Article scientifique

M. Catalogna, M. Dubois, M. Navarrete
Diversity of experimentation by farmers engaged in agroecology
Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2018, 38, 50.
Agroecology questions the production of generic knowledge. Rather than searching for the best practices for large-scale transfer, it would be more efficient to help farmers find their own solutions. A promising activity for farmers is experimentation because it answers their needs and helps them learn. However, how agroecological practices are tested by farmers in their own experiments is still poorly known. In this study, we examined the short-term experimental activity, i.e., experiments carried out at a yearly scale in pre-defined fields. Seventeen farmers in south eastern France were surveyed. The farmers practiced conventional or organic farming and cultivated either arable or market garden crops. Experiments on agroecological practices were characterized, located along a timeline, and discussed with them. To conduct the interviews with the farmers, each experiment was described in three stages: (1) designing the experiment, (2) managing it in real time, and (3) evaluating the results of the experiment. The data collected in the interviews were first analyzed to build a descriptive framework of farmers’ experiments, after which hierarchical cluster analysis was used to analyze the diversity of the farmers’ experiments. Here, we propose for the first time a generic framework to describe farmers’ experiments at a short time scale based on the consistency between the Design, Management, and Evaluation stages. We used the framework to characterize the diversity of farmers’ experiments and identified four clusters. The originality of this work is both building a descriptive framework resulting from in-depth analyses of farmers’ discourse and using statistical tools to identify and interpret the groups of experiments. Our results provide a better understanding of farmers’ experiments and suggest tools and methods to help them experiment, a major challenge in the promotion of a large-scale agroecological transition.
Keywords: market gardening, arable crops, knowledge building, innovation, organic agriculture, pest control, conservation agriculture

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