Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 523–538 | Cite as

Agroecology as a vehicle for contributive justice

  • Cristian TimmermannEmail author
  • Georges F. Félix


Agroecology has been criticized for being more labor-intensive than other more industrialized forms of agriculture. We challenge the assertion that labor input in agriculture has to be generally minimized and argue that besides quantity of work one should also consider the quality of work involved in farming. Early assessments on work quality condemned the deskilling of the rural workforce, whereas later criticisms have concentrated around issues related to fair trade and food sovereignty. We bring into the discussion the concept of contributive justice to welcome the added labor-intensity of agroecological farming. Contributive justice demands a work environment where people are stimulated to develop skills and learn to be productive. It also suggests a fairer distribution of meaningful work and tedious tasks. Building on the notion of contributive justice we explore which capabilities and types of social relationships are sustainably promoted and reinforced by agroecological farming practices. We argue that agroecological principles encourage a reconceptualization of farm work. Farmers are continuously stimulated to develop skills and acquire valuable experiential knowledge on local ecosystems and agricultural techniques. Further, generalized ecological studies recognize the significance of the farmer’s observations on natural resources management. This contributes to the development of a number of capabilities and leads to more bargaining power, facilitating self-determination. Hereby farm work is made more attractive to a younger generation, which is an essential factor for safeguarding the continuity of family farms.


Meaningful work Knowledge-intensive farming Capabilities Peer recognition Mutual influence Self-determination Empowerment 



Cristian Timmermann benefited from a post-doctoral fellowship at the Jacques Loeb Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Georges Félix is funded by the European Union ERA-ARD-II Woody Amendments for Sudano-Sahelian Agroecosystems (WASSA) research project. We would like to thank the participants of seminars held October 2013 in Wageningen and June 2014 in Beer Sheva where earlier versions of this paper were presented, as well as Pablo Tittonell, Isabella Trifan, the journal’s editor, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback and critical remarks.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigaciones FilosóficasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico, D. F.Mexico
  2. 2.Jacques Loeb Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Life SciencesBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael
  3. 3.Farming Systems Ecology GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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