Research and education are major components to agroecology in Europe and are often a bridge between its manifestations of ‘science’ and ‘practice’. Not only is there a vast array of topics studied and taught under the agroecology banner, but the forms taken by research and education also span a great range, from the ivory tower to the farm, and are enumerated in the next sections. At one end, there is what we have labelled as ‘research institutions’ and their topics, followed by ‘academia’. Academia is distinct from research institutions in that it offers educational degrees in agroecology, but both academia and research institutions generate agroecological science (as do farmers themselves with field experiments—but this is not analysed in this section). Within these, there are some that focus on agroecology exclusively, some that have agroecology as a subsection of their divisions, and others that host agroecology meta-programmes that bridge different divisions or even different research areas. One type of research utilised by these institutions is Participatory Action Research (PAR). With PAR, the subjects of the research are integral in shaping the research process itself, and this approach is often used for agroecological research because of its transdisciplinary approach. Finally, at the purely practical, on-the-ground end of the spectrum are farm schools. Rather than focusing on generating formal science, these institutions are geared towards training farmers in agroecological farming practices.
3.1. Research Institutions
An increasing number of research institutions use the term ‘agroecology’ in their designation of institutes, departments, chairs and research groups (Table 1
). While most of them are more historically rooted in agronomy and ecology, more recently there have been groups and departments working more on economic and social aspects, including agroecology. In this section we will mention some of these institutes and departments which deal more specifically with agroecology. It should be noted that other research institutions in Europe deal with agroecology, but without designating it clearly in its descriptions and affiliations, and thus they are not included in this section (but they are considered in the research topic section).
In Scandinavia, the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University, which has a large number of researchers, carries out research on the interactions between climate, soil, plants, animals and humans in agroecosystems for the advancement of health, sustainability and eco-friendly production of food, feed, energy and bio-based products. In Germany, two universities have agroecology research groups: the University of Göttingen and the University of Hohenheim. Whereas the group at the University of Göttingen deals mainly with biodiversity, pollination and biological pest control in agroecosystems, the group at the University of Hohenheim has a focus on the development of tropical land use systems that optimise beneficial biotic interactions, and reduce antagonistic ones, in agroecosystems. Other institutions in Germany that deal with agroecology are a Federal State Research Centre and two private research institutes (Table 1
). In Switzerland, there is the Agroecology and Environment research division of Agroscope. Their research topics vary from water and soil protection, soil fertility, plant–soil interactions, to agricultural landscapes and biodiversity.
An important and large institution dealing with agroecology research in France is INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research, Paris, France). Although they do not have special departments with the agroecology designation, they are leaders in a few joint research units. These joint research units (UMR—Unité Mixte de Recherche) are a specific inter-institutional structure for research in France consisting in most cases of researchers from different institutions. A first joint research unit, called ‘Agroecology’, consists of researchers from INRA Dijon, CNRS Dijon, AgroSup Dijon, and the University of Burgundy, Dijon. Another joint research unit is ‘Agroecologies, Innovations and Ruralities’, a cooperation of INRA, ENSAT and INP at Toulouse. Finally, the ‘Health and Agroecology of Vineyards’ joint research unit combines researchers from INRA Bordeaux, Bordeaux Sciences Agro, Institute of Vine & Wine Science, Bordeaux. Another French institution dealing with agroecology, mainly in the tropics and subtropics, is CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development). They have a special research unit ‘Agroecology and Sustainable Intensification of Annual Crops’. Also, ISARA-Lyon, an institute for higher education and research, has a department ‘Agroecology and Environment’ that deals with different research topics in agroecology, and interacts with the Social Science department in agroecology and the food systems research. A similar institute for higher education is ESA Angers, having a research unit ‘Leguminosae, Plant Ecophysiology, Agroecology’.
In the Netherlands, Wageningen University has the ‘Centre for Agroecology and Systems Analysis’. Key research topics there are global food security, respectful animal production, competing claims on natural resources, bio-based economy, nutrient and water management, viability of rural areas, and climate change and climate variability.
In Belgium there exists the GIRAF, the ‘Interdisciplinary Agroecology Research Group of the FNRS’ (Belgian National Scientific Research Foundation). It consists of scientists from different Belgian institutions and universities that study different topics in agroecology.
In the UK, the ‘Agroecology’ group of the James Hutton Institute researches the scientific basis for development of sustainable croplands. The ‘Agroecology’ department at Rothamsted Research has its focus on understanding the ecological mechanisms that deliver sustainable crop production (ecology of pests and pollinators, above- and below-ground functional biodiversity, weed ecology). Finally, the ‘Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience’ at Coventry University is driving research on the understanding and development of resilient food and water systems.
In the more southern Europe region, we find ‘Agroecologiki’ in Greece. It is an organisation that, among other activities, conducts applied research and development on agroecology and sustainable food production systems.
In Eastern Europe, fewer universities have departments, institutes or research groups designated to Agroecology. One each can be found in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Institute of ‘Agroecology and Soil’ at the University of Banja Luka researches topics around soil, plants and environmental protection, and land reclamation. In Poland, agroecology is designated at the University of Lublin and the University of Rzeszów.
It is also true that other research institutions in Europe deal with agroecology, but without designating it in its descriptions or affiliations. Among them are AgroParisTech, France; University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria; University of Kassel-Witzenhausen, Germany; SLU, Sweden; NMBU, Norway; University of Helsinki, Finland; Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL, Frick), Switzerland; University of Liege, University of Gembloux, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic; in Italy the Sant’Anna, School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, and University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG, Bra, Italy), and several universities in Spain: International University of Andalucia, University of Cordoba, Pablo de Olavide University, Sevilla, University of Barcelona. In addition, there are many organic research institutions in different countries in Europe whose research falls under the umbrella of agroecology.
Although from above it is apparent that a large number of institutions in Europe carry out research in agroecology, Ref. [4
] analysed the co-authors of joint publications in agroecology and found that in Europe, stakeholders from agroecology research tend to collaborate very little, indicated by only relatively few joint publications involving at least two institutions from different countries. An exception is stakeholders from organizations that work on questions around social movements within agroecology, which tend to collaborate more. However, even when there is collaboration, it is not guaranteed that everyone shares the same notion of agroecology, and inversely, sharing the same notion of agroecology does not ensure collaboration.
3.4. Farm Schools and Farmer-to-Farmer Training
Research and education does not just belong to higher education, there are many institutions, organizations or networks that specifically offer teaching and training on how to practice agroecology on the farm level or how to develop food systems. Some organizations emphasize the connection between the ‘movement’ and ‘practice’ components of agroecology by facilitating networking and knowledge-sharing between agroecology practitioners. The European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network [13
] is one such organization that aggregates different organizations in grassroots agroecology training and learning from across Europe, thus facilitating the transfer of agroecology knowledge. The network intends to develop its activities around: (1) focusing on horizontal learning approaches; (2) the dynamics between political and practical training and learning; and (3) the specificity of place in training and learning; and (4) building local, regional and global networks for mutual support and resourcing.
Another kind of farmer-to-farmer networking and knowledge-sharing are one-off training or networks events, such as the ‘CSAct! Farmer-to-Farmer Training Program’ [14
]. These five-day trainings are organized by Urgenci to help CSA farmers to network and learn from each other in all areas of farming, including soil fertility to farm finances.
There are also different farmer training centres in Europe that have shorter- or longer-period training in agroecology. Some examples from France, Spain and Belgium can be found in Table 4
. Among them is Agrotopia, an agroecology training and research centre in Belgium that has a six-level training course where people can simply learn about agronomy for the first level, or choose to complete all six levels of the programme in order to become a project coach for further agroecology projects.
But education and research do not need to be so formal with training centres or organizations. Farmers also conduct their own research on their farms year after year, making small adjustments and testing new solutions, and thus adding to their farming and site-specific local knowledge. When one Belgian farmer at the Agroecology Europe Forum was asked which farmers’ networks he participates in, he said above all it would just be communicating with his neighbours and colleagues. This is not something that would be evident while researching farmer-to-farmer initiatives, but is nevertheless an important component. So, for every labelled farmer-to-farmer initiative, one can also assume there are dozens more invisible connections between farmer colleagues who exchange knowledge and support.