation, we articulate the main arguments that have arisen through our research on financing and agroecology. “Institutions keep pouring money into harmful industrial agriculture. We urgently need investments in agroecology. We need to defund industrial agriculture and funnel that money into agroecology. Furthermore the delivery of funding needs to be better so that it can support agroecological pioneers and work for systemic change. It’s time to make money move for agroecology and together foster social justice and sustainability in food systems.” Also in Spanish and French subtitles.

Transforming Finance for Agroecology


Our research makes it clear that financing from institutions and donors for agricultural and rural development is woefully inadequate and work against just transitions in food systems.  This is an issue of both quantity and quality:

1. Quantity: There is not enough money going to agroecology.

Even within the already small amount of financing for agricultural development as a whole, almost all of this funding is allocated to encouraging farmers to adopt detrimental forms of high-energy, high-input industrial agriculture. A growing body of research has shown how agroecology is significantly marginalised in the financial architecture of development at all levels. There is a clear need to shift more funds towards agroecology.

The need to shift the quantity of money away from industrial agriculture was articulated brilliantly by one of our research participants,

“But another dimension of funding agro ecology is also linked to the amount of funding and the amount of support both in terms of policy as well as in terms of investments, that goes to the opposite of agroecology. And in some respect, one could claim that stopping this counter investments and the continued policy inclination for the opposite of what the agroecology wants to the kind of transformational agroecology wants to promote is equally important than generating let’s say, direct funding for agroecology. You could say that many agro ecological solutions actually squeezed by an over funded and an over emphasized other type of agriculture and other type of food system.”

2. Quality: Funding that is allocated towards sustainable agriculture and agroecology is often delivered in unhelpful and even damaging ways

The mechanisms, delivery and ‘modalities’ of funding are often highly problematic because they: are driven by donor rather than peoples needs; fail to affirm the agency of people; are inflexible; have inappropriate monitoring/evaluation systems; do not address inequity; and are based on short term approaches.

We have been working with Donors (e.g. the European Union, FAO, Green Climate Fund, Agroecology Fund), advocacy groups (Action Aid, CIDSE) and other researchers to explore the question of: When donors do decide to target sustainable agroecological food systems, how can we transform the modes and approaches of financing so that it actually enables agroecology?

Based on this research, a recent policy brief with Action Aid International provides a series of considerations and recommendations to increase the quantity and quality of funding for agroecology:

  • Substantially shift funding allocations to agroecology.
  • Funding for agroecology should be underpinned by a principle of co-governance where donors are accountable to the most affected. Donors should consider long-term multi-phased support for building agroecology in territories.
  • For financial support to be effective in supporting agroecology, a large portion of it needs to be comprised of small to mid-scale grants through food producer organizations and civil society organizations who are close to the ground.
  • Currently, agroecology is often marginally, or not at all, included in agricultural funding programs. Donors should closely evaluate their funding programs and shift towards agroecology explicitly as a target of funding.
  • Agroecology transitions are complex social and participatory processes that require adaptability in how plans are developed and implemented. In this context, it is vital that funders allow for flexibility in spending, activities and in monitoring and evaluation.
  • We recommend that donors engage in an in-depth and ongoing dialogue with food producer organizations to examine and increase the quantity and effectiveness of funds that are allocated towards agroecology, and to improve the quality of delivery.

This work continues, as we collaborate with our partners to advance the Transformation of public and philanthropic finance so that agroecology can achieve its unmet potential as a vital approach to confronting our global challenges.

Contact: colin.anderson@uvm.edu for more information.


Sign up for online Course on Participatory Action Research (PAR) and transdisciplinary approaches to Agroecology

Interested in learning about how to apply participatory, trandsdiciplilary and action research in your work? Sign up for this online course taking place from September to December 2021.

Participatory, transdisciplinary and action research have become internationally recognized as pillars of knowledge production for agroecology and food sovereignty. These approaches are also complex and unorthodox in many contexts and requires a careful and intentional cultivation of a researcher’s commitments, skill and competencies. This course will help students to meet this challenge through a systematic engagement with theory, skills, methods and a critical reflexive self-examination of our role in the research processes.

