19th Annual STS Conference Graz 2021 “Critical Issues in Science, Technology and Society Studies” (May 3-5, 2021)

Agri-food Regime Dynamics, Technoscience and Sustainability Transition Politics in Greece

Alexandros Vakoulas, Sotiris Alexakis, Kostas Vattes, Stathis Arapostathis

The agri-food socio-technical system faces increasing challenges during the last decades due to its unsustainable features. Since the mid-90s, landscape pressures from the EU to the agri-food regime have manifested as challenges, namely food security, climate change and loss of biodiversity. Researching their effect in Greece, we study the cases of wheat and olive oil as two domestically emblematic agricultural products with cultural and political dimensions in the Greek society. The key research questions of the paper are: How incumbent actors have appropriated pressures and responded to current challenges that the regime is facing? How niche actors fashioned their alternative pathways towards their integration in the regime and its transformation? We argue that the validity, credibility and viability of science and innovations are co-produced with meanings of sustainability that gives political legitimacy and power and configure incumbency in the case of the two products. We stress that the material entanglements of sustainability contribute substantially in the transition politics and the making of transition pathways. While we study the two products as two separate cases their contribution in the agriculture production, their extensive cultivation and the common themes we address would empower us to provide insights about the Greek agriculture regimes dynamics and the configuration of transition pathways.
Wheat and olive oil are examined as valuable elements of the Mediterranean diet and the two major cultivations of the Greek agri-food regime by area. This is done by focusing on each system’s dynamics, their critical challenges and diverse paradigms of agri-food niche-innovation. Both wheat and olive are cultivated in large monocultures of increased inputs and increasing mechanization. Selection of specific varieties has marginalised others. Climate change has a significant impact upon the health of these cultivations due to unusual draughts or heavy precipitation in critical developmental stages of the plants.
Similar responses have emerged to the shared challenges of crop yield increase, consumer demand for safe and quality products, minimised environmental impact and decreased outputs. Pinpointing their critical aspects, we examine the introduction of adapted seed varieties, of precision and smart technologies, as well as alternative modes of production like organic agriculture.
This study draws from interviews of state actors and stakeholders and other primary and secondary sources (special press, technical literature, scientific journals, regulations, and EU and state reports) following a critical view of the MLP approach, by highlighting issues of governance as fundamental themes in sociotechnical transitions (Smith et al, 2005; Stirling, 2018)