Transitions in agro-food systems

Welcome to the STRN thematic group on Transitions in agro-food systems (AF-TN)

The group seeks to foster and congregate scholars that are theoretically and practically involved in the studies of ‘transitions in the making’ within agricultural production (food, feed, fibres, fuel) and agro-food provision systems from farm to fork that are currently presenting major sustainability challenges in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental protection and health. Here, we use the term ‘transitions’ with hesitation, as we cannot actually know upfront whether these activities will indeed contribute to a transition process. Claiming for an open-ended approach that leaves open the political, social and inclusive conception of sustainability objectives (Stirling, 2011) is an epistemological characteristic of our scope.

Nonetheless, on-going change processes in agro-food systems do feature a number of characteristics that are necessary preconditions for transitions, i.e. to tinker with new ways of sustainable farming paying attention to soil fertility, biodiversity, ecological aspects, new agro-food practices and chain management from farm to fork, also addressing territorial welfare and new food provision systems, including reconnection and digital settings. These possible transitions in-the-making deviate in a significant way from the incumbent agro-food systems that we have inherited from the post-war modernization regime of agriculture. Key is the exploration of situated attempts to induce sustainability transitions in relation to political action, larger sociotechnical visions and the manufacture of futures, while they also address major challenges like climate change or emerging technological promises such as the digitization of agriculture and food system provision.

Defining the research agenda of studying and analysing such changes occurring at multiple scales requires a reflexive understanding of shifts in knowledge regimes and design practices. The label of this research domain of STRN is itself not obvious and largely to be discussed as well as the perimeter of scientific issues. It also means a consistent collective perspective of reviewing the existing body of scientific knowledge about changes in agricultural sector and also at its borders. This thematic group seeks to lay the foundations for such an endeavour, in terms of analysis as well as in terms of governance and participatory research frameworks. It expects to federate and support initiatives within the STRN, building further on experiences from a series of European SISA workshops over the past decade (Barbier & Elzen, 2012; Elzen et al., 2017; Barbier & Elzen, 2018)) and other recent endeavours. Such a group could also provide a platform for nourishing and groundings research orientation as well as more relevant interventional perspectives of intermediaries.

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