Postdoc vacancy – Developing An Integrative Approach to Regenerative Agriculture, Circular Agri-Food Systems, and Convivial Conservation

We are recruiting a postdoc for the three-year research project ‘Tackling Crises in the Countryside: An Integrative Approach to Regenerative Agriculture, Circular Agri-Food Systems, and Convivial Conservation‘. Apply before January 20, 2020.

Food, farming, and conservation face major, interrelated challenges in the countryside, yet are treated as largely independent in research and policy. This postdoc will explore regenerative agriculture and convivial conservation as two paradigms that aim to address these challenges. The key questions are (1) how can the two paradigms be integrated into a holistic approach, and (2) how can this integrative approach help sustain biodiversity, livelihoods, social equity? Next to developing an integrated approach and assessing the impacts of its application at different integrative levels, the postdoc is expected to disseminate findings and develop an acquisition portfolio.

The postdoc will be positioned at the chair groups of Rural Sociology and Sociology of Development and Change under supervision by Dr Dirk Roep (Rural Sociology) dirk.roep@wur.nl and Mindi Schneider (Sociology of Development and Change): mindi.schneider@wur.nl

This is one of the 15 vacant postdoc positions at the Social Sciences Department of Wageningen University. For more information on requirements and selection procedure see: We-are-looking-for-15-Postdocs-in-social-sciences

Master thesis opportunity – Regenerative food systems and the changing interfaces of food production and consumption in Taranaki, New Zealand

An exciting, funded thesis opportunity for students interested in regenerative food systems in New Zealand

Introduction

Regenerative agriculture has gained momentum as increasing groups of farmers become preoccupied by ‘soil health’ and attentive to the practices required to augment and sustain soil biodiversity. Regenerative agriculture builds on the principles of circular farming, enhances biodiversity as ‘nature-inclusive’ farming, mitigates climate change, adopts ‘a true costs’ approach towards the impact of (diverse modes) of food provisioning, and includes more sustainable, inclusive business models. It has been identified as a major solution for carbon sequestration and a response to destructive environmental consequences of conventional or industrial agriculture on the planet and climate.

Farm Next Door, is an entrepreneurial initiative from the Taranaki region that applies precision tools to small-scale ‘hyper-localised, backyard’ urban, community supported farming/horticulture. Farm Next Door intend to nurture and facilitate the support structure for a new urban farming community. This network of local producers will farm regeneratively, earn income from their own land, and supply local, values-based produce for local consumption.

Exploring innovative and sustainable food systems, Like Farm Next Door requires attention to both production (regenerative agriculture) and consumption (the conscious and responsible consumer). What is required is a more holistic approach to how business is conducted – one that is inclusive of social good (Vishwanathan, Seth, Gau and Chaturvedi, 2009). A focus that is inclusive of consumption allows us to understand how more sustainable patterns of consumption might be co-created through an in-depth understanding of what, how and where we choose to onsume. Engaging with the forces required to alter consumption enables a greater transformative societal shift (Fuchs and Boll, 2018).

Research project and thesis opportunity

Within this context, Massey University and Wageningen University have set up a research project that allows for 2-3 Master thesis students to conduct their research on regenerative farming. Four broad research questions provide a framework for the overall project, with smaller subsets of emergent questions guiding the focus of each individual student thesis:

  1. How can regenerative, circular, zero-waste systems be embedded within the Farm Next Door initiative and multiplied across all urban farming practitioners that will be part of this operation? What are the challenges, constraints and opportunities presented by such a holistic approach?
  2. What innovative 21 st century economic and business models provide the basis for sustainable livelihoods and thriving communities? What lessons can be drawn from initiatives across various global contexts?
  3. How are changing food production-consumption interfaces and the increasing demand for traceable, environmentally sustainable, nutritious foods promoting co-creation of common or public goods or positive externalities of innovative food systems? How are these forms of value demonstrated?
  4. How can issues of equity, ethics and responsibility be integrated within agrifood transformations and changing land use practices to secure sustainable livelihoods and promote flourishing communities in Taranaki?

Research will entail immersion in the Taranaki region at different junctures by all the researchers, to enable the development of context-based understanding in addressing the broad research questions outlined above. It will also enable the practical action research derived from the series of targeted inquiries identified by Farm Next Door listed below:

  • To identify the emerging decentralised small scale organic farm movement in Taranaki – what? when? where? how?
  • To explore how precision horticultural practices and the latest AgTech solutions can be