Envisioning change in strawberry agroecosystems: socioecological barriers and opportunities for an agroecological transition

Authors: Esteli Jimenez Soto*, Department of Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Cruz, Carol Shennan, Department of Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Cruz, Madeleine Fairbairn, University of California Santa Cruz
Topics: Food Systems, Cultural and Political Ecology, Soils
Keywords: agroecological transitions, knowledge, agriculture, strawberry industry, fumigants
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 21
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Strawberry production is a $2.8 billion industry that provides livelihoods for hundreds of growers and employs over 80,000 workers in the US. The strawberry industry is characterized by its intensive use of fossil fuel-derived inputs, and accounts for 80% of water used in CA’s Central Valley. Issues of labor inequality and food insecurity of farmworkers have also contributed to the unsustainability of this commodity. The industry was built around the use of fumigants to manage diseases and pests. Increasing environmental concerns make the development of non-fumigant-based approaches critical for transitioning to a more sustainable state, and the survival of the industry in the US. In this paper, we use Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation (an alternative approach to fumigants) as a case study to examine social, ecological and political barriers and opportunities for adoption of alternative approaches. Through interviews with a broad range of farmers and stakeholders and drawing from literature on agroecological transitions and knowledge politics, we discuss key factors “locking in” an agroecological transformation, as well as “bright spots” and opportunities for change. Most notably, the cost of land and labor, which limit the ability of farmers to take on further “potential risks” and economic losses associated with a lack of financial support and incentives for transitional lands. We conclude that policy to address the cost of transitioning to organic agriculture, improving land access, and reducing the communication gap between researchers, extensionists and farmers is key to increase the adoption of non-fumigant approaches, and push towards an agroecological transition.

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