Last week I participated in an international colloquium organised by ICAS (Initiatives on Critical Agrarian Studies), Etxalde and Critical Agrarian Studies Colloquium of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) on The Future of Food and Challenges for Agriculture in the 21st Century. The colloquium took place in Vitoria-Gasteiz where 450 researchers, farmers and activists working on agroecology and food sovereignty gathered over the two days.
Many of the plenary sessions were very impressive and provided the opportunity to listen to a range of very well-known speakers such as Susan George, Raj Patel, Silvia Ribeiro, Peter Rosset, Raúl Delgado Wise and Harriet Friedmann. It was also a great opportunity to meet old friends and new colleagues. However, as very often happens in congresses, there was little time for discussion to develop and little room for new ideas from less high profile participants. I think this is a pity in the agroecological context where many new experiences and initiatives are constantly emerging and there has been a great effort to innovate with participatory pedagogical approaches and tools.
My participation in the colloquium was linked to the need for innovative teaching methodologies in the context of the transition to more sustainable food systems. After the creation of the Agroecology Chair at the University of Vic (Uvic-UCC, Barcelona), and in order to contribute to the development of this new paradigm in the university system, we initiated a process of creating a bachelor in agroecology and food systems. In the colloquium we explained how we did this by facilitating a bottom-up, multi-actor, participatory process using focus groups and interviews to gather information on the needs of the different actors of the sector working on agroecology and food sovereignty (e.g. from producers, consumers, local and regional government, students, researchers, CSOs) . This process helped to inform the development of the new Agroecology degree. We also explained the main barriers and challenges currently faced by the project. We presented how the participatory process concluded that a bachelor of this kind built to support agroecological transitions, should not only equally address the three dimensions of agroecology (technical, socio-cultural and political) but also be very practical and rely on innovative teaching methodologies (e.g. learning by doing within meaningful learning contexts). It was also clear that it would require new forms of knowledge co-generation that considers farmers as important holders of knowledge alongside researchers and that sees agriculture not only as a productive activity, but also as an essential activity in the creation of sustainable societies.
Have you been involved in any courses or education programs like that? It would be interesting to hear what has been your experience?