Innovation is seen as the key concept for supporting the urgently needed transition towards sustainability in agro-food systems. With this workshop we want to contribute to the debate on the elements needed for encouraging innovation in organic farming and sustainable agriculture and to highlight the potential role of farmers’ experiments for innovation processes – either interrelated with scientific research or done independently by farmers.
Currently, innovation is seen as the key concept for supporting the urgently needed transition towards sustainability in agro-food systems. Recently, clear evidence has been presented, that innovation is a dynamic, social, and multi-stakeholder process that implies the participation of a diversity of stakeholders. Participatory action research, citizen science or transdisciplinary research are pioneering approaches for ensuring that not only local knowledge, but also that the creativity and enthusiasm from different stakeholders are involved and taken seriously in the related research and innovation pathways. In the agricultural sciences and agroecological sectors, the debate on the role of stakeholders’ participation has been framed in various models in the Agricultural Knowledge and Information System (AKIS) or the Agricultural Innovation System (AIS). Nevertheless, the creative process that leads to farmers’ innovations is rarely studied nor described precisely in agricultural literature.
In the context of innovation research, experimenting is considered a dynamic process that runs for a certain period of time to test an innovation. Farmers’ experimentation is the process by which farmers conduct trials or tests that can result in innovative management systems and/or new knowledge suitable for their specific agro-ecological, socio-cultural and economic conditions. Farmers’ experiments refer to trying something new at farm level and learning from the results. Innovations and experiments are different but complementary processes. Experiments contribute to the creation of new knowledge, practices or processes – a precondition for the development or adoption of an innovation.
There are two reasons why it is particularly interesting to explore farmers’ experiments in the context of organic farming and the agroecology movement. First, sustainable land use practices are knowledge-intensive. While conventional farmers can use external inputs to handle adverse dynamics in their agro-ecosystem, organic farmers and other sustainably working farmers need to develop specified agro-ecological knowledge to be able to manage their farms successfully. Second, organic farming in Europe was developed by farmers and farmers’ grassroots organisations and by practical experiments and trials of farmers and practical researchers. Academic science and research only played a minor role. The lack of advice and formal research in the pioneer phase of organic agriculture leads to the assumption that organic farmers have nurtured a culture of experimentation. However, it was not only the pioneers of organic farming who experimented. Many organic and agroecological farmers worldwide are presumably actively experimenting to answer questions, to address farm-specific problems and/or to improve their farming system.
Based on the multi-stakeholder perspective of innovation development, we encourage contributions that integrate farmers’ knowledge and farmers’ research approaches into scientific research and development. We expect contributions from different angles such as participatory action research, citizen science or farmers’ experiments and innovations either interrelated to scientific research or done independently by farmers. The workshop intends to be a space for multi-stakeholder exchange, where farmers, advisors and researchers can meet alongside each other and share experiences and knowledge about agroecological practices. We also invite papers beyond the farm perspective, looking at experiments of other actors along the whole supply chain of agricultural products or products developed in a certain region.
The workshop addresses the development and dissemination of innovation within the farming community at local, regional, national and global level through knowledge networks, like training courses, social media or other dissemination platforms. The overall aim of the workshop is to identify pathways on how to facilitate farmers’ experiments and innovations, as well as experiments of other related stakeholders, and their significance for increasing the farming system’s and regional resilience.
Workshop convenors give oral presentations preference over poster presentations. An integral part of the workshop will be a fishbowl discussion to consolidate the conclusions of each presentation. Therefore, all contributors are invited to prepare one summarizing statement of their paper and to present this statement in the beginning of the fishbowl discussion.
Katie Hartless Rose