Relevance of agroecology as a theory, a principle and a practice of sustainable agriculture to the challenges the Flemish bovine sector

Project Details


Main research question/goal

The current global food system's sustainability challenges have prompted an expanding academic field and social movement to foster agroecology as a possible solution. In Belgium too, this moment of urgency and of opportunities is grasped by a variety of actors and organizations to promote agroecology at different political levels and sectors of society. The beef sector in Flanders faces growing economic uncertainty and societal criticism. Several authors have proposed agroecology as a more sustainable, alternative development pathway to livestock systems in temperate regions. But what agroecology precisely entails in the context of beef farming in Flanders is largely unexplored. This research aimed at investigating the relevance of agroecology to Flemish beef farming. We focused on three research questions in particular: (i) what actions can and do beef farmers take to put agroecology into practice; (ii) what is the role of farmers’ agency in the application of agroecological insights; (iii) wat social-material processes and conditions contribute or limit the application of agroecological insights at these farms?

Research approach

Informed by critical realist philosophy, we developed a groundbreaking interdisciplinary mixed methods research approach. Data were collected on each of the 37 farms with three methods: (i) a structured questionnaire to gather information on structural farm characteristics, (ii) a semi-structured interview in which farmers were confronted with a comprehensive list of principles covering the techno-productive, ecological, social-economic, social-cultural and social-political dimensions of agroecology, and (iii) a direct structured elicitation method to obtain farmer-constructed cognitive maps (CMs) to study farmer’s perspectives about and in relation to farm functioning.


This dissertation renders agroecology as a practice more concrete conceptually in this context and beyond. The analysis of these farmer accounts also served to lay bare important ambiguities and inadequacies within agroecological thought with regard to the transformative potential of these agroecological practices, farmers, and the systems they construct. Out of this dialogue between agroecology and farmers thus emerged a more general societal reflection that advances contemporary ideas and practices to transform food systems. 

Effective start/end date1/11/1631/10/20

Data Management Plan flag for FRIS

  • DMP not present


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.