Books and book chapters

Food, Agriculture and Social Change: The Everyday Vitality of Latin America. (Sherwood, S. A. Arce and M. Paredes (eds). 2017. Earthscan/Routledge: London, UK.)

In recent years, food studies scholarship has tended to focus on a number of increasingly abstract, largely unquestioned concepts with regard to how capital, markets and states organize and operate. This has led to a gulf between public policy and people’s realities with food as experienced in homes and on the streets. Through grounded case study in seven Latin American countries, this book explores how development and social change in food and agriculture are fundamentally experiential, contingent and unpredictable. In viewing development in food as a socio-political-material experience, the authors find new objects, intersubjectivities and associations. These reveal a multiplicity of processes, effects and affects largely absent in current academic literature and public policy debates. In their attention to the contingency and creativity found in households, neighbourhoods and social networks, as well as at the borders of human-nonhuman experience, the book explores how people diversely meet their food needs and passions while confronting the region’s most pressing social, health and environmental concerns.

EkoRural’s Steve Sherwood is one of the principal editors of the book. In addition, Sherwood co-authored four of its chapters.

Interfaces of school food procurement and family farming: the social constitution of the “30% Law” 11947/2009.  (Vicente-Almazán, C., S. Schneider, P. Derkzen, S. Sherwood. 2016. In: Carla Rosane Paz Arruda Teo, Rozane Marcia Triches (eds.). School feeding: building health, education and development interfaces. Argos Publishers, Chapecó, SC (Brazil), 148-162 pp.)

Within the dynamic, competing networks of family farming we have found, in the activity of civil servants and entrepreneurial farmers, local counter-movements that are providing effective responses to the contradictions between agricultural modernization and the ideals of food sovereignty as an effective alternative. Through the growing influence of collaborative governance of markets and organic farming as a counter discourse, these actors are creating spaces for new market logics and quality criteria that appear to be giving rise, if slowly and not always coherently, to institutional change.  Two cases show us how different actors have interpreted differently the general regulations of the law. We have also found diverse kinds of farmers and cooperatives accessing the school food market at both sites, due to the different size of the municipalities but also to the different local arrangements and negotiations that each team of civil servants is building with the farmers. Originating from the same policy, an array of heterogeneous local interpretations and arrangements is yielding different outcomes in the school food procurement of Porto Alegre and Maquiné. Therefore, the actor-oriented approach to policy analysis can be useful to understand the intricate paths through which the government establishes procurement relationships with different actors. In a way, this analysis shows that the 30% law represents a breakthrough in relations between civil society and government, and at the same time it shows how an analysis from an actor-oriented approach is particularly interesting in the understanding of contemporary public policy.

Repositioning Food Sovereignty: between Ecuadorian nationalist and Cosmopolitan Politics. (Arce, A, S. Sherwood, and M. Paredes. 2015. Ch.8. in: Amy Trauger (ed.). Food Sovereignty in Geographical Context: Discourse, Politics and Practice in Place. Routledge Studies in Food, Society and Environment. London and New York, pp. 125-142.)

The chapter presents how, in our view, the conceptual challenge at hand for food studies is to develop a cosmopolitical agenda capable of revealing the contradictions between food sovereignty as a nationalist or multi-nationalist movement based on abstract dualities and dichotomies, and food sovereignty as a fundamentally integrative and synergistic transnational experience resulting from the contingent side effects of global capitalism and its consequences. Tied to the changing nature of nationalism, a cosmopolitical perspective raises the need for a reconceptualization of food sovereignty in a context where peasant livelihoods are embedded in the intensification of the daily realities of the consumer-citizen, be they in the city, the countryside or the household. This is a promising dynamic, capable of reconstituting economies, cultures and society but also in engaging with the present neglect of the new materialities and subjectivities of “food cosmopolitanism”.

From communication as profession to communication as being. (Sherwood, S.G., M. Paredes, A. Ordoñez. 2014 In: E. Mendizabel (ed.): Communication Complex Ideas: Translating Research into Practical Social and Policy Changes. On Think Tanks, 31-56 )

In this chapter we take a reflective look at the practices of communication in science and development. We deal with public policy in favour of highly harmful pesticide technology (World Health Organization Class 1 products) in northern Ecuador, a region once described as a ‘model for agricultural modernization’ (Barsky, 1988) among smallholder farmers. Drawing on multidisciplinary research dating back to the late 1980s,[1] we examine the evolving roles that competing actors – operating in both formal and informal institutions – have played in different phases of development in pesticide policy. The case evolves from the arrival, growth, and normalisation of mass pesticide poisoning as a consequence of publically supported agricultural modernisation, to the enabling of alternatives as a result of the growth in influence of agroecology and other counter-movements. While, in practice, poisoning by highly toxic chemicals continues to be a major concern in northern Ecuador and elsewhere, in 2008, public policy shifted at the constitutional level to focus on ‘food sovereignty’, leading to legislation for the elimination of Class 1 pesticides from the market in 2010. Here, our objective is to summarise the institutional dynamics involved in the different phases of communication around these pesticides and their alternatives and call attention to what we see as a promising, emergent pathway of communication in research and development practice: ‘Development 3.0’.

El futuro como producto del presente: caso de estudio sobre la modernización agrícola en Carchi, Ecuador. (Sherwood, S.G. and M. Paredes. 2013.  In: O. Bellettini and A. Ordonez (eds.). Ecuador: del País Recurso al País Conocimiento. Grupo FARO: Quito, Ecuador, ISBN: 978-9942-9899-6-3, pp 78-107.)


