AgroEcological Transitions : changes and breakthroughs in the making

Paru en 2017 aux éditions Wageningen
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Boelie Elzen, Anna Maria Augustyn,  Marc Barbier et Barbara van Mierlo

Around the year 2010, the research field of “transition studies” was gaining increasing attention and was developing into a true research community with the advent of the “Sustainability Transitions Research Netw ork” (STRN), the organisation of annual international sustainability transition (IST) conferences, and the launch of a scientific journal, named “Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions”. Concerning the topics addressed within this emerging field, the domain of agriculture was studied by only a small number scholars. This constituted an important omission given the major role this domain plays in global challenges like food provision, depletion of minerals, curbing CO2 emissions, etc. Seeking to fill this gap, researchers from ‘Wageningen University & Research’ in the Netherlands (WUR) and the ‘Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique’ in France (INRA) took the initiative to organize a first international workshop on the topic of “System Innov ation towards Sustainable Agriculture” (SISA). This first SISA workshop was held in June 2010 in Lelystad, the Netherlands, and its proceedings were published online in 2012. [1]

From the beginning, the idea was to develop a permanent network of transition researchers with interest in the domain of agriculture. To give the network that emerged from the first workshop a more permanent character, a second SISA workshop was held in Paris in 2014. This volume provides a collection of the papers that were presented and discussed at this workshop. The objective of the workshop was to bring research insights and practical experiences together, and to discuss papers in depth to create a basis for effective strategies to stimulate transitions towards sustainable agro-food systems. The papers presented provided an overview of analytical methods, experiences and scientific insights on the main issues at stake in a variety of sustainability initiatives, projects and programmes. More specifically, the workshop sought to contribute to :

  • Comparing various approaches towards analysing sustainability transitions in agriculture ;
  • Comparing various approaches towards governance of innovation in agriculture in various European countries, as well as some examples from outside Europe ;
  • Providing input for rethinking government policies, socio-professional strategies and civic concerns, seeking to contribute to sustainable development in the agro-food systems on the basis of existing research and experiences ;
  • Identifying main topics for future research. Contributions to the workshop were expected to have either a strong analytical component (to analyse the relevant processes), or a strong constructive component, i.e. seeking to play a role in co-operation with other stakeholders in the development of sustainable alternatives.

The topics addressed should cover several agricultural subsectors (including animal production, arable farming, (glasshouse) horticulture, biomass production for fuels and fibres) and target emerging innovations in agro-food systems, knowledge regimes in transition, or design practices. Two main issues were proposed to the participants :

  • Analyse the ongoing dynamics in agro-food systems, including system innovations, knowledge regimes and design practices.
  • Investigate how government agencies and other actors can position themselves and what they can do to stimulate and influence such system innovations, knowledge regimes and design settings, seeking to make agro-food systems more sustainable. The INRA Science in Society unit organized the second SISA workshop in Paris from 22-23 May 2014 that was hosted by AgroParisTech. Financial support was received from INRA, IFRIS and WUR. A scientific and organizational committee was set up under the coordination of Marc Barbier that was composed of Marc Barbier, Marianne Cerf and Claire Lamine from INRA SAD, Boelie Elzen from Wageningen Research and Barbara van Mierlo from Wageningen University. A call for papers was launched through the scientific networks of the c ommittee members, including agricultural research communities and the STRN. Fifty-five paper proposals were submitted of which eighteen were selected for presentation. The format of the meeting was designed to stimulate in-depth discussions of various issues, rather than having many presentations and only brief discussions. Papers were not presented but were assumed to be read beforehand and to stimulate the interaction, two discussants kicked off the discussion of each paper.

All participants played an active role, either as paper authors or discussants or both. Participation in the workshop was by invitation only on the basis of submitted abstracts. The invited participants came from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds such as innovation studies, economics, science & technology studies (including constructive and interactive technology assessment studies), policy studies (including studies of network governance, learning and the impact of regulation), organisation studies (including studies focusing on management of structural change and leadership) and practice based studies. The authors were encouraged to improve their papers on the basis of the discussions at the workshop. After further review (two reviewers per paper), sixteen contributions were considered mature enough to be published in this volume.

We wish to thank all participants for their stimulating contributions, their commitment to improve their papers, and their critical comments and suggestions which enhanced the quality of all the papers through the reviewing process.
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Boelie Elzen, Anna Maria Augustyn, Marc Barbierand Barbara van Mierlo

[1Marc Barbier and Boelie Elzen (Eds.), 2012. Proceedings of the first international workshop on System Innovations, Knowledge Regimes, and Design Practices towards Sustainable Agriculture. Paris : INRA. Downloadable from :