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SMaCH: Social sciences feature in new projects

Five new projects have been launched under INRA’s SMaCH metaprogramme, with a focus on the use of the humanities and social sciences to study the social, historical, legal and economic processes linked to the sustainable management of crop health.

Expertise d'un foyer de mosaïque jaune de l'orge dans une parcelle d'orge cv
By Andrew Lewer - Sylvie Colleu
Updated on 02/06/2017
Published on 09/05/2016

SMaCH, one of eight metaprogrammes launched by France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in 2011, believes this approach will be invaluable in meeting the scientific and social challenges of ongoing or future changes in approaches to crop health.
Each of the five projects, which will involve a total of 48 staff from seven scientific departments and a budget of €430,000 over five years, will be putting organisations, institutions, collective action and the strategies and behaviours of actors at the heart of both their analyses of crop health management and the environment, and in contemporary transformations induced by socio-economic, legal and political challenges.
Taking them alphabetically, Ace will be evaluating area-wide agri-environmental measures to encourage reduced pesticide use, particularly herbicides, with a focus on the 450km² Plaine and Val de Sèvre study area (known as a workshop zone in French), which is one of 13 such areas across France used for studies at a territorial scale. Researchers will be defining indicators to characterise the reduction in pesticide use in this lowland arable area, analysing the main determinants for adopting practices which are more parsimonious in their pesticide use and estimating their costs in terms of production efficiency. Finally, they will estimate the effects of public measures on farmers’ practices using an econometric approach to treatment effects.
Alternatives will be conducting a territorial analysis of biocontrol strategies based on native resources, drawing lessons from case studies in the Latin America-Caribbean region. The project will identify socio-technical brakes and levers for the development of biocontrol. Based on examples of the use of native resources for biocontrol in the southern tropics, a generic framework for the design and adoption of innovations will be produced. A literature review, the expertise of crop health researchers and interviews with agricultural stakeholders will be conducted to provide a better understanding of the innovation business ecosystem, and to analyse the ecological processes and practices involved. A comparative analysis of five areas in the tropics will be conducted (Cuba, the West Indies, French Guiana and Brazil). Furthermore, a research-action programme will be conducted in the French West Indies
The Bugs project will analyse how the dynamics of the beneficial insect market contribute to changing practices in biological control. Bringing together an historian, sociologists and economists, it will examine two protected crops (tomato and strawberry) and an arable crop (maize).  Three research areas are being prioritised: the role of INRA’s research in the development of beneficial insects in partnership with production and marketing companies; production, distribution and marketing arrangements for beneficial insects; and the impact of this market structure on farmers’ practices and skills. This research will be conducted in collaboration with scientists specialising in biocontrol.
GestEmerge will be taking a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to the collective management of emerging diseases in perennial crops. It will contribute to a comparative approach to three currently emerging diseases (Xylella fastidiosa in fruit trees, sharka (plum pox) in stone fruit and flavescence dorée in grapevine) and provide food for thought for scientists and managers faced with emerging diseases in perennial crops. It has identified the challenge of defining an integrated approach to emergence management in a context of sustainable management of crop health, at the crossroads of a sociological approach to the organisation of disease control, and biological and ecological approaches to the spread of disease.
The ProteGes project will be examining plant protection management as part of overall farm management among arable producers in the Marne department in north-east France. It is aiming to produce and analyse data to identify and describe the determinants and performance of production practices and management, with a special focus on plant protection. It will adopt three complementary points of view: micro-economy, sociology and management science, while relying on solid expertise in agronomy (and field studies). It will produce and exploit, mainly from a statistical point of view, rich data: large samples of farm accounts coupled with qualitative and quantitative survey data produced by the project.

Translation by Andrew Lewer, ENDURE network