SHIFFT: Supporting Holistic “Innovation” and the diFFusion of Agroecolgical innovaTion


Beginning in January 2018 (and running to December 2020), this project will look at how processes of ‘innovation’ in agroecology and food sovereignty – what does it look like, is it different from other innovation approaches, and how do agroecological innovations spread around? The goal is to support farmers, communities and social movements in developing approaches to innovation that can help to develop agroecology as an alternative paradigm to corporate-industrial agriculture (see ‘The Nyeleni Declaration’ 2015).

Agroecology is now widely acknowledged as a key sustainability development framework, yet the dominant economic system is locked into a narrow theory of innovation, focusing on technocratic, top-down approaches. By analysing the bottom-up processes of horizontal knowledge exchange and interactive innovation in agroecology networks, this project will present a more holistic theory of innovation that can better harness the economic, social, cultural and political processes needed to develop a just and sustainable food system.

In pursuit of this aim, we will:

a. engage in participatory research with up to four European case studies who are leading agroecological innovation processes to analyse and support grassroots innovation in the context of multi-scale governance;
b. examine the processes by which grassroots innovations move around or are ‘diffused’ and how they are implemented in different places based on the particular context of that place;
c. analyse the how innovation is framed and used in agriculture policy and what the implications are for agroecology;
d. examine bottom up processes of agroecological innovation can be best supported by policy and research.



1. Develop a new conceptual framework and typology of innovation in agroecology that reflects community economies theory and is inclusive of the wide range of alternative economic, social, cultural, ecological and political innovations in agroecology
2. Better understand how grassroots agroecological innovations, emerging from the bottom up in community economies, can be nourished, diffused and scaled up through collective learning and innovation networks
3. Examine how top-down and bottom-up agricultural knowledge systems, including policy and research processes, can interact to support grassroots innovation systems
4. Use a networked transmedia knowledge mobilization strategy to ensure the outcomes of this research have a significant impact on the policy, practice and science of innovation


Research Questions

1. Is ‘innovation’ a useful term for agroecological social movements?
2. What are the characteristics which distinguish agroecological innovations from innovations in other sectors/mainstream/top-down contexts?
3. What are the patterns of diffusion for agroecological innovations?
a. The history of how they emerged?;
b. What were the mechanisms of diffusion?;
c. How did these innovations change when adopted in different places?
4. Where does innovation intersect with other issues of emergent importance to Agroecology (popular education/politics of difference/gender/intersectionality/social justice)?

For updates on this project and information about case studies please see the attached blog (TBD). Alternatively, please feel free to contact the project lead – contact details below.


The European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network (EAKEN)

A precursor to this research consisted of a collaboration with the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) to research the possibilities for, and eventually to establish, a network for agroecological training and learning in Europe. The project was a deliberate response to the Nyeleni Declaration, specifically its recognition that

Our learning processes are horizontal and peer-to-peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation, research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding

This research culminated in the founding of EAKEN at Nyeleni Europe in October 2016. The Network has met several times since, most notably in Dorset UK in February 2017, during which a declaration on agroecological learning was written (‘The Monkton Wyld Statement’). This Network and its approach to agroecology leanring and innovation will continue to play an important role in the development of the SHIFFT project.

For a research brief on initial findings of the Network click here.

For information about the network see the website managed by ECVC, featuring a map of participating initiatives, and a repository of resources for agroecological learning.

Image: The European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network meeting held at Monkton Wyld Court (Dorset, UK), February 2017.


Contact details

Project lead:

Chris Maughan


Colin Anderson

Michel Pimbert



Generously supported by the British Academy and the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience.



Anderson, C., Maughan, C. Bernhart, A., Friso, J., Thomas, K. (2018). Farm Hack. Agroecology Learning for Transformation – Pedagogies, Tools and Dynamics Series. European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network. Available at:
Anderson, C., Maughan, C. Vizy, M. (2017). Developing a European Agroecology Learning and Training Network. Research brief. Available in French, English and Spanish. Produced by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience and the European Coordination of Via Campesina.
ECVC. 2017. ‘Monkton Wyld Statement on Agrecology Knowledge Exchange’. ECVC.
Maughan, C., Anderson, C., Bernhart, A., Friso, J., Thomas, K. (2018). Learning as a Social Movement Strategy. Agroecology Learning for Transformation – Pedagogies, Tools and Dynamics Series. European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network. Available at:
Nyeleni. 2015. ‘Nyéléni 2015 – Declaration Of The International Forum For Agroecology’. Nyeleni – Forum for Food Sovereignty.