Applying a critical social perspective, we examine how people, through their daily activities, organize to thereby foster multiple options for development.  Drawing on our research on agricultural and food modernization (‘modern food’) over the last 50 years in the northern highlands of Ecuador, we explain how a historical modernization project on a worldwide scale was adopted and appropriated in the country.  As seen in northern Ecuador, despite its enormous success in political and social terms, agricultural modernization is deepening a crisis that places future production and the productivity of the rural sector, in general, at risk. Nevertheless, farmers, through their customs, have not only adopted experts’ recommendations, but have also transformed them, creating options based on different combinations of traditional methods, including modern ways and methods resulting from their own creativity. Through their different “agricultural styles,” rural residents produce multiple realities that contribute to the present and the future of their communities, as well as the rural sector. We find that there is a promising future for agriculture in Ecuador, albeit latent, as a result of the diversity of customs created by the farmers – some more productive and others more sustainable. In this sense, the heterogeneity of the production and food consumption processes in rural areas quite possibly represents the most genuine form of democracy. Here, the people decide, through their daily activities, who they are and what they would like to achieve as individuals and as members of different social networks. The fundamental criticism revolves around the State’s role in organizing public resources to develop certain agricultural styles at the cost of others, while its responsibility is to ensure the sustainability of production systems, the socioeconomic wellbeing of the people and social equality throughout the country.   Valuing the importance of diversifying family-level food production and consumption processes, instead of strengthening a particular styles, the authors argue that the future of the country will benefit from food policies that favor continuous co-generation of multiple  styles of co-production. Thus, instead of a homogeneous model, such as modernization, a recommendation is hereby set forth to develop heterogeneous and multifunctional methods, as the country faces multiple contingencies that define agriculture, consumption, and the socio-environmental context.

Learning in the Social Wild: Farmer Field Schools and the politics of Agricultural Science and Development in Ecuador. (Sherwood, S., M. Schut, C. Leeuwis. 2012. In: H.R., Ojha, A. Hall, R. Sulaiman (eds.). Adaptive Collaborative Approaches in Natural Resources Governance: Rethinking Participation, Learning and Innovation. Routledge: London, UK, 102-137.)


As a result of its impressive success as a knowledge-based, community-led approach for change in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, Farmer Field School (FFS) methodology was introduced in the Andes, initially to help communities overcome pesticide-health concerns. Eventually, the approach was adapted to address other concerns in Agriculture and Natural Resource (ANR) management, including the sustainable management of small and large animals, local seed systems, soil fertility, and water for food production and climate change adaptation. Beyond helping to solve technical concerns, FFS was explicitly inserted as a political device for shifting the designs of ANR management away from technology- to people-centred approaches. In this paper, we examine the arrival and rise of FFS in Ecuador, followed by encounters with the socio-technical regime organized around agricultural modernization and subsequent transformations and counter-movements. The exercise sheds light on the conflicts between present institutional designs and needed re-direction towards more adaptive agricultural science and development practice.

Following initial success, FFS became widely recognized as ‘best practice’ in Ecuador, leading to the proposal of new policies for agricultural development. During processes of scaling, when FFS was released into the ‘social wild’ of institutional collision, collusion, and coercion, the approach became systematically transformed in the hands of researchers, extensionists and farmers and their organizations and projects to the point where FFS no longer represented a serious threat to established ways of thinking, organizing, and doing in science and development practice. In the process, the original idea of FFS as a means of adaptive collaborative management was lost. The experience provides rare insight into the politics of institutional continuity and change in ANR, in particular over how actors involved in agricultural development become organized around prestigious symbols and active in translation of meanings, truth construction, enrolment, and other processes of social networking in favour of certain agendas at the cost of competing interests.

We conclude that one cannot realistically hope to achieve people-centred adaptive management of agriculture and natural resources through the mere development, documentation and scaling-up of a specific methodological approach, such as FFS. This needs to be complemented with context- specific strategies aimed at supporting the emergence of new networks and coalitions for changing dominant meanings, norms and incentives within organisations that may employ such methodological approaches. Alternatively, one could choose to bypass such establishments altogether and embed FFS within networks that have self-organising capacity and genuine interest in people-centred development. Over time, such networks may well evolve into relevant movements for change that cannot be ignored by competing interests.

Transforming NGOs for Food Sovereignty. (Batta, F., S. Brescia, P. Gubbels, B. Guri, C. Jean-Baptiste, and S. Sherwood. 2011.  In E. Holt-Gimemez (ed.): Food Movements Unite. Food First Institute for Food and Development Policy, Oakland, CA, 72-93.)

We know that agroecological farming works for family farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and that they represent the great majority of the world’s people who face extreme poverty and lack adequate food.  We know that farmers need net beneficial relationships to markets.  And we know that it is necessary to create policies that support, rather than undercut, the wellbeing of rural communities.  How can NGOs best contribute to scaling solutions to help make food sovereignty a reality?   This article will try to identify some answers to those questions, based on the practical experience of Groundswell International partners in Haiti, Ecuador, Burkina Faso and Ghana.

[1] The multidisciplinary research in Carchi is summarised in Crissman et al. (1998), Yanggen et al. (2003) and Sherwood (2009).

Katalysis: helping Andean farmers adapt to climate change   (Sherwood, Stephen and Jeffery Bentely. 2010. In: Participatory Learning and Action 60: Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change, 65-76.  London: IIED.)

This chapter describes the concept, process and results of the Katalysis project.  In Katalysis the focus is on enhancing local knowledge of climate change and creating opportunities for coping with it. Katalysis starts with the experience and priorities of participants. Through problem-solving and action around priority interests, the focus shifts from concerns at the individual farm level to those at community and watershed level.