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What do agroecological farmers think about agritech?

Front cover of report with a farmer’s silhouette and a drone flying overhead.

This report by A Bigger Conversation as part of its Agroecological Intelligence project explores agroecological farmers’ and growers’ perception of agri-technology. The report finds that farmers and growers are not anti-technology, but they are suspicious of top-down, developer-driven technology. These often fail to consider farmer’s and growers’ interests and do not address wider reforms needed for a more sustainable, fair and resilient food system. The report does find, however, that farmers and growers are enthusiastic about agri-innovations when they have been designed and developed with them, their values and their needs in mind. The report also includes a guide to help practitioners assess agricultural technologies whether they are compatible with the principles and practices of agroecology. It also offers recommendations for how agritech could be better developed, regulated, financed and promoted.


This report by A Better Conversation as part of the Agroecological Intelligence presents findings from extensive workshops with agroecological growers on the place of advanced agricultural technologies (or agritech) within agroecological systems in the UK. The report finds strong enthusiasm for technologies designed and developed with farmers and growers involved but are distrusting of top-down, developer driven technology.

The report is concerned with the rapid and increasing rate of agritech innovation, especially related to artificial intelligence, gene editing and advanced robotics. The author links these technologies, and the fusion of these technologies, as a larger trend political agenda. The report notes that whilst technology has been integral to agriculture and agroecological systems for generations, what is lacking is a clear and actionable vision for the future of farming within the UK. The report points to a 2019 UK government policy paper titled Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution as evidence for the government’s push towards a specific narrative surrounding the Fourth Industrial Revolution, known also as simply Agriculture 4.0. This narrative, the author claims, may lack a clear vision for significant change. It may also reinforce the dominant social, economic, structural and cultural system of food and farming which the author claims aims to increase production and create new global markets through ‘greening’ of agricultural technologies. 

This report seeks to understand whether farmers and growers, especially those using agroecological systems, accept the Agriculture 4.0 narrative. It notes that those aligned with agroecology, which they define as being “rooted in cyclical systems, functional biodiversity, resilience and ecological efficiency; and built on values of justice, equity, knowledge sharing and community based governance,” may be more vulnerable to the potentially damaging effects of this technology oriented narrative. 

Generally, participants from the project were suspicious of top-down, developer driven technologies but were not against the use and development of technology more broadly. Many participants already use many new technologies such as smartphone apps, virtual fencing and data analysis tools. They were also critical of the Agriculture 4.0 narrative which they argued stole attention away from more important reforms needed to create a more sustainable, fair and resilient food system.

The report does find, however, that farmers and growers are enthusiastic about agri-innovations when they have been designed and developed with them, their values and their needs in mind. For example, the report finds they are open to digital tech that helps them understand their land better, which they claim makes it easier to make informed decisions on their own. They also emphasised the need to consider who benefits from these technologies. They especially value transparent and democratic systems which allow farmers and growers to directly participate in the agr-tech design and development process. 

The report also assessed participants' views of values related to technology. It finds that there was some division within participants around the idea that technology is “value neutral” but most agreed embedded values of any technology should align with agroecological values if they were implemented in these systems. Most participants did agree that policies and investment in technology were not values-neutral and that currently, there are misaligned values in the UK that don’t support the needs of farming communities. Participants also felt that the UK government’s agritech innovation drive posed an existential threat to agroecology and the underpinning values of the movement and practice.

The report offers basic criteria to help guide agroecological practitioners in their assessment of agroecologically appropriate technologies including practical, philosophical and political considerations. The report recommends the consideration of several key questions for future innovation projects. Is the technology needed? Does it support diversity and farmer autonomy? Was it developed collaboratively? And who benefits from the technology? The report also supports the formation of a UK independent, transdisciplinary knowledge hub for agroecologically appropriate technologies which it suggests could increase understanding of and provide information about technology and devise “best practice” protocols for the co-development, implementation and monitoring of new technologies. 


Mason, A. 2024. What do agroecological farmers think about agritech? A bigger conversation.

Read more here. See also the TABLE explainer What is ecomodernism? and What is agroecology?

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