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Why do we work? Assessing sub-Saharan farmers’ motivations and labour in agroecology (AgroWork)

English title Why do we work? Assessing sub-Saharan farmers’ motivations and labour in agroecology (AgroWork)
Applicant Bottazzi Patrick
Number 176736
Funding scheme SNSF Professorships
Research institution Centre for Development and Environment Institute of Geography University of Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Social geography and ecology
Start/End 01.04.2018 - 31.03.2022
Approved amount 1'593'552.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Social geography and ecology

Keywords (12)

agroecology; socio-ecological system; environmental sociology; agrarian mouvements; contributive justice; livelihoods; labour; environmental ethic; food system; human ecology; work; sustainable food systems

Lay Summary (French)

L’espoir d’une transition vers des systèmes socio-écologiques plus soutenables nous invite à repenser la manière dont le travail est valorisé, mis en pratique et institutionnalisé. Dans cette perspective, l’agroécologie est souvent présentée comme offrant un grand potentiel en vue d’une transition vers des systèmes alimentaires plus soutenables. Cependant, il est assez communément admis que l’agroécologie est plus demandeuse en travail et en connaissances techniques. Elle requiert, par conséquent, une forte motivation de la part des paysans.
Lay summary

Contenu et objectifs du travail de recherche

Notre projet de recherche explore les liens entre les motivations paysannes, les valeurs éthiques et les institutions associées au concept de travail dans la perspective d’une transition agroécologique. L’objectif vise à comprendre quelles sont les motivations complexes qui poussent les paysans subsahariens à adopter des pratiques agroécologiques en comparaison des pratiques agricoles plus conventionnelles. Nous explorons par ailleurs la capacité de l’agroécologie à améliorer les conditions de travail (à travers le concept de « justice contributive ») ainsi que les modalités de subsistance (en particulier la sécurité alimentaire) dans le contexte actuel de la globalisation du système alimentaire sénégalais.


Contenu scientifique et social du projet de recherche

La recherche se déroule au Sénégal dans plusieurs zones socio-écologiques différentes combinant climat sahéliens du nord avec les zones plus tropicales au sud du pays. Plusieurs échantillons de fermes et de pratiques agricoles de type conventionnelles et agroécologiques sont comparés systématiquement en se servant des instruments classiques des sciences sociales tels que le questionnaire, les focus groupes et la classification de photographie. De type transdisciplinaire, la recherche vise à mieux comprendre les facteurs d’adoption de l’agroécologie dans les contextes en voie de désertification et de faciliter la promotion de pratiques plus soutenables autant écologiquement que socialement.


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 05.04.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa are facing a major socio-ecological crisis characterized by severe drought, soil degradation, dramatic food insecurity, unemployment, and massive rural to urban migration, all of which have been exacerbated by climate change and one-sided neo-liberal policies. Although agroecology is presented as having a high potential to support a socioecological transition towards more sustainable and equitable food systems all over the world, the conditions and factors related to its recent adoption by a growing number of sub-Saharan farmers, and its effects on rural livelihoods, have not been sufficiently explored. Previous studies have shown that agroecology is highly demanding in terms of labour intensity and technical knowledge: it requires strong motivations on the part of the farmer, and changes in the way that agricultural labour is organized. It has also been suggested that agroecology could improve the quality of farmers’ work life and social engagement for a better “contributive justice”, which is understood as the right to meaningful work and increased capabilities. Our research aims at understanding the complex motivations that lead farmers to adopt agroecological practices. We also investigate the capacity of agroecology to improve both labour conditions (through the concept of contributive justice) and sustainable livelihoods (in particular, food security) in the current context of the globalized Senegalese food systems. Following several standard and innovative social scientific mixed methods, we compare agroecological and conventional farming systems in three different regions of Senegal. Four subprojects are organized as follows: 1. Evaluate farmers’ motivations for adopting agroecological farming compared to conventional farming; 2. Perform an institutional and value chain analysis to assess the strategies of farmers’ inclusion into the governance of local and national food systems; 3. Measure the effects of agroecological practices on farmers’ labour conditions and contributive justice; and 4. Measure the effects of agricultural practices on sustainable livelihoods at farm level including food security, reliable income sources, and perceived adaptation to climate change. A fifth transversal subproject will integrate the results from the other subprojects (1-4) and propose an agricultural labour valuation framework (ALV) based on the normative concept of “fulfilling labour”, contributing to a reconceptualization of labour in the field of agroecology. The research will deliver, at the least, a book on the labour dimension in agroecology and 10 journal articles. It will also aim at providing policy advice to support fair trade and certification schemes, and agricultural policies at national and international levels. The principal investigator, one post-doctoral researcher, two PhD candidates, and possibly four master’s students are based at the University of Bern, Switzerland. A formal collaboration is established with Université Gaston Berger of Saint-Louis in Senegal, employing a senior researcher and four research assistants.