INSTRUCTOR: Colin R. Anderson

AVAILABLE FOR CREDIT OR FOR NON-CREDIT (CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT). Visit here for more info. Email: colin.anderson@uvm.edu with questions.

CLASS MEETING TIMES AND LOCATION: Weekly zoom meetings on Tuesdays from 13:15 to 15:15 EST.

In this course, we will build a foundation for our learning by examining the ‘politics of knowledge’ or the ways that power and privilege shape science, academia, innovation and development. To this end, we will engage with critical theoretical traditions, such as feminism and decoloniality, to help students understand and challenge oppressive power relations in society as they are expressed in the knowledge systems that we are embedded within.

The course will explore different approaches to participatory and transdisciplinary research applied in different contexts.

If this sounds like challenging material, that’s because it is! But don’t stress too much, we’ll do our best to demystify and unpack these concepts together and to ground these ideas in relation to our own work, lives, and perspectives. We will also get practical and focus on the nuts and bolts of doing Participatory Action Research (PAR), which can be described as a process of research, education and action in which participants work together to understand and transform reality. It generally involves iterative cycles of inquiry by collectives of people seeking to address problems of common practical and political concern. We will shine a spotlight on several methods used within this tradition including, for example, participatory photography, popular education, theatre, indigenous approaches, deliberative methodologies, auto-ethnography and different forms of qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods inquiry.

The course will explore the value of ‘people’s knowledge’ and the notion of cognitive justice which demands, “It demands recognition of knowledges, not only as methods but as ways of life. This presupposes that knowledge is embedded in an ecology of  knowledges, where each knowledge has its place, its claim to a cosmology, its sense as a form of  life. In this sense knowledge is not something to be abstracted from a culture as a life form; it is connected to a livelihood, a life cycle, a lifestyle; it determines life chances.” (Visvanathan 2009)

We will look at PAR especially in the context of agroecology and examine how the integration of PAR and transdisciplinary approaches can serve to deepen our collective understanding of complex problems/issues. Students will learn how to apply a transdisciplinary PAR approach to topics in agrifood system studies and action. We will examine examples of agroecological PAR projects, to draw lessons learned and to find inspiration. Students will be asked to articulate and develop their own self-understanding of their praxis as a researcher.  In addition to asynchronous online learning, this course will include a synchronous 2-hour weekly online meeting via MS Teams that will involve a range of different interactive activities including discussions, workshops and guest speakers. Regular and active participation in these sessions is a core component of the course learning and assessment. Students will take on a rotating role in designing and facilitating a student-led component of the weekly meetings. 

READINGS:

Required: 

  • Wakeford, T., and Sanchez Rodriguez, J. (2018). “Participatory Research: Towards a More Fruitful Knowledge”, in: Connected Communities Foundation Series.(Bristol: University of Bristol/AHRC Connected Communities Programme).
  • Weekly assigned articles, videos, podcasts, etc.

Recommended:

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2021) Decolonizing Methodologies: research and indigenous peoples. 2nd edn. London: Zed Books

Méndez, V.E., C.M. Bacon, R. Cohen and S.R. Gliessman (Eds.) (2015)Agroecology: a transdisciplinary, participatory and action-oriented approach. Advances in Agroecology Series. CRC Press/Taylor and Francis.

Freire, P. (2017) Pedagogy of the Oppressed(Penguin Modern Classics). London: Penguin.

All required readings (e.g. journal articles, news excerpts, fact sheets, etc.) will be provided

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

By the end of this course students will have:

  • Developed an understanding of participatory action research (PAR) and transdisciplinary approaches, and how they are distinct from other research and action approaches;
  • Deepened their understanding of how knowledge is situated, gendered, racialized, colonial and thus has contributed to social injustice and oppression;
  • Considered how these structures and power dynamics influence research processes;
  • Explored how PAR and transdisciplinary approaches can be applied in agroecology, including through the examination of inspirational case studies;
  • Learned about designing research that is both rigorous and provides meaningful contributions to the community/stakeholder(s) and the researcher(s);
  • Thought about their own positionality to situate themselves in the learning objectives above;
  • Developed strategies for critical self- and collective reflection and evaluation in participatory research processes and practice;
The course will include an exploration of the nuts and bolts of participatory and transdisciplinary research.