Social Learning Processes in Swiss Soil Protection—The ‘From Farmer - To Farmer’ Project


Social learning approaches have become a prominent focus in studies related to sustainable agriculture. In order to better understand the potential of social learning for more sustainable development, the present study assessed the processes, effects and facilitating elements of interaction related to social learning in the context of Swiss soil protection and the innovative ‘From Farmer - To Farmer’ project. The study reveals that social learning contributes to fundamental transformations of patterns of interactions. However, the study also demonstrates that a learning-oriented understanding of sustainable development implies including analysis of the institutional environments in which the organizations of the individual representatives of face-to-face-based social learning processes are operating. This has shown to be a decisive element when face-to-face-based learning processes of the organisations’ representatives are translated into organisational learning. Moreover, the study revealed that this was achieved not directly through formalisation of new lines of institutionalised cooperation but by establishing links in a ‘boundary space’ trying out new forms of collaboration, aiming at social learning and co-production of knowledge. It is argued that further research on social learning processes should give greater emphasis to this intermediary level of ‘boundary spaces’.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    While ‘farmer to farmer’-approaches are well-known in the South, especially in Latin America (see Holt-Giménez 2006), in Europe this approach is relatively unknown. Consequently,—as will be showed later—the project leader developed the ‘from farmer–to farmer’ project mainly independently of the Latin American experiences.


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The project is affiliated to the COST Action 634 (On- and Off-site Environmental Impacts of Runoff and Erosion). The authors wish to thank the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research SER for financing the study, and the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, the Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research North-South (NCCR North-South) for their financial contributions.

We like to thank Tobias Buser and Karina Liechti for many fruitful discussions and helpful comments to earlier versions of this article.

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Correspondence to Flurina Schneider.

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Schneider, F., Fry, P., Ledermann, T. et al. Social Learning Processes in Swiss Soil Protection—The ‘From Farmer - To Farmer’ Project. Hum Ecol 37, 475–489 (2009).

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  • Knowledge co-production
  • Social learning
  • Soil conservation
  • From farmer to farmer
  • Boundary space