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System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability

Theory, Evidence and Policy

Edited by Boelie Elzen, Frank W. Geels and Ken Green

This book considers two main questions: how do system innovations or transitions come about and how can they be influenced by different actors, in particular by governments. The authors identify the theories which can be used to conceptualise the dynamics of system innovations and discuss the weaknesses in these theories. They also look at the lessons which can be learned from historical examples of transitions, and highlight the instruments and policy tools which can be used to stimulate future system innovations towards sustainability. The expert contributors address these questions using insights from a variety of different disciplines including innovation studies, evolutionary economics, the sociology of technology, environmental analysis and governance studies. The book concludes with an extensive summary of the results and practical suggestions for future research.
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Chapter 5: A Transition Towards Sustainability in the Swiss Agri-Food Chain (1970–2000): Using and Improving the Multi-level Perspective

Frank-Martin Belz


Frank-Martin Belz INTRODUCTION1 This chapter presents a case study of transitions, namely the shift from industrialized agriculture to sustainable agriculture in Switzerland in the period 1970–2000. This shift is not yet completed, but has progressed a long way. In the beginning of the 21st century, Switzerland is one of the leading Western countries in sustainable agriculture, balancing economic, ecological and social dimensions. Most of the arable land is cultivated according to ecological criteria, a large proportion according to integrated production and organic farming (see Figure 5.1). I will briefly describe the contrast between the three agricultural practices as a first mapping of the transition. The industrialization of agriculture began in the first half of the 20th century and spread all over Western countries after the Second World War. In industrialized agriculture much use is made of agrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides) and mechanization, which maximize yield per acre and revenues. In order to reduce cost there is a high degree of specialization (for example, plant production, animal farms) and labour is substituted with technology. Agricultural products are supplied to cooperatives or to food retail chains. There is hardly any direct contact between the producer and the consumer. Organic farming takes a holistic point of view and respects the principles of nature. The main aim of organic farming is to maintain and increase long-term fertility and biological activity of soils using locally adapted biological and mechanical methods as opposed to reliance on external inputs. Another aim is to maintain and encourage...

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