GIRAF or Groupe Interdisciplinaire belge de Recherche en Agroécologie du FNRS (Belgian Interdisciplinary Agroecology Research Group of the FNRS) is an FNRS contact group composed of scientists with various backgrounds. This group has set itself the task of fueling and sharing thinking about agroecology on the basis of interactions among different scientific disciplines and actors.
This group’s members draft joint position papers and set up scientific meeting places (Belgian Agroecology Meetings) to discuss agroecology. Some activities (certificate, summer school, various networks, and conferences) arise within GIRAF but are conducted by individual members or institutions. Not only is science the cement and defining element of this interdisciplinary contact group. GIRAF is also mobilized by the challenge of cutting across disciplinary lines. GIRAF’s members are thus federated by their vision of a strong and committed version of agroecology. They want to contribute to thinking about and for agroecology in society as a whole.
Scientific interest in agroecology in Belgium crystallized around some original interdisciplinary issues that brought the concept of the “lock-in” to the fore as a factor explaining the blockages and non-sustainability of food systems and the need for food systems rooted in agroecology. The need for scientific foundations built around a new paradigm, agroecology, thus became clear. They were necessary in order to have the means to engage in radically new thinking about such change and in particular to override these lock-in effects so as to break free from the systemic rationales of productivist path dependency and highlight the emergence of agroecology-based food systems. This Belgian perspective belongs to a much broader scientific agroecological movement enshrined in particular in the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report.
An interdisciplinary group of eight Belgian researchers representing five teaching and research institutions formed around the issues that are raised by agroecology. This group received institutional recognition as a formal contact group of the Belgian Scientific Research Foundation (F.R.S.-FNRS) on 26 June 2009: The Groupe Interdisciplinaire de Recherche en Agroécologie du FNRS or “GIRAF” was born. GIRAF then drew up a framework for its joint undertakings in the field of agroecology, Histoire et Potentiel de l’Agroécologie pour la transition vers des systèmes durables (2012), that was published in 2012 and cosigned by its eight founders. This position paper on the history and potential of agroecology for transitioning to sustainable systems presents its authors’ common understanding of the inception and development of agroecology. It summarizes the principles of agroecology and suggests avenues for research. GIRAF also attracted a new generation of researchers at this time. Agroecology began appearing on civil society’s agenda and entering international assemblies as a credible alternative paradigm. By the end of 2013 GIRAF had a score of members representing seven institutions, namely, UCL, ULg, ULB, CRA-W, UGent, UNamur, and ILVO.
While GIRAF is a network of researchers who hold an open research day (the “Belgian Agroecology Meetings” or BAMs) each year, some of its members also took the initiative of creating the first Belgian interdisciplinary interuniversity training curriculum in agroecology. The first edition took the form of a highly successful certificate in agroecology and transitioning to sustainable food systems, Agroécologie & Transition vers des Systèmes Alimentaires Durables, that was launched in October 2013. GIRAF also instigated the International Summer School in Agroecology or ISSAE, the first edition of which was held in Louvain-la-Neuve. This one-week summer program is now in its fifth year and takes place in Toulouse, France.
What is the GIRAF group?
It is the Interdisciplinary Agroecology Research Group of the FNRS (Belgian National Scientific Research Foundation). It has existed since 2009 and consists of Belgian scientists with various backgrounds from a range of institutions.
Is GIRAF a label?
No, GIRAF is not a label or trademark. We do not issue an “agroecology label.” For our definition of agroecology, see here.
Who are GIRAF’s targets?
GIRAF is primarily for the scientific circles concerned by agroecology (professors, researchers, and students), but it also aims to engage in dialog with the players of the food system and with civil society as a whole and reach out to the public at large.
What do we do?
We are a network of scientists whose mission is to think about and share ideas about and for agroecology. Some of these thoughts are published. Some of GIRAF’s members have set up a Certificate in Agroecology & Transition, as well as the International Summer School of Agroecology (ISSAE) that is held in Toulouse, France. Finally, we organize an annual Belgian Agroecology Meeting (BAM).
What research do we conduct?
Each member does her/his own research in the institution to which s/he belongs. A number of collaborative research projects are carried out by members of GIRAF, but they are not GIRAF undertakings. So, to date, GIRAF does not have any research projects of its own.
Do we have proposals for final dissertation/thesis subjects?
Yes. We are putting together a list of thesis topics and student internships to include in the various members’ research programs. You may consult them here.