Transdisciplinary research for a sustainable agriculture and food sector

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Research in agriculture has strongly focused on discipline-oriented, natural science-based approaches to increasing production with success measured by short-term, neoclassical economic evaluation. This strategy has contributed to impressive increases in food production over the last half century. Growing concerns include environmental impacts, changes in rural communities, and distribution of benefits of current agricultural systems. One major theme of this paper is a holistic, ecological, and transdisciplinary strategy for research in the agriculture and food sector, including attention to production and economics along with environmental and social factors. Agroecology provides an integrative alternative to the conventional division of research into specialized disciplines. The other primary theme is potential for a broader geographical approach to research, using the Nordic Region model as a case study for designing an educational platform to integrate research with teaching. We believe that students must develop a capacity to deal with future complexity and uncertainty, and thus be prepared to search out and answer difficult questions that have not yet been asked. In a university culture of curiosity and commitment, we need learning landscapes that prepare students to deal with change, embrace multiple dimensions of the food challenge, and establish participatory interactions with clients, communities, and organizations. In connecting scientists and consumers with the origins of their food and building awareness of the importance of the natural environment, we encourage wider support by society for research toward long-term sustainable agriculture and food supplies. We provide a working model of how to plan regional, transdisciplinary research to sustain agriculture and food systems.

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