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Last update: May 2021

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How do farming communities and their environment adapt to a changing world?

There are strong issues around the conservation of biodiversity and native varieties of wheat in France and cocoa in Ecuador due to a strong dependence on external networks that have potential positive or negative effects. Watch the mini-documentary from the research project!

Project title and acronym: Socio-ecological networks in a changing world - SENAC.

Funded in the framework of the LabEx BASC call for emergence projects 2016, the project took place over 3 years (2017-2019).  

Juan Fernandez
Armelle Mazé
Isabelle Goldringer

Leaders: Juan Fernandez-Manjarrres, CR HC CNRS, (ESE laboratory, UMR CNRS/AgroParisTech/Université Paris-Saclay); Armelle Mazé, CR INRAE, SadApt laboratory; Isabelle Goldringer, UMR GQE Le Moulon


A central question on the dynamics of socio-ecosystems is to understand how actors manage external impacts, and whether or not the networks that exist help to cushion these impacts.

We chose two contrasting cases: a) the Réseau Semences Paysannes in France, where the use of old wheat varieties is closely linked to a collective research activity that is very fragile in the face of market pressures; and b) indigenous cocoa systems in South America (Ecuador), which are very vulnerable in the face of a climate that is subject to strong extremes and external pressure on their type of agriculture.

More specifically, we asked the following questions: What is the influence of institutional rules, dependency pathways and lock-ins for adaptive network governance? What adaptation and self-organisation strategies do actors use to respond to climate change-related disturbances? What knowledge have they mobilised to improve the resilience of their system?

This project has highlighted the difficulties associated with participatory research on the conservation of biodiversity of varieties outside of commercial circuits whose objectives are not necessarily the same. Also, our work shows the dependence of agricultural production on markets dominated by North-South relations that force producers into overly restricted commercial and ecological strategies. There are strong issues around the conservation of biodiversity and native varieties of wheat in France and cocoa in Ecuador due to a strong dependence on external networks that have potential positive or negative effects.

This work was used to set up several multidisciplinary projects:


Restoring cultivated agrobiodiversity: The political ecology of knowledge networks between local peasant seed groups in France-Figure publi SENAC

> Mazé A., Domenech-Calabuig A., Goldringer I (2021) Restoring cultivated agrobiodiversity: The political ecology of knowledge networks between local peasant seed groups in France, Ecological Economics, 179. Resume: "This article, using an institutional and political ecological perspective, analyses the role of knowledge networks supporting peasant seed groups in France. These groups promote a dynamic approach to agrobiodiversity restoration, developing new models of collaborative “peer-to-peer genetics” and distributed participatory breeding. Our analysis focuses here on the small grain cereal participatory breeding group. Based on detailed qualitative surveys and a network formalization, our study provides a better understanding of how these peasant seed groups self-organized and of how their horizontal and distributed network structure favors the dynamics of collective learning and knowledge spillovers. Further directions for policy making are discussed in support of more resilient plant breeding and agrobiodiversity restoration in European agricultural landscapes."

> Castañeda-Ccori, J.; Bilhaut, A.-G.; Mazé, A.; Fernández-Manjarrés, J. Unveiling Cacao Agroforestry Sustainability through the Socio-Ecological Systems Diagnostic Framework: The Case of Four Amazonian Rural Communities in Ecuador. Sustainability 2020, 12, 5934. Résumé: "Cacao cultivation is rapidly increasing in Latin America under the influence of public policies and external markets. In Ecuador, the cultivated surface of high quality cacao trees has doubled in the last 50 years, creating great expectations in neighboring countries. Here, we investigated the social-ecological sustainability of cacao-based agroforestry systems in four rural Amazonian highlands communities in eastern Ecuador, close to the region where cacao was once domesticated. Kichwa- and Shuar-speaking groups were interviewed by adapting Ostrom’s institutional diagnostic framework for social-ecological systems. Through a set of specifically created indicator variables, we identified key interactions and outcomes to understand the fragility and the sustainability of those communities. The studied communities were fairly young, with land rights secured less than 30 years ago in most cases. Per-family surfaces were very restricted (typically one hectare) and plots were divided between cash producing crops and their own home food. The small production per household goes through a precarious commercialization by both intermediaries and cooperatives, making the cacao bean production merely sufficient for pocket money. Ties with specialist producers in one community close to the capital has promoted the use of native cacao lines. Elsewhere, improved varieties of high productivity are planted along native trees being commercialized indistinctly. The continuity of these communities currently depend on a reorganization of their demography with parts of the population working elsewhere, as cacao bean production alone will continue to be insufficient, and will compete with their food self-sufficiency."

Commoning the seeds: alternative models of collective action and open innovation within French peasant seed groups for recreating local knowledge c...

> Mazé, A., Calabuig Domenech, A. & Goldringer, I. (2020): Commoning the seeds: alternative models of collective action and open innovation within French peasant seed groups for recreating local knowledge commons. Agriculture and Human Values. dans la revue “Agriculture and Human Value”, (2020) Special issue “Seed Commons”. Résumé: "In this article, we expand the analytical and theoretical foundations of the study of knowledge commons in the context of more classical agrarian commons, such as seed commons. We show that it is possible to overcome a number of criticisms of earlier work by Ostrom (Governing the commons. The evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990) on natural commons and its excludability/rivalry matrix in addressing the inclusive social practices of “commoning”, defined as a way of living and acting for the preservation of the commons. Our empirical analysis emphasizes, using the most recent advances in the IAD/SES framework, the distributed and collaborative knowledge governance in a French peasant seed network as a key driver for reintroducing cultivated agrobiodiversity and on-farm seed conservation of ancient and landrace varieties. These inclusive peasant seed groups developed alternative peer-to-peer models of collaborative peasant-led community-based breeding and grassroots innovations in the search for more resilient population varieties. Our results highlight the various models of collective action within the network and discuss the organizational tradeoffs of opting out of peasant seed activities and recreating a shared collective knowledge base on the benefits of restoring cultivated agrobiodiversity. It helps us better understand how modern peasant seed groups function as epistemic communities which contributes to envisioning alternative agricultural systems."


Prisonniers des arbres

> Mini documentary "Prisoners of the Trees", born from a master student's mission with small cocoa producers in Ecuador in 2017. Team: Jonathan Lago-Lago is an independent writer/director of fiction, documentaries and video clips; Jilmar Castañeda has a Master's degree in Territorial Management (UVSQ) and works in recycling and recovery in the textile industry; Juan Fernandez-M. is an ecologist at the CNRS and his research focuses on the sustainability of socio-ecosystems. The production of cocoa beans by small-scale producers in the Amazon is surrounded by an image of success and balance with the rainforest, popularised by the "fair trade" merchants. But the reality, as always, is more complex... This documentary focuses on the members of four indigenous communities in Ecuador, in the foothills of the Amazon rainforest in the east of the country. These small-scale producers denounce the random nature of the cocoa bean market and the lack of interest they have in participating in "fair trade" initiatives, as the premium on the price offered does not compensate for the extra work required. In this fragile context, more lucrative activities are emerging, such as animal husbandry and production. The communities have to rethink their production structures and above all obtain control over the purchase price of their cocoa beans. Without external support, these communities will struggle to become socially and environmentally sustainable.

> LabEx Scientific Days, November 2020:

Cover vidéo SENAC

==> The project leader explains the SENAC project and its  results in video