Researcher in the Spotlight – Konstantinos Karantininis

Kostas Karantininis is an agricultural economist, and professor of Business Economics, at the Department of People & Society, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. He also coordinates a number of projects related to agri-food systems and agricultural policy, and recently received a substantial grant from the European Commission! Would you like to know more? Read the interview below!

Congratulation on the new SASi-SPi and your post-doctoral projects, Kostas! Please, can you tell us what is currently on top of your work agenda?

My research has always been on the organization of agricultural activities and how they can lead to economic development. I am very lucky because on the top of my research activities recently happened to be the three key challenges of the world agri-food systems: poverty, food security and nutrition, and climate change, which correspond to SDG 1, 2, 3 and 13. I am currently coordinating two research projects – NUTRiGREEN and SASi-SPi – and I am supervising post-doctoral research on Swedish cooperatives.

SASi-SPi (Sustainable Agri-Food Systems Intelligence – Science-Policy Interface) is a 5-year (2023-2027) , € 11.5 m service project, implemented by members of AGRINATURA – of which SLU is a member – to support the DG-INTPA-F.3 (European Commission, Directorate General for International Partnerships). The overall objective of SASi-SPi is to contribute to the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of Aquatic and Agri-Food Systems in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. The SASi-SPi has four specific objectives 1. Timely, systemic advice, policy intelligence and science-based insights/analyses supporting the development of evidence-driven engagement by DG-INTPA on key global issues related to agri-food systems. 2: New narratives, reference frameworks and science-policy labs, on key thematic issues, policy options, institutional processes and trade-offs informing the transition to sustainable agri-food systems. 3: Empirically tested, transition support models grounded in participatory and science-based decision-making processes and experiences in support of the sustainable and inclusive transformation of national agrifood systems feeding into the global sustainable food systems debate. 4: Improved understanding, knowledge and capacities of public sector, private sector, and civil society stakeholders to participate, lead, defend their interests and ensure accountability of diverse interventions needed to advance the transition to sustainable agri-food systems.

The NUTRiGREEN project (2021-24) researches traditional plants in the Sahel to understand how their production and consumption can be amplified through sustainable nutri-sensitive food value chains to foster a climate-resilient local agri-food system, especially filling the food supply gap during the seasonal hunger period. To reduce volatility in agri-food production and food markets, the project analyses, identifies and tests innovative technologies in the production, post-harvest/processing and marketing of selected traditional plants in Burkina Faso and Senegal. To engage new consumers and improve food security, NUTRiGREEN develops new products, healthy recipes and information campaigns.

Post-Doctoral research project on the organization, governance and power of conflicts of farmer cooperatives in Sweden. Post-doctoral fellow, Filiz Kinikli will complete this 2-year study, funded by Melby-Gård. The study will examine the economic, managerial, and institutional factors that contribute to the success or failure of cooperative organizations in Sweden.

How about your latest publication?

The role of participatory leadership in transformative change. With Richard Gray, Forthcoming, Journal of Institutional Economics.

“As a teacher, I can only wish that my lectures touche the intellect and ethos of my students.” (source: kostas_monopoly)

To date, innovation policy has generally failed to bring about the transformative changes required to address the critical issues of food security and the mitigation of agricultural GHG emissions. If past examples are any guide, the transformation to more sustainable systems will evolve only as new knowledge is developed, deployed, adapted, and adopted over time, creating a spiral of innovation, refinement and recombination. Building on the literature that argues transformative innovation requires more-inclusive and experimental governance models, we postulate that goal-oriented, participatory, meso-organisations representing the farmers and other stakeholders who must, adapt and ultimately use these systems, are ideally suited for this governance task. Made up of farmers and other interdisciplinary practitioners, these participatory organisations are ideally suited to identify problem areas where more basic research is required, to work with technology providers to translate new scientific knowledge into applied research and technologies. As a meso-organisation whose leadership is elected by downstream technology users, these producer-led organisations are a trusted source to evaluate and assess the technologies for adoption. To illustrate and provide at least one concrete example where this type of governance structure was successful in bringing about transformational innovation, we describe the central role a meso-organization in Canada – the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation (IHARF) – played in the genesis and the transformational development of conservation tillage farming systems that have been widely adopted in many parts of the world. Given our findings, we urge policymakers with a desire to transform agricultural production systems to learn from the experience of zero tillage development and then develop a strategy to proactively and systematically engage goal-oriented producer organizations in the innovation system. More generally, goal-oriented, participatory meso-organisations could also be well suited to play roles in governing innovation processes for a broad spectrum of transformative change.

What led you to your particular field of interest?

I was raised on a small farm in Greece, studied law and economics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and later agricultural economics in Canada. Naturally, my interest has always been the welfare of the small farmer and the intellectual challenges of the social sciences that I studied at the university, particularly the institutions and the economic organization of farming activities. An invitation in 2002 to participate in a project on fisheries in Lake Victoria in Tanzania, made me fall in love with Africa, with African culture and with African agriculture ever since. I was lucky since the questions of food

security, poverty and sustainable development, came to the forefront of the global debate during the past two decades.

What are the implications of your work for society?

It is very difficult for the researcher to assess the implications of his/her own research. Especially in social sciences and particularly in economic development, it is rarely evident how affected is the well-being of the subjects of one’s research – the small farmer in my case. As a researcher, I only wish that someday, I will find out that some elements of my research and the research of my collaborators and co-authors have had an impact on some small farmers somewhere in the world. As a teacher, I strive to introduce my research and experiences into my teaching, and I can only wish that my lectures touch the intellect and ethos of my students.

Finally, let’s say you got unlimited funds; where would your research be five years from now?

As I started this note, I am a very lucky researcher and teacher, because we have received very generous funding, which will allow me, through the help and collaboration of excellent colleagues in SLU and globally, to pursue my research interests for the coming five years: To study the organization of farming activities that may contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger through the sustainable transformation of agri-food systems. I can only hope that I will have the stamina to pursue this research and to be blessed with more students who will be inspired by my narrative and take this research agenda further into their careers and lives.

Thank you for a very interesting interview, Kostas! We wish you the best of luck and success in your future paths!

(Photos: kostas_monopoly)