University of Namur / Geography and socio-environmental studies
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As a geographer studying land use change and its impacts on the environment, biodiversity and society, I am deeply concerned with the drastic decrease in farms and peasant numbers in Belgium and elsewhere in the world. I strongly believe that a first and necessary step towards sustainability is to change the way we produce food, and that agroecology is the way forward. After all, feeding ourselves is our most basic need!
While I try to grow food myself, to eat better food, and to stop flying, most of my actions relate to the way I teach and do research. The very first message my bachelor students hear from me is that we have crossed several planetary boundaries including climate change and biodiversity loss, and this is largely due to industrial farming. Since last year, I coordinate a Master programme in Smart Rurality, very much focused on the concept of transition, and what we need to do to achieve sustainable and socially just rural landscapes. I believe too many people focus on cities, while the heart of life beats in rural areas. In line with this and from a research perspective, I try to engage in participatory action research, in order to co-construct actions for change with those people who are most concerned by it. With my team, we work on a territorial basis, to try and facilitate the transition to agroecology, as a first step to broader transitions towards sustainable rural territories.
There are considerable barriers to change in universities and the broader academic world. Academics are evaluated based on personal achievement rather than inter- or transdisciplinary work, research funders still largely fund research that is harmful to society and the environment. Finally, there is a great lack of funding means for participatory action research. Such research is nevertheless essential to reconcile scientific and other forms of knowledge, and co-create social innovations that benefit the broad society and the environment.
At the societal and political level, there needs to be a shift in focus from trying to foster economic growth to reducing inequalities. Inequalities keep on growing and can be observed in all dimensions of society, including the way we use land. We produce more than enough food to feed the world, yet millions of people do not have enough to eat. It is obvious that our cake is big enough, but we need to share it better.