Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 29, Number 1, January-March 2009
Page(s) 97 - 112
Published online 05 April 2008
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29 (2009) 97-112
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2008007

Conversion to organic farming: a multidimensional research object at the crossroads of agricultural and social sciences. A review

Claire Lamine1 and Stéphane Bellon2

1  INRA, UAR Éco-Innov, BP 01, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
2  INRA, UR 767 Écodéveloppement, Site Agroparc, 84914 Avignon Cedex 9, France

Accepted 7 January 2008 ; published online 5 April 2008

Abstract - Literature on the conversion from intensive to organic farming is scarce. However, both the conversion of farmers to organic farming and of consumers to organic food are the driving forces for the development of the organic sector. In this review, we combine agricultural and social scientists' viewpoints for a critical appraisal of literature on conversion to organic food and farming. First, a brief historical retrospective enables us to refer the scientific production to the institutional and economic context over the past decades. Secondly, we review the methods used to analyse conversion in agricultural and social sciences, and show that emphasis is most often laid upon the effects of conversion and the motivations to convert, on the basis of comparative approaches with so-called conventional agriculture. Therefore, the literature minimises the importance of transitional aspects and trajectories, and rarely approaches conversion as a longer process than its legal duration and from a wider point of view. Thirdly, we examine the paradigms of input efficiency and system redesign, which frame discussions about transitions in agriculture, beyond organics, and therefore helps shed light on sustainability issues. We suggest that analysing conversion and more generally transitions in agriculture as multidimensional issues, involving both production and social practices, entails interdisciplinary approaches and the redefinition of some central research topics.

Key words: organic food and farming / conversion / transition / conventionalisation thesis / interdisciplinarity / redesign

© INRA, EDP Sciences 2008