SHIFFT: Supporting Holistic “Innovation” and the diFFusion of Agroecolgical innovaTion

SHIFFT: Supporting Holistic “Innovation” and the diFFusion of Agroecolgical innovaTion


British Academy and the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience




Chris Maughan, Colin Anderson and Michel Pimbert


1 January 2018 – July 2021


This project will examine processes of ‘innovation’ in agroecology and food sovereignty – what does it look like, is it different from other innovation approaches, and how do agroecological innovations spread around? The goal is to support farmers, communities and social movements in developing approaches to innovation that can help to develop agroecology as an alternative paradigm to corporate-industrial agriculture (see ‘The Nyeleni Declaration’ 2015).

Agroecology is now widely acknowledged as a key sustainability development framework, yet the dominant economic system is locked into a narrow theory of innovation, focusing on technocratic, top-down approaches. By analysing the bottom-up processes of horizontal knowledge exchange and interactive innovation in agroecology networks, this project will present a more holistic theory of innovation that can better harness the economic, social, cultural and political processes needed to develop a just and sustainable food system.

In pursuit of this aim, we will:

  1. engage in participatory research with up to three European case studies who are leading agroecological innovation processes to analyse and support grassroots innovation in the context of multi-scale governance;
  2. analyse the how innovation is framed and used in agriculture policy and what the implications are for agroecology;
  3. examine bottom up processes of agroecological innovation can be best supported by policy and research.


  1. Develop a new conceptual framework and typology of innovation in agroecology that reflects community economies theory and is inclusive of the wide range of alternative economic, social, cultural, ecological and political innovations in agroecology
  2. Better understand how grassroots agroecological innovations, emerging from the bottom up in community economies, can be nourished, diffused and scaled up through collective learning and innovation networks
  3. Examine how top-down and bottom-up agricultural knowledge systems, including policy and research processes, can interact to support grassroots innovation systems
  4. Use a networked transmedia knowledge mobilization strategy to ensure the outcomes of this research have a significant impact on the policy, practice and science of innovation.

Research Questions

  1. To what extent is ‘innovation’ being used by proponents and practitioners of agroecology?
  2. What are the characteristics which distinguish ‘agroecological innovations’ from innovations in other sectors (e.g. mainstream/industrial top-down contexts)?
  3. What are the impacts of the innovation discourse on agroecological policy?
  4. What are the impacts of the innovation discourse on agroecological knowledge systems (e.g. farmer-led research, farmer to farmer knowledge exchange, etc.)?
  • Case study 1: Torth-y-Tir Citizen Agroecology: Knowledge and Innovation at the farm level

    The project is a collaboration with Torth-y-Tir, a ‘community supported peasant bakery’ in Wales, which uses citizen-led enquiry based around 'participatory field trials'. In the short term, the trials are intended to provide agroecological learning opportunities for participants and inform cultivation practices on the farm. In the long term, it is hoped that insights from this process will inform best practice for farmer-/citizen-led agroecological research. The project is now entering its second year and members are now preparing to analyse data gathered so far, reflect on all that has happened, and plan the next stage of the enquiry.

    For more information and updates on this project please see the SHIFFT section on the AgroecologyNow! website.

  • Case study 2: Farm Hack: Knowledge and Innovation at the network level

    Farm Hack is an international network of farmers working collaboratively to share knowledge and co-produce open source technologies for resilient farming. Farm Hack UK has been experimenting with different training and learning strategies to build agroecological knowledge and strengthen social movement networks. An action research collaboration between CAWR, Farm Hack organisers and Landworkers’ Alliance is currently looking at the impacts Farm Hack has had on participants farming and knowledge-exchange practices. The final outcome of the project will be to co-produce a guide on ‘how to run a Farm Hack’.

  • Case study 3: HLPE: Knowledge and Innovation at the policy level

    This project comprises a critical discourse analysis of 145 comments provided as a part of the official online consultation used to inform the production of the HLPE report “Agroecology and Other Innovations” (HLPE 2019). Critical discourse analysis, particularly the work of Norman Fairclough (2013), refers to a broad church of approaches to analysing language which address its involvement in the production and reproduction of power. Our study investigates the discursive strategies used by different actors in the discursive arena opened up by the HLPE report consultation process.

    For more information and updates on this project please see the SHIFFT section on the AgroecologyNow! website.

  • The European Agroecology Knowledge Exchnage Network (EAKEN)

    A precursor to this research consisted of a collaboration with the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) to research the possibilities for, and eventually to establish, a network for agroecological training and learning in Europe. The project was a deliberate response to the Nyeleni Declaration, specifically its recognition that;

    Our learning processes are horizontal and peer-to-peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation, research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding.

    This research culminated in the founding of EAKEN at Nyeleni Europe in October 2016. The Network has met several times since, most notably in Dorset UK in February 2017, during which a declaration on agroecological learning was written (‘The Monkton Wyld Statement’). This Network and its approach to agroecology learning and innovation will continue to play an important role in the development of the SHIFFT project.

    For a research brief on initial findings of the Network click here.

    For information about the network see the website managed by ECVC, featuring a map of participating initiatives, and a repository of resources for agroecological learning.

  • Bibliography

    Anderson, C., Maughan, C. Bernhart, A., Friso, J., Thomas, K. (2018). Farm Hack. Agroecology Learning for Transformation – Pedagogies, Tools and Dynamics Series. European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network. 

    Anderson, C., Maughan, C. Vizy, M. (2017). Developing a European Agroecology Learning and Training Network. Research brief. Available in French, English and Spanish. Produced by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience and the European Coordination of Via Campesina.

    ECVC. 2017. ‘Monkton Wyld Statement on Agrecology Knowledge Exchange’. ECVC.

    Maughan, C., Anderson, C., Bernhart, A., Friso, J., Thomas, K. (2018). Learning as a Social Movement Strategy. Agroecology Learning for Transformation – Pedagogies, Tools and Dynamics Series. European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network. 

    Nyeleni. 2015. ‘Nyéléni 2015 - Declaration Of The International Forum For Agroecology’. Nyeleni - Forum for Food Sovereignty.

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