Conference on Agricultural Ecology
Our workshop series “Sustainable Agroecology: Governance, practices, potentials, and tensions in a comparative perspective” began with a first three-day meeting in Witzenhausen on the 17th to 19th of July 2023. Together with the DAAD-funded Global Partnership Network, our section managed to bring 24 speakers to Witzenhausen. They were joined by 40 researchers and students at our university for an intense three-day workshop. We discussed case studies and insights from a diversity of regions worldwide, including Mexico, Tunesia, Morocco, Malaysia, Spain, France, India, Cuba, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, as well as theoretical and methodological discussions.
Agroecology, as a science, movement and practice of sustainable food production, addresses the questions of sustainability and equality in food systems jointly. This perspective requires close cooperation and joint knowledge generation between farmers, community institutions and scientific institutions. In pursuing a socio-ecological transformation agenda in agricultural systems, agroecologists work to close the conceptual, ontological and metabolic gaps between the natural systems (fields, soils, nutrient cycles, animals) and sociocultural systems (markets, institutions, ethics, (in-)equalities, food cultures) that co-construct agriculture.
In two public keynotes, Martina Padmanabhan and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg framed our dialogue in two key concepts: Transdisciplinary research, and peasant agency. The workshop participants then offered a wide range of perspectives from different regions and contexts. Above all, we learned about the global dynamics in which agricultural systems are embedded, and the struggles to establish and maintain agroecological alternatives both on a local and regional, as well as a global and transnational level. To mention a few:
- From the vantage point of India, Praveen Jha alerted us to the consequences of neoliberal capitalism and transnational agribusiness, with its colonizing model of industrial agriculture with high chemical inputs, patented seeds and landless labor.
- From Brazil, Antonio Andrioli proposed that national programs such as those implemented under the Workers’ Party governments between 2003 and 2019 can work effectively (within the constraints of elite-captured democratic institutions) towards agroecological transition. These include the “Zero hunger” program, national school meal programs fueled by local public procurement mechanisms (PAA), and the establishment of a Ministry of Agrarian Development and Family Farming.
- Several case studies from Tunisia showed how crucial support and, in some regions, socio-cultural reactivation of family farms are for agroecology.
- From Paulina Martínez Isidro and Javier Becerril, we learned about Mayan agroecologies in Yucatán, focusing on the extent to which spiritual beliefs, ancestral knowledge and connections, a central role for women in agriculture, and respect for nature and resources are essential components in this (and many other) agroecology pathways.
Many speakers highlighted the importance of locally-embedded movements and initiatives and scholar-advocacy for these movements. Agrarian movements are both initiators and coordinators of agroecological development, while they also fight against forms of oppression and inequality within the food system that hamper agroecological transformation.
The second workshop of the series will take place in Mérida, Yucatán on the 21st to 23rd of November 2023.