Agricultural development; agroecology; pesticides; rural social movements; farmer organization; civil society; emancipatory social science
Current and past research
My current research revolves around two, partly linked, themes. The first is the growing use of pesticide in smallholder settings; its causes, implications, and alternatives from an environmental justice perspective. In our project titled "Pest management and environmental justice in a changing climate – the case of Uganda", Elina Andersson and I are mapping the extent and nature of pesticide use in Uganda, analyzing drivers in the agro-political landscape and impacts on small-scale farmers. Together with local partners in western Uganda we are also experimenting with alternative pest management methods. The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council Formas. Linked to this topic, I also participate together with colleagues at CEC in the EU H2020 funded project 'UPSCALE'. This project centers on push–pull technology - a strategy for controlling agricultural pests by using repellent ('push') and trap ('pull') crops, aiming to scale up the understanding and applicability of push–pull across East Africa.
The second theme is rural social movement building in sub-Saharan Africa. During 2019, I lead the one-year project "Farmer organization, mobilization and political opportunities for sustainable agricultural development in Africa: Towards comparative analysis", funded by a Formas planning grant. In this project, Chad Boda and I conducted preliminary research on the mechanisms through which small-scale farmers develop political strategies for fostering more equitable and sustainable agricultural policies, and seek to identify potential collaborators for future research on this topic. A larger project, based on this work, was granted funding from Formas and will be carried out through 2024. In this project, "Mobilizing farmer organisations for sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa", we conduct comparative research in three countries (Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe) in collaboration with academic and civil society partners.
During 2018-2019, I participated in the research theme "DOMESTICATION: Can we correct a 10 000 year old mistake? From annual monocultures to perennial polycultures" at the Pufendorf Institute, as well as in the Advanced Study Group CIVICSUS where we explored the contribution of academic knowledge of sustainability and environmental studies to social movements and other civil society initiatives.
In my PhD thesis I explored the rationale and potential of agroecology as an alternative development pathway, using the case of Uganda. Through modernization of agriculture, the Ugandan government's argument goes, rural populations can be lifted out of poverty and agriculture can fuel growth throughout the economy. But agricultural modernization has also resulted in deeply unsustainable farming systems, and the socio-economic impacts are debated, especially when the proposed means of raising productivity exclude the poor, have limited (or even negative) effects on rural employment, and other sources of income are scarce. In recent years, a growing number of voices in academia, international development, and social movements have been saying that agroecology has the potential to “feed the world” sustainably and equitably. What are the prospects for realizing this vision in Uganda? Who is calling for it, how do they do it, and what stands in the way? My thesis elaborates on the meaning, merits and drawbacks of agroecology as a development approach, the structural barriers existing in the Ugandan context, and how those barriers might be overcome - focusing on the role of civil society actors.
I currently coordinate and teach in the second-year selective course Social Movements and Sustainability. I also participate in first year courses, such as Economy & Sustainability and Urban & Rural Systems, and supervise students in thesis writing, both within LUMES and in other programs (such as LUMID/development studies).
Outside of LUMES I also sporadically teach on topics related to food, agriculture and rural development, for example the 'Food' theme in SIMP35 (Theories and issues in development) at the Social Science Graduate School.
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Ellinor Isgren is a researcher at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS). She has a PhD in Sustainability Science and a background in Environmental Science and Agricultural Science. Her main research interest is the intersection of agriculture, development and sustainability, especially in smallholder contexts, and processes of social and political mobilization in rural areas.