About the Project

Small scale, sustainable agriculture in the UK is experiencing a surge of interest at present. A new generation of farmers are emerging, motivated by a desire to provide food for their local communities whilst managing the land in an ecologically beneficial way. For these farmers, agroecology presents an accessible and affordable way to enter agriculture. Agroecology has historically been the preserve of farmers in tropical countries, but in recent years has become an umbrella term for farming that combines sustainable resource management with the nurturing of ecological relationships between plants, animals, people and the ecosystem. Many claims are made about its benefits both to society and the environment, including increased biodiversity, less soil erosion, improved water quality, and more fulfilling and skilled livelihoods. Such arguments are cited in the creation of farming opportunities for new entrants, through planning appeals for agricultural workers’ dwellings, in grant applications for funding, and in political campaigning for a more equitable distribution of agricultural subsidies.

Evidence for the impact of agroecological farming systems exists in the research publications of numerous academic departments and NGOs, but this evidence base is currently dispersed and sometimes inaccessible. The aim of this review is to identify where research is being carried out, what publications exist and where the gaps are. This will help to ensure that future research efforts are targeted in an economically efficient way to expand the horizons of knowledge about how agroecological ideas can be applied in a UK context. Since the review began in September 2012, a number of exciting research initiatives have started, while a new political organisation – the Land Workers’ Alliance – has come into being as a result of the frustration of small-scale and agroecological farmers at the lack of government support for systems that clearly deliver environmental, social and economic benefits. At present the “landscape” of agroecological research is an ever changing kaleidoscope of alliances, proposals, initiatives and action. This review consequently represents a snapshot of that shifting territory, rather than a definitive guide. It has been a privilege to take a bird’s eye view of the current initiatives, which can be used as a benchmark to inform successive waves of research activity over the coming months and years.

Rebecca Laughton
Research Co-ordinator, 2014