Is there something distinctive about agroecology learning and training? How is learning a part of the struggle for food sovereignty, or other social movements for social justice and sustainability? What examples are there of this in Europe? And how can these projects be supported and developed?
An open access (free to download) article written by researchers at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience that addresses these questions has just been published:
Anderson, C. R., Maughan, C., & Pimbert, M. P. (2018). Transformative agroecology learning in Europe: building consciousness, skills and collective capacity for food sovereignty. Agriculture and Human Values. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-018-9894-0
This article is a part of a special issue on learning and education in food movements.
We carried out the research with The European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) and involved identifying and interviewing organisations and people already engaged in some form of agroecological training and learning. This research involved accompanying and helping to create the European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network (EAKEN). After first mapping agroecology learning initiatives (see here and here), EAKEN has recently begun to programme a series of knowledge exchange events and the sharing of resources through its online platform.
The article documents both the collaborative process of forming the network and presents and analyses the content of the interviews.
We propose a framework (see Figure 1 for summary diagram) for thinking about a transformative agroecology learning as a part of social movement strategies for food sovereignty. This transformational approach consisted of four main interrelated approaches, detailed below.
Figure 1 – Transformative agroecology framework involves a pedagogical approach that always has practice as a central part, but also relies on four pillars (orange segments) to offer the ‘connective tissue’ to the political project of food sovereignty (yellow circle).
Pillar 1 – Dialogo de Saberes (wisdom dialogues)
The growing success of rural social movements, and particularly La Via Campesina, has been in part attributed to the ability to foster a diálogo de saberes (translated roughly as: dialogue between ways of knowing). In our European research, participants emphasized these dialogues across three dimensions: Amongst food producers with different positioning and perspectives; Between food producers and other actors in the food system (especially food consumers); Between food producers and formal education and research institutions. See Inset Box 1.
Pillar 2 – Horizontal Learning Approaches
Horizontal Learning is a central concept within popular education, and involves democratic communication for non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian relationships of learning and exchange. Horizontalism can be contrasted to what Paulo Freire called a ‘banking’ style of education where a teacher deposits expert knowledge into “deficient students”. Many interviewees acknowledged that all people can think critically, act strategically, and offer knowledge. Interviewees promoted horizontal learning experiences as:
- producing more effective and durable learning outcomes than top-down knowledge transfer approaches to extension.
- fostering confidence in participants, emphasising that everyone has experience and knowledge to give in any learning environment (i.e. as teachers)
- enacts democratic processes and relations that are consistent with the politics of food sovereignty itself or what could be referred to as a “Prefigurative politics”
See Inset Box 2.
Pillar 3 – Agroecology Learning: Linking the Practical and the Political
Connecting learning about the practical aspects of agroecological production with the political project of food sovereignty emerged as a third key priority for EAKEN members. Through this practical-political learning, participants link localised learning activities to global discourses of food sovereignty and agroecology which provides a basis for developing critical consciousness, collective identity and participation in social movements. Further, the practical elements of agroecology was a strategic way to draw people into political learning, attracting a wider range of participants who may not engage in such learning or collective action. See inset box 3.
Pillar 4 – Agroecology Learning Builds and Strengthens Networks
The last pillar focuses on building social movement networks. The first three pillars are largely dependent on coordinated-action made possible by local organizations and multi-scalar networks that bring people together for joint learning and action. Indeed, it is in organisations and networks that a knowledge commons is built and strengthened, and linked to the material and political project of food sovereignty. Thus, learning processes that simultaneously and intentionally strengthen social movement organisations and networks are critical. Multi-scaled networks are critical for the sharing of agroecological knowledges and pedagogy across places, building capacity for further learning. See Inset Box 4.
Despite the number and quality of organisations interviewed and involved in the study and that these different elements of transformative agroecology learning were present across EAKEN as a whole, they were unevenly developed. Indeed, this systematisation is one of the very purposes of the EAKEN network.
Going forward, we hope that the framework can help to strategically and reflexively systematize and strengthen a transformative agroecology learning approach as a key building block for food sovereignty. Future collaborations involving CAWR, ECVC and other collaborators will continue to develop a transformative agroecology learning approach.
Click here to download the full article and to cite this work please use:
Anderson, C.R., Maughan, C. and M. Pimbert (2019). Transformative Agroecology Learning in Europe: Building Consciousness, Skills and Collective Capacity for Food Sovereignty. Journal of Agriculture and Human Values, Open Access.
Other related resources that may be of interest:
The EAKEN Monkton Wylde statement on Agroecology Knowledge Exchange.
A short guide on Farm Hack from the European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network.
A short guide on, Learning as a Social Movement Strategy from the European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network.