Agroecology is increasingly recognized within mainstream development. Yet, this is controversial, due to disagreement over what it does and should mean. This article takes a ‘knowledge politics’ approach to show how different understandings of agroecology create contexts where contrasting agricultural development narratives thrive, albeit often unintentionally. It draws on literature and media review and 37 elite interviews with agricultural researchers and decision makers around the world.
Four agricultural development narratives or ‘regimes’ are identified, each presented by different actor groups as part of their vision of what agricultural development should look like. Simultaneously, five different understandings of agroecology are described. A political understanding of agroecology is promoted to support the regime of agroecological agriculture. Simultaneously, an understanding of agroecology as a descriptive science is conducive to the African Green Revolution narrative. Actor groups tend to emphasize the differences between these understandings and regimes. They pay less attention to unpacking the divergent ways agroecological science has been framed since the early 20th century. This has the effect of concealing the way different understandings of agroecology support different development paradigms, and thus the political nature of the construction of science.