A man walks to his field with his house and granary store and dark storm clouds behind.

How to move beyond technology in ‘Sustainable Intensification’

by Saurabh Arora and Ravic Nijbroek Sustainable Intensification (SI) promises more food from the same amount of land, while minimizing pressure on the environment. In Sub-Saharan Africa, considerable research and effort has been put into achieving it – but without the expected success. So why has Sustainable Intensification (SI) not made as much progress as…

Contested Agronomy: Imagining different futures for food and farmers

The question of how to improve farming to feed and sustain people in developing countries is as important as ever, and there are no easy solutions. One route to finding answers is through the science of agronomy – testing and evaluating how crops and farming techniques perform under different conditions. But, as with any science,…

Contested Agronomy: Four big questions to debate

We have just finished a fantastic conference co-hosted by the STEPS Centre on ‘Contested Agronomy’ with 80 participants and a vibrant discussion. I was asked to give some comments at the end. Here are some of these thoughts. Throughout the conference it was clear that ‘agronomy’ had to be understood both as a technology and…

Exporting China and Brazil’s agricultural know-how to Africa

Can China and Brazil use their home grown agricultural knowledge, which has driven phenomenal agricultural productivity at home, to transform agriculture in Africa? That was one of many questions discussed at the Contested Agronomy conference. When Lidia Cabral interviewed a Brazilian agronomist from Embrapa, Brazil’s agricultural research corporation in Mozambique, he talked to her about…

Contested Agronomy 2016: Whose agronomy counts?

Contested Agronomy 2016 is a conference about the battlefields in agricultural research, past and present. Date and venue 23 – 25 February 2016 Institute of Development Studies University of Sussex, UK For more information, see the dedicated conference website.

Contested Agronomy: more heat than light?

by Jim Sumberg, John Thompson, Ken Giller and Jens Andersson Agriculture, and the agronomic research that supports it, will be critical in making sustainable, equitable and secure development a reality. Surprisingly however, there seems to be increasing contestation around the priorities and methods used by agronomists, and the technologies that they develop and promote. Why…

Has the ‘impact agenda’ helped agronomy – or harmed it?

Every agronomist or agricultural research institute with an interest in international development, and who has applied for a research grant in the last 15 years, will have had to develop and justify a theory of change, and identify outcomes, anticipated impacts, measurable indicators and impact pathways. These tasks have become an obligatory part of agricultural…

Why we should argue about agronomy

“The real problem is that too many people are playing politics with agriculture, and poor people are suffering – agronomists should stick to the facts!” Organic agriculture, agroecology, Conservation Agriculture, the System of Rice Intensification, Holistic Management (Savory System), integrated pest management, Green Revolution style intensification, genetically modified crops – what do all of these…

Arguing about agronomy: the changing politics of agronomy research

A new article in Outlook on Agriculture explores how agronomy has been affected by social change since the 1970s. The science of agronomy informs crucial decisions on development. It is often seen as a practical, problem-solving field, but like other areas of study is affected by politics and power. The authors suggest a ‘political agronomy’ approach, which…

Contested agronomy: low-level evidence, high-level claims

Demonstrating ‘impact’ has become a strong imperative for those involved in agricultural research. But this pressure has led to some large-scale claims for techniques that have only been tested at farm level. Techniques like Conservation Agriculture (CA) and the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), for example, have shown much promise in experimental trails. But is…