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Agriculture & Food

The STEPS Food and Agriculture Domain team aims to influence UK and international debates and analyses on future pathways in agri-food systems.

Agriculture and Food domain co-convenors: Erik Millstone and John Thompson

From food prices and hunger to GM crops and biosafety, debates about agricultural innovation involve many competing narratives about key science and technology problems and their potential solutions. With each narrative suggesting different pathways to a more sustainable and productive food future, why do certain narratives and pathways come to dominate science policy debates, while others remain marginal or even hidden from view?

Our work analyses the causes and consequences of this process in order to identify alternative pathways for agricultural policy that address sustainability and social justice.

John Thompson, co-convenor of the STEPS Centre food and agriculture domain talked about our work on the Global Food Security website in October 2012.

A briefing outlining the first five years of STEPS work in this domain is available below. Over the next two years, to 2013, we are concentrating on two themes:

1) An assessment of global assessments on agricultural research and development
In recent years a diverse set of assessments of agricultural knowledge and science and technology have been published, each aspiring to be most influential, but no consensus has emerged. We will attempt to unpack the reports’ competing perspectives to reveal how such horizon scanning initiatives often obscure the underlying politics of knowledge and close down alternative perspectives in their drive for ‘consensus’. We hope to distil guidance on how to operationalise food and agriculture agendas for research and innovations.

2) Pro-poor agricultural technologies
We are seeking to contribute to debates about the intelligibility, utility and applicability of the concept of pro-poor agricultural technologies. Tensions exist between those arguing that pro-poor efforts should be confined to ‘up-stream’ research and development on basic science and generic technologies, while others argue for extending attention to ‘downstream’ issues – how technologies and innovations are diffused, adopted, retained and deliver intended benefits. Some argue new technologies may empower poor farmers to raise their productivity and control, while others contend the benefits will be captured by affluent farmers only.

Briefing: Pathways to sustainable food futures in a dynamic world (pdf, 690kb)

From food prices and hunger to GM crops and biosafety, debates about agricultural innovation involve many competing narratives about key science and technology problems and their potential solutions. This briefing outlines five years of STEPS Centre research to identify alternative pathways for agricultural policy that address sustainability and social justice.

Film: Seeds and Sustainability: Maize pathways in Kenya
This STEPS Centre film brings together an engaging cast of characters including a farmer, a scientist, a regulator and a seed policy analyst. Each has a different view about how best to secure seeds for farmers growing maize – Kenya’s key staple crop – in drought-prone regions of the country.
More about our films