Governing Transitions towards Sustainable Agriculture - Taking Stock of an Emerging Field of Research

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The need for fundamental changes in the way humans interact with nature is now widely acknowledged in order to achieve sustainable development. Agriculture figures prominently in this quest, being both a major driver and a major threat to global sustainability. Agricultural systems typically have co-evolved with other societal structures—retailers, land management, technology, consumer habits, and environmental and agricultural law—and can therefore well be described as socio-technical regimes in the sense of the sustainability transitions literature. This paper aims to give an overview of the emerging field of governing transitions to sustainability agriculture and the topics and trends covered, focusing on how agricultural transitions are being governed through a variety of actors and at a variety of levels. We conduct a systematic review of 153 articles published before the year 2019. We identify two main perspectives: papers that analyse the status quo in farming practices and reasons for lock-in, and papers that explore potential transition pathways and their governance. Predominantly, papers study (local) niche developments and discuss governance options for upscaling, rather than actual regime change. Seven distinct perspectives emerge from our reading of the selected articles: application of theoretical perspectives from the literature on socio-technical transitions; governance and regulation; knowledge and learning; concrete approaches to reduce the environmental impact of agricultural systems; urbanisation, urban agriculture, and local food networks; the role of agri-food businesses; as well as the role of gender. While a variety of local case studies shows potential for small-scale changes that might be transferable to other regions and higher levels of governance, it generally appears that more integrative, comparative work and perhaps more coherence in conceptual approaches would benefit the currently highly fragmented field.
Original languageEnglish
Article number528
Issue number2
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 08.01.2021

Bibliographical note

This article belongs to the Special Issue Suitable Agronomic Techniques for Sustainable Agriculture