Can technology play a role in agroecology? Credit: dekazigzag: Shutterstock

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The Agroecological Intelligence – Establishing Criteria for Agroecologically Appropriate Technology report published last month by A Bigger Conversation (a Sustain Alliance member) showcases the results of an 18-month investigation involving interviews and workshops with agroecological farmers and organisations. The investigation has found that although there is overall sceptism about a tech-solutions narrative, agroecological farmers are not against technology and some farmers are using tech within their farm plans. However, they made calls for technology that is focused on what is needed on the farm and can be reused or shared. 

The Agroecological Intelligence project brought together agroecological farmers and growers in the UK for a series of in-depth discussions about the role of technology in their farming systems. The farmers and growers spoken to emphasised the importance of a more critical and context-specific approach to technological innovation, one that involved creating and evaluating technology based on its compatibility with agroecological principles and practices.

The researchers found that farmers are not anti-technology but may be sceptical of developer-driven tech solutions and are critical of a tech solution narrative distracting from wider reforms needed for a sustainable, fair and resilient food system. The report notes that farmers advocated for improvement on existing technologies and tech that can be repaired, reused and shared and that policies and investment be aligned with the needs of farming communities. 

Furthermore, the report found that many agroecological farmers already use tech apps, virtual fencing and data analysis in their farming approach. Farmers argued that there are technological solutions that can help agroecology and there are some so far removed from the principles of agroecology that they should not be permitted. 

In addition, the report sets out recommendations for the government to create a coherent farming policy plan for food, farming and land use that places agroecological systems on an equitable footing relative to conventional and high-tech farming. The report recommends that technological innovation in agriculture should be based on a “whole system” approach, building on – not destroying or bypassing – farm ecosystem management. Funding for technology in agriculture should be primarily aimed at delivering public benefit, better infrastructure and analysis. 

These topics were explored via a series of virtual and in-person workshops with a core group of 48 farmers and growers around the UK. The project also conducted three open workshops – at the Organic Growers Alliance Organic Matters Conference 2022, Oxford Real Farming Conference 2023 and the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference 2023.

The report also includes a guide to help practitioners assess agricultural technologies for their compatibility with agroecology.

Will White Sustain’s Sustainable Farming Coordinator has said: 

‘We welcome this report from A Bigger Conversation. It clearly shows that agroecologists are open and pragmatic about technology, embracing it when it addresses the real-life needs of farming communities. However, the report rightly highlights farmers' scepticism towards developer-driven 'tech fixes,' which often merely paper over the cracks of problems that require systemic solutions.’

The project was carried out in conjunction with the Biodynamic Association, CSA Network, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, Landworkers’ Alliance, Nature Friendly Farmers Network, Organic Farmers & Growers, Organic Growers Alliance, Pasture for Life, Permaculture Network and Soil Association.

Read the full report.

Published Tuesday 18 June 2024

Sustain: Sustain The alliance for better food and farming advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity.

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