UK farmers’ transition pathways towards agroecological farm redesign: evaluating explanatory models

Padel, Susanne; Levidow, Les and Pearce, Bruce (2020). UK farmers’ transition pathways towards agroecological farm redesign: evaluating explanatory models. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 44(2) pp. 139–163.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/21683565.2019.1631936

Abstract

Although the organic conversion process has been much studied, farm-level transitions to agroecosystems are less well understood. What transition pathways do they take? How can (or does) farmers’ learning help to make such changes? What support measures can (or do) facilitate such learning? To answer such questions, a UK study identified farmers undergoing an agroecological transition and compared their practices with two prevalent models. As regards the Efficiency – Substitution – Redesign (ESR) model, our case-study farms had all three changes, but they were rarely sequential; agroecosystem redesign did not follow from Efficiency or Substitution measures, which readily provide endpoints rather than transitional stages. As regards the ‘trigger events’ model – Trigger, Active Assessment and Implementation – the three stages were often overlapping; triggers arose only when farmers’ interpreted difficulties or opportunities as grounds to implement changes, which they had generally considered beforehand. More fundamentally, case-study farmers were unlearning conventional expectations by undergoing cognitive and affective shifts. Together those two models (ESR and trigger events) can provide heuristic devices for identifying farmers’ agroecological trajectories in their diverse forms. Going further, better models of farmers’ learning and action will be necessary for facilitating agroecological transitions and guiding relevant support measures.

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