December 18th 2020

How and to what extent are Flemish farmers pursuing the principles of agroecology ?

How and to what extent the Flemish farmers are pursuing the principles of agroecology ? A paper by Louis Tessier and colleagues in collaboration with ILVO.


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Agroecology is increasingly recognized as a valuable perspective to face the sustainability challenges of contemporary foods systems. Yet case-comparisons based on a holistic assessment of actual farmer practices have been lacking. In this paper, we seek to identify the different farming models underlying the sets of practices of Flemish beef farmers (Belgium). For this, we rely on 37 accounts of a diverse group of Flemish beef farmers. Their practices were gathered through semi-structured interviews. These practices were categorized along 36 Pathways of Action to pursue 13 agroecological principles, identified in research published earlier. To compare how and to what extent each farmer is pursuing these principles, we turned this qualitative information into sets of indicator scores. With Archetypal Analysis, we identified three farming models underlying their diverse pursuits of agroecological principles: one farming model represents seven conventional farmers who name a bare minimum of practices contributing to agroecology, and two models representing farmers that do integrate elements of agroecology. Conceptually, the second farming model, which represents nine direct selling farmers, eight of them organic, corresponds with a low-input, low-capital, but knowledge intensive model, embedded within alternative commercial and social networks, which actively seeks to become independent from regime institutions. The third farming model represents five mostly whole-selling conventional beef farmers that find advantages within the mainstream market environment. It overlaps with a number of practices related to the techno-productive dimension of agroecology with the second model, as far as these maintain or increase productivity, and are compatible with the expectations of value-chain actors. These results provide an empirical basis for concepts such as “peasant farming” and “sustainable intensification” to understand the diverging translation of agroecological principles into practice. However, the remaining half of the farmers is found in the continuum between these models, indicating that these models are combinable in practice to some extent, and that not all farmers go as far as the most emblematic instances of these models. While a more systematic assessment of the presence of means of agroecology at each studied case is still lacking, our study may well have laid the foundation for such an assessment tool. Moreover, our study already demonstrates that such assessments have the potential to empirically ground theorizations of different farming models and connect them with existing farmers’ sets of practices. 


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