Which science should agriculture use?

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During a debate in Brussels on 7 December 2011, John Beddington, the UK’s top scientist “urged EU policy makers to make a better use of science and technology through the regulatory process when taking decisions about sustainability”, according to TheParliament.com. But this statement raises the question of which science should be used.

Part of the difficulties of managing and measuring sustainability is the totalness of the issue. In its purist form, sustainability is nothing left less than the total functioning of all of the biological, physical, chemical and other systems on our planet (and beyond since the atmosphere and sun are critical elements). Therefore, any model or science will only be able to deal with some part of that total system. The more isolated and specialized the focus, the less successful the outcome.

Again, the same article is revealing when one of the speakers refers to “environmental sustainability”, which is already much more restricted than the traditional 3-pillar definition of sustainability, which has environmental, economic and social dimensions.

With regard to sustainable agriculture, the best data sets and models in the world are bound to fail if the role of human beings is not taken into account. So I would argue that the social sciences are just as important, if not more important than the natural sciences in achieving sustainable agriculture. Policy makers need to understand the human dynamics of any agricultural system, both to understand potential impacts on the people concerned and to understand how people affect what is poosible within any given agricultural system.

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2 responses to “Which science should agriculture use?

  1. Thanks so much for this comment, Sebastian.  I look forward to reading more of your posts as your research unfolds. I’m currently working on an Executive Doctorate of Business Administration, looking at the role of individual boundary spanners as agents of management innovation. This relates to the type of consulting work that I do, accompanying change and innovation for those companies and organizations trying to move towards more sustainable agricultural systems.

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