ME (Maria) Contesse Ayala MSc

ME (Maria) Contesse Ayala MSc


Maria Contesse holds a BSc in Agricultural Sciences (2008, P. Universidad Católica de Chile) and a MSc in Environmental Sciences, Policy (2014, Wageningen University).   

Currently, she pursues her PhD within the `Knowledge, Technology and Innovation´ and `Rural Sociology` groups from Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS). Her research is associated with the Horteco project, which is aimed to study and support ecologically-intensive horticultural systems in Chile and Uruguay. She is particularly interested in examining the role of agency in system-innovation and sustainable transitions, as well as the relations between diverse agents and how they collectively advance sustainable food-systems transitions. She draws on different theories; including: Multi-Level Perspective theory, socio-ecological systems transformation, institutional work, and Actor-Network Theory.     
Maria is very willing to connect to students, researchers, civil organizations, and to all those interested in addressing the impacts of current dominant food-systems while promoting more sustainable ones. You may contact her by email at 

Research gate


Previous Publications



PhD project
Sustainability transitions in emerging countries

Transitioning towards sustainable food-systems require combined technological, ecological, social, and institutional innovation, as well as the involvement and collaboration of multiple and diverse actors. Nevertheless, in Chile, as in many Latin American countries, current agricultural innovation systems remain oriented towards high external input agriculture, and see innovation as science-driven technological change. While in the last decades, Chilean agricultural policies and innovation system have succeeded in adding value to commodities and exportations, these have resulted in several social, environmental and health impacts; including depletion of water sources, degradations of soils, biodiversity loss and the marginalization of small and medium farmers, among others. All of which partly relate to current global dominant food systems, characterized by high use of external inputs and global supply chains. These concerns have prompted the action of diverse actors -ranging from civil society to the private and public sector- to work on alternatives, such as organic agriculture and agro-ecology, to the countrys dominant food-system. 

By looking at the development of organic and agro-ecological food systems in Chile as an example, my research aims to understand the role of diverse change agents and their collective action in the transition towards more sustainable food-systems. By change agents I understand the human actors and non-human elements that contribute to change the course of events. They perform different functions essential to transformation processes; such as levering political and economic resources, networking, and encouraging different actors to collaborate. Non-human change agents can be animals, plants, natural phenomena, artefacts, texts, discourses, among others. In food-systems, where social, ecological and technological dimensions are deeply interwoven, these non-humans agents may be key for transitions. For example, a successful biological pest control, or certification systems. Nevertheless, it is clear that non-single change agent can bring up change by its own. Therefore, first, I aim to address the broad diversity of change agents involved in food-systems transitions. Second, I am particularly interested in understanding the relations between these diverse change agents, and how they collectively manage to advance transitions towards more sustainable food-systems.   

As such, I am to contribute an empirically grounded understanding about agency in transitions in the context of a Latin American country, and to provide knowledge that help to better support change agents in the transitioning to more sustainable food-systems.