In this paper the case of the environmental co-operatives VEL and VANLA is reviewed in terms of coevolving technical and institutional change and the strategic lessons to be learned for a pro-active management of such complex technical-institutional design processes. Facing the many-sided crisis in agriculture the two co-operatives developed a radically different approach. The aim is to re-ground agriculture in local agro-ecological processes following the approach of lowering external inputs (i.e., material inputs, capital and labour). The results are promising: a system-innovation is emerging out of a wide range of connected novel operational practices (i.e., novelties) including technical as well as institutional aspects. The findings of VEL and VANLA stress once again the need for a simultaneous redesign of technical and institutional change to facilitate a transition towards a more sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, we conclude that this transition cannot but be rooted in promising, innovative practices that embody the potential to challenge conventional scientific approaches to sustainable agricultural development. More space should be created for ‘smart’ experimentation exploring and evaluating the potentialities of different transition paths
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