Pathways of action followed by Flemish beef farmers – agroecology as a practice
Agroecology is often brought up as an alternative development pathway for livestock systems. Yet, what does it mean in practice? In this article we find out by asking beef farmers themselves how they put agroecological principles into practice.
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In the face of longstanding social and technological trends, the application of agroecological insights at beef farms in Flanders may at first seem a curious proposition. We found, however, that beef farmers pursue agroecological principles through an impressive diversity of practices.
In 37 semi-structured interviews, we asked farmers how they put into practice a set of principles which covers many themes addressed in agroecological literature. Inspired by a grounded theory approach, but also based on literature and consultation of fellow researchers, we conceptualized for each principle distinctive pathways of action to categorize relevant practices. By documenting farmers’ practices, we show that an agronomic interpretation of agroecology as a practice obfuscates the many ways farmers can contribute to the social dimensions of agroecology too, which also problematizes those food systems approaches that undervalue the farmers’ agency in changing their social context themselves.
This grounded conceptual framework may be used to further assess how each beef farmer addresses these different principles together in practice. Given these results and perspectives, we contend that empirical inquiries such as these are instrumental in maintaining the connection between agroecological theory and practice, allowing both to move dialectically forward.