An Exploration of Subtle Agroecological Practices in the Context of the Agricultural Decolonisation Discourse

  • Janus Bojesen Jensen

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Subtle agroecologies is a set of practices grounded in the concept that there exists an invisible ‘half’ to agroecology. This study researches into these practices, identifying and categorising them into a typology, investigating their purported effects and exploring challenges and opportunities relating to their uptake. It is hoped that this will lay a foundation for future research into the various practices. The exploration presented below is informed by a decolonisation framework, underpinned by indigenous knowledge systems and Otto Scharmer’s Theory U as a theory of change. The decolonisation praxis advocating radical change is emergent within conventional and alternative farming systems and, it will be argued, in keeping with the use of subtle agroecologies in that it advocates for a plurality of epistemologies and recognition of the subtle dimension. Likewise Scharmer’s Theory U has informed this paper as a process to enter into conscious relationship with the ‘deeper source level’ from a current state, identify the invisible roots of dysfunctional social patterns and systems, acknowledge and renounce them, and co-create new pathways and structures that may facilitate profound societal transformation. The study begins by presenting a history of agriculture and colonisation, going on to explore why contemporary alternative agriculture movements might be open to subtle agroecologies as a supplement to their existing practices. A triangulation of research methods were used, consisting of a field trial to test selected subtle practices on spring wheat, a systematic review of existing research evidence, a virtual international farmers’ survey and case studies of Sustainable Yogic Agriculture in India and aspects of biodynamic farming in the UK.
    The results of the one-year field trial showed some significant difference compared to controls but the short duration and insufficient training in the practices highlighted the challenges of undertaking empirical research on subtle practices. The systematic review identified 201 existing empirical studies with sufficiently robust methodologies, wherein 76% provided statistically significant evidence of the impacts of subtle practices on agroecological parameters ranging from crop yield to air quality. The farm survey elicited that between one to two thirds of farmer respondents (n=52) are inclined to believe in specific subtle practices with a majority already practising at least one such practice, in particular nature communication. The main challenges to the adoption of subtle agroecologies were identified as inconsistent results, lack of knowledge, and availability of scientific evidence. These findings were complemented by the case studies which highlighted the importance of embedding subtle agroecological practices within the broader agricultural system and cultural setting.
    This research reveals a distinct level of interest in the subject matter, both from within academic research and from farmers who themselves report positive results. It broadens the decolonisation framework by presenting a gateway for serious discussion of subtle agroecological practices within the alternative agricultural movements. It also highlights indigenous farmers’ wisdom and worldviews as a decolonised praxis, presenting an alternative approach to the sole focus on material practices currently prevalent in these movements. Based on Scharmer’s model, the practice of subtle agroecologies falls within an emerging co-creative eco-system model of regenerative agricultural renewal and development and the study concludes by calling for further research to be undertaken in this area. Specifically, it suggests that field trials carried out by skilled experts in the practices would be useful, as well as more in-depth case studies of existing global practices.
    Date of AwardJan 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJulia Wright (Supervisor), Barbara Smith (Supervisor) & Jonathan Code (Supervisor)

    Cite this