Ag-tech, agroecology, and the politics of alternative farming futures: The challenges of bringing together diverse agricultural epistemologies

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Springer Nature
Agricultural-technology (ag-tech) and agroecology both promise a better farming future. Ag-tech seeks to improve the food system through the development of high-tech tools such as sensors, digital platforms, and robotic harvesters, with many ag-tech start-ups promising to deliver increased agricultural productivity while also enhancing food system sustainability. Agroecology incorporates diverse cropping systems, low external resource inputs, indigenous and farmer knowledge, and is increasingly associated with political calls for a more just food system. Recently, demand has grown for the potentially groundbreaking benefits of their convergence, with the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) attempting just such a union. Building on its combined expertise in engineering and agroecology, as well as a longstanding reputation as a socially progressive institution, university administrators believe that UCSC could produce a unique, socially just form of ag-tech designed for small, low-resource farmers—a rare contribution given ag-tech’s tendency to cater primarily to large-scale agribusiness. This paper examines the complexities of uniting agroecology and ag-tech through interviews with agroecologists, engineers, and social scientists involved in UCSC’s ag-tech initiative. Within the setting of a historically radical yet neoliberalizing university, I find that significant epistemic and structural barriers exist for agroecology and ag-tech to come together on an even playing field. This case study contributes to broader discussions of the future of food and farming by focusing on the contours and challenges of a widely called-for agricultural collaboration, highlighting its difficulty but also areas of possibility in a particularly rich, contested context.
© The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Agriculture and Human Values, 2023, available online at: . Keywords: ag-tech; agroecology; epistemology; neoliberalizing university; social justice.
Sullivan, S. Ag-tech, agroecology, and the politics of alternative farming futures: The challenges of bringing together diverse agricultural epistemologies. Agric Hum Values (2023).