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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.)?
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