‘Deep changes required for circular agriculture’

A letter to the editor about circular farming by dr.ir. Toon van Eijk.
Dr.ir. Toon van Eijk is an alumnus and retired researcher, Tropical Agriculture. He promoted in 1998 with a thesis on his work experiences in Africa.

Recently the Circular Farming Platform Wageningen organized an interesting forum on circular agriculture. One of the thought-provoking themes discussed concerned the implications of a paradigm shift towards circularity for science and education. The main question formulated was: ‘A paradigm shift implies deep changes. What does it imply in education?’ The Netherlands wants to be a frontrunner in circular agriculture. What ‘deep’ changes are required to make this happen?

Professor Imke de Boer, Animal Production Systems at WUR and definitely one of the frontrunners in the transition to circular agriculture, said that ‘we’ will have to produce and consume with less impact on the environment. Basically this implies that farmers as well as consumers (and all other intermediate actors in agricultural value chains) need to change their behaviour.

To my mind, behavioural change is grounded in a change of underlying (often implicit) values. The first step in the transition to circular agriculture is to make these implicit values explicit. The second step is to identify the values that are most supportive of an ecologically and societally sound circular agriculture. The third step is to identify methodologies that effectively facilitate the development of such basic attitudes or underlying values. How do farmers, consumers, other actors in the value chain, researchers and students at WUR acquire such values?

In processes of personal development, this sequence applies: data → information knowledge basic attitude/value behaviour. The arrows represent internalization and transformation processes, which unfortunately are largely black-box processes. Natural (and many social) scientists tend to focus on data, information and knowledge. But knowledge as such is not sufficient to change behaviour.

In my view ‘deep’ change refers to changes in underlying values and basic attitudes towards nature – and subsequently in behaviour. In my PhD thesis I concluded that the development of ecologically and societally sustainable farming systems demands both science (including the natural and the social sciences) and methodologies for personal development (Bildung), both reason and socio-cultural education, both outward- and inward-oriented approaches. In order to reach outer and inner sustainability WUR needs to pay much more attention to ecological philosophy (basic attitudes towards nature), philosophy of science (scientific paradigms), farming systems research (farms as socio-ecological systems) and social psychology (behavioural change). And yes, this might imply less money and staff for technical groups.

Do you have your own views on a current issue at WUR? Send
your contribution of 350 words max to resource@wur.nl,
with ‘Letter to the editor’ in the subject line.

Do you have your own views on a current issue at WUR? Send your contribution of 350 words max to resource@wur.nl, with ‘Letter to the editor’ in the subject line.

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