Accepted Paper:

Sustainable Intensification: agroecological appropriation versus contestation?   


Les Levidow (The Open University)

Paper short abstract:

The ‘sustainable intensification’ agenda seeks to make conventional agro-food chains more environmentally sustainable. A hostile response has come from CSO-farmer alliances promoting agroecology. The conflict can be illuminated by the theoretical frameworks of food regime and innovation-systems.

Paper long abstract:

The 'sustainable intensification' agenda has sought to make conventional agro-food chains more environmentally sustainable through a broad 'toolkit' incorporating agroecological methods, GM crops, no-till, etc. The concept 'sustainable intensification' blurs the distinction between an agroecological agenda and Green Revolution capital-intensive agenda. In Europe a hostile response has come from CSO-farmer alliances promoting agroecology to link several objectives: knowledge-exchange about biodiversity, farmers' independence from input suppliers, food sovereignty and short food-supply chains remunerating farmers for agroecological methods.

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

The tension around that concept can also be illuminated by innovation-systems theory, whereby a niche innovation can either transform the wider regime or else accommodate it (Smith and Raven, 2012). This framework helps to analyse how agroecological methods can play the role of incorporation and/or contestation vis a vis the dominant agro-food regime.

Panel T092
Transition to Sustainable Food Systems: Integrative Perspectives on Production and Consumption