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The role of networks in promoting food system transformations

Networks enable people from different backgrounds and knowledge areas to meaningfully connect to one another. 

Exchanging knowledge is fundamental to agroecology and to promote paradigm shifts in agriculture and society. The process known as “agroecological transition” can also be understood as a network, which is facilitated by the engagement of different stakeholders that could only bond, meet, and connect through agroecological transition activities. 

In this context, the Agroecology Network of Eastern São Paulo (Rede de Agroecologia do Leste Paulista) is an organization that involves several actors, such as family farmers, students, researchers, technicians, and extensionists, as well as many institutions. Together, they promote Agroecology in the territory of Eastern São Paulo through knowledge exchange and other supporting projects and activities. One of these projects is AgroecoLP, which aims at: 

  1. assessing the agricultural scenario of Eastern São Paulo, focusing on family farming, 
  2. understanding the demands of smallholder farmers, and 
  3. identifying priority areas for agroecological transition. 

Field trips in key properties and the action of institutional partners are two channels that help this process. Furthermore, the project touches upon a very important issue: the creation and strengthening of social-technical networks, which promote a direct and effective dialogue space for the actors in the region, allowing for lively interactions that help disseminate agroecological practices in Eastern São Paulo.
In the project’s context, the definition of priority action areas is a collaborative effort.

The project supports the organization of meetings and so-called “encontros” with all the network members and, more specifically, with microregional groups (six microregions form eastern São Paulo). These moments are essential to building trust, exchange data, and foster debate, engaging all agricultural actors, mainly family farmers. Furthermore, the co-development and co-planning of future steps is another important component of the project (as well as of agroecology, which focuses on the co-creation of knowledge).

It is important to note that the project’s diagnosis of the Eastern São Paulo territory serves as an important starting point for the meetings and the Encontros. The project assesses regional physical aspects, such as terrain slopes, land use, and urbanization, as well as agricultural data of the rural properties. It also discusses social-environmental indicators such as soil conservation practices, green manure, and reception of public technical assistance, among others. These indicators are relevant for the agroecological transition process.

The data gathered by the project reflects the reality of family farming as well as large-scale agriculture, and their evolution throughout the decades. With this knowledge at hand, the stakeholders can discuss within the Network the bottlenecks to be addressed, good practices, and lessons learned.

As an intern of the AgroecoLP project, I was able to better understand the heterogeneity of family farming and its actors. Likewise, I could observe how the connections between different ideas and stakeholders (made possible by creating the network) can “open doors” and impact diverse realities. 

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