Contending European agendas for agricultural innovation

Levidow, Les (2012). Contending European agendas for agricultural innovation. In: Barbier, Marc and Elzen, Boelie eds. System Innovations, Knowledge Regimes and Design Practices towards Transitions for Sustainable Agriculture. Paris, France: INRA, pp. 171–192.



Amid expectations for a European ‘transition to sustainable agriculture’, there are competing transitional processes. Given the widely acknowledged harm from agro-industrial systems, ‘unsustainable agriculture’ has divergent diagnoses and innovative solutions. This rivalry can be analysed as contending innovation agendas; the analysis here combines theoretical paradigms of agricultural innovation.

In an EU policy context of a Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE), there are divergent accounts of its key terms: biological resources, economy, relevant knowledge and knowledge-producers. Likewise, divergent accounts are found of innovation, intensification, resource efficiency, resilience, bio-energy, horizontal integration, etc. These divergent agendas are promoted by distinct stakeholder networks. The dominant agenda favours laboratory-based techno-scientific innovation as a source of ‘efficient’ inputs, which can use renewable resources more efficiently for competitive advantage in global value chains. By contrast, other agendas promote farmers’ knowledge of natural resources, especially via agro-ecological methods which can reduce energy inputs, increase productivity and add value through quality.

With those contending agendas, rival stakeholder networks seek to influence R&D priorities. From the standpoint of multifunctional agriculture, such contending agendas can play complementary roles in different rural spaces. Some agro-food practices may combine aspects of different paradigms. As a concept, Agricultural Knowledge Systems may provide a common space for interchanges between divergent agendas and their research priorities. However, these innovation agendas promote conflicting visions of the future.

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