International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Beyond Productivity: Reimagining Futures of Agriculture and Bioeconomy

Online-Workhop 08.11.21

Politically dominant strategies in the fields of agricultural development and bioeconomy, even those which take Sustainable Development Goals seriously, stick to what might be called a ‘Productivity Paradigm’: increasing productivity is considered to be necessary to alleviate the rising biomass demand and the resulting competition on land use.
Still, there are visions of agriculture and bioeconomy which implicitly question a main pillar of the politically dominant positions on Sustainable Future: productivity increase. These visions are being proposed by politically subdominant stakeholder groups both in the Global North and the Global South. However, the fact that these alternative visions of agriculture imply reduction in productivity growth is often considered as an objection against these visions. For the critics, it seems to be inconceivable how the global demand for biomass could be justly satisfied, if the agricultural productivity will not increase.

More details are in the Background Paper.

Workshop Report

see here

Background Paper

see here

Workshop Goals

With this workshop, we aim to impugn the controversy around productivity by reflecting the normative presuppositions of the Productivity Paradigm. Additionally, we shall discuss how decolonized visions of an agriculture without productivity growth could capture both discursive and material space.
A further goal of the workshop is to bring together scholars and activists from different countries of the Global South and the Global North interested in visions of agricultural development and bioeconomy which are independent of productivity increase. Guided by short inputs from invited speakers, the workshop shall enable an exchange of ideas, research suggestions, politicization strategies as well as networking and getting to know other experts in the field.



10.00-10.15 Introduction and Welcome

Part 1: Visions of Agriculture and the Role of Productivity there

  • Introduction of the speakers
  • Small-group discussions in breakout rooms (two consecutive rounds enabling each participant to attend two rooms). Guiding questions:
    • What are the similarities and differences between the presented visions?
    • Which role should labour/land productivity play according to these visions? For whom and why?
    • Does there exist a vision of agriculture shared by those who are not in a position of political/economic power both in the Global North and the Global South? Which role does productivity play in such a vision?

Room 1:

Henryk Alff and Michael Spies

Eberswalde University

for Sustainable Development, Germany
Theodora Pius MVIWATA, Tanzania

Room 2:

Christina Mfanga

Socialist Forum
Gaël Plumecocq
French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment Toulouse, France


Room 3:

Paula Gioia
AbL Germany
Leiyo Singo University of Bayreuth, Germany


Room 4:

Richard Mbunda University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Divya Sharma University of Sussex Business School, UK

  • Plenary round: Main outcomes of the small group discussions

12.00-13.00 Break

Part 2: Towards Decolonization of Productivity?

  • Plenary presentations
    • Julien-François Gerber (Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
    • Emmanuel Sulle (University of Western Cape, South Africa)
    • Commentary: Wendy Wilson-Fall (Lafayette College, Easton, USA)
  • Discussion in 3 breakout rooms. Guiding questions:
    • What would make an agriculture without productivity growth attractive to small producers? 
    • Do indigenous communities and the Degrowth movement have an own conception of productivity or an own attitude to it? How does it look like?
    • How could decolonized conceptions of productivity capture more space in public debates and policy circles?
  • Plenary round: agreements/disagreements from the small-group discussions
  • Wrap-up