Ellinor Isgren

Phd Candidate




I grew up not far from Lund, and my interest in environmental issues led me to getting a bachelor’s degree in Environmental science from Lund University followed by a master’s in Agricultural science (agroecology) from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp. My educational background is broad and mixed rather than specialized; I never felt at home in any one discipline. “Narrowing down” on sustainability issues related particularly to agriculture instead opened up to a whole new set of questions, as studies of agroecosystems cannot ignore the people within them and the societies around them. I carried out my masters thesis research in Uganda, doing a case study of the complex process that it is to implement a ‘participatory’ agricultural development project. I stayed on as a research assistant at SLU before joining LUCSUS and LUCID as a PhD candidate in Sustainability Science in October 2013.

Current Research

I am interested in issues where sustainability, agriculture and development meet, and particularly within African contexts. In countries where a majority of the population derive much of their livelihoods from farming, like Uganda where my PhD research is situated, these three issues cannot be separated. The Ugandan government has shown a renewed interest in, and commitment to, the agricultural sector as a key area for achieving broad based development. Through the modernization of agriculture, it is argued, productivity can be increased, the rural population can be lifted out of poverty and leave farming for other sectors, and pressure can be taken off land not suited for cultivation. But in many parts of the world, the modernization process – guided by modern science, supported by policy; characterized by processes of specialization, mechanization, intensification, and growing scale of farming – has resulted in farming systems and food systems increasingly described as deeply unsustainable. But are there any alternatives? In recent years, a growing number of voices in academia, the development arena, and social movements have been saying that yes – agroecological farming has the potential to “feed the world” sustainably and equitably. The process of achieving this alternative mode of agricultural development is often envisioned as one where successful local experiences are ‘scaled up’ through bottom-up processes. But how is something scaled up which emphasizes highly context dependent solutions over simple blueprint approaches, and principles rather than practices? What are the prospects for doing so in a country that seems so set on agricultural ‘modernization’? And how does advocacy for agroecology from the academic and activist world match up with the priorities and constraints of those who are meant to be the winners – small scale farmers, not least women? These are the kinds of questions that drive my research. Only by exploring these ideas and their practical manifestations critically, systemically and contextually, as the highly political and value-laden concepts they are,  can I hope to contribute to them being treated as serious alternative pathways for agricultural development.


Since 2013 I have been involved in teaching at the Agroecology masters program  at SLU Alnarp:

  • Project management and process facilitation
  • Scientific methods and thesis writing

I am also slowly becoming more engaged in teaching and supervising within the LUMES master’s program, particularly on topics related to rural and agricultural development and sustainability.

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