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Last update: May 2021

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Fostering the distributed design of agroecological systems by studying farmer’s innovative practices

Thesis Chloé SALEMBIER - UMR SAD APT - Paris Grignon, 2019

Abstract :

Today, in an increasing number of initiatives in the R&D agricultural sector, we want to learn from farmer’s innovative practices to foster change in agriculture toward agroecology. These initiatives, still poorly known, emerge in a context where agronomists explore new ways to produce knowledge to face current issues and answer new questions such as : while designing agroecological farming systems, how to deal with natural regulations, partly unknown and poorly predictable? What kind of models of agroecosystems allow to imagine chemical-free cropping systems? Or, what knowledge should we produce to design technical options adapted to every farmer’s expectations? … In this thesis, we assume that studying farmer’s innovative practices would be one way, taken by certain actors, to explore innovative farming systems today. More precisely, we explore how and in which conditions the study of farmer’s innovative practices could foster the design of agricultural systems.

First, by exploring the history of agronomy, we show that since the foundation of the discipline, in the 18th century, agronomists draw inspiration from farmer’s practices; then, with the evolution of the discipline, the study of farmer’s practices marginalised. Today, new ways to study farmer’s practices emerge, in relation with contemporaneous challenges and we then propose to focus on ways to study ‘farmer’s innovative practices’.

Through the analysis of a panorama of 14 initiatives from the agricultural R&D sector we show that it exists various ways to study farmer’s innovative practices, and we propose to organize this diversity. First, we shed light on what people get from the study of innovative practices depending on their own situation (to federate a designer’s community, to renew agronomic models, to get knowledge on unknown technical systems…). We then shed light on common traits in agronomist’s reasoning underlying the study of farmer’s innovative practices (ex. They all spot innovative practices formulating desirable unknown), and we show variants in ways to analyse them (ex. various systemic analysis). We finally show that studying innovative practices allows to enrich collective design dynamics: by fostering the emergence of new technical systems on farm, and by contributing to the emergence of original prescriptions aiming to support the design on farm of innovative systems (contextualised testimonies, generic action logics…).

These initiatives illustrate the emergence of original forms of contributions, in agronomy, in a distributed design organisation, spread in territories. This thesis contribute to the understanding of what’s studying farmer’s innovative practices in relation to a design activity, and it gets to the formulation of reflexive keys to study farmer’s practices while designing in agronomy.

Thesis defended on 13 may 2019


Jean-Marc Meynard (INRAE, SAD-APT), Blanche Segrestin et Benoît Weil (MinesParisTech, CGS)

Jury :

  • M. Michel Duru, Directeur de recherche, INRA (AGIR), Rapporteur
  • M. Sylvain Lenfle, Professeur, CNAM (Lirsa), Rapporteur
  • Mme Marion Casagrande, Ingénieur, ITAB, Examinatrice
  • M. Thierry Doré, Professeur, AgroParisTech (SIAFEE), Examinateur
  • M. Christian Huyghe, Directeur de recherche, INRA (Collège de direction), Examinateur
  • Mme Julie Labatut, Chargée de recherche, INRA (AGIR), Examinatrice
  • M. Benoît Weil, Professeur, MinesParisTech (CGS), Co-encadrant de thèse
  • M. Jean-Marc Meynard, Directeur de recherche, INRA (SAD-APT), directeur de thèse


See also