Ellinor Isgren

Postdoctoral Fellow

Research areas and keywords


  • Agriculture, Rural development, Agroecology, Sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda, Agrarian change, Civil society, Rural social movements


My current research focuses on smallholder pesticide use, regulation and implications from an environmental justice perspective. The research setting is Uganda, where the agrochemicals market has become highly liberalized and poorly controlled, and where pesticide use amongst smallholders is on the increase. This is associated with many environmental and health risks, especially when many farmers lack protective equipment, systems for safe handling and disposal, and knowledge about the chemicals they use. Even with improved practices, pesticides are expensive and have inherent problems with resistance and rebound effects, and many uncertainties remain around cumulative effects. In our project, titled "Pest management and environmental justice in a changing climate – the case of Uganda"Elina Andersson and I are mapping the extent and nature of pesticide use in Uganda, analyzing drivers in the agro-political landscape, and exploring potential alternatives. The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council Formas. During 2019, I also lead the one-year project "Farmer organization, mobilization and political opportunities for sustainable agricultural development in Africa: Towards comparative analysis", funded by a Formas planning grant. In this project, Chad Boda and I are conducting preliminary research on the mechanisms through which small-scale farmers develop political strategies for fostering more equitable and sustainable agricultural policies, and seek to identify potential collaborators for future research on this topic. 

Parallel to this, I participate in the research theme "DOMESTICATION: Can we correct a 10 000 year old mistake? From annual monocultures to perennial polycultures" at the Pufendorf Institute, as well as in the Advanced Study Group CIVICSUS.

In my PhD thesis I explored the rationale and potential of agroecology as an alternative development pathway, using the case of Uganda. Through modernization of agriculture, the Ugandan government's argument goes, rural populations can be lifted out of poverty and agriculture can fuel growth throughout the economy. But agricultural modernization has also resulted in deeply unsustainable farming systems, and the socio-economic impacts are debated, especially when the proposed means of raising productivity exclude the poor, have limited (or even negative) effects on rural employment, and other sources of income are scarce. In recent years, a growing number of voices in academia, international development, and social movements have been saying that agroecology has the potential to “feed the world” sustainably and equitably. What are the prospects for realizing this vision in Uganda? Who is calling for it, how do they do it, and what stands in the way? These are the questions that drive my PhD research. My thesis elaborates on the meaning, merits and drawbacks of agroecology as a development approach, the structural barriers existing in the Ugandan context, and how those barriers might be overcome - focusing on the role of civil society actors.


I teach in various LUMES courses, particularly Economy & Sustainability and Urban & Rural Systems. Currently I am mainly engaged as coordinator and teacher in the second-year selective course Social Movements and Sustainability. I have also supervised several LUMES students in thesis writing, run 'Social Science Labs' during the first year of LUME, and coordinated the course 'Sustainability Studies: Concepts, Challenges and Approaches' that LUCSUS offers to exchange students.

Outside of LUMES I sporadically teach and supervise on topics related to food, agriculture and rural development, for example in SIMP35 (Theories and issues in development) at the Social Science Graduate School.

Recent research outputs

David Harnesk, Ellinor Isgren, Chad Boda, David O Byrne, Maryam Nastar & Mine Islar, 2019 Nov 4, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, Debatt.

Research output: Contribution to specialist publication or newspaperNewspaper article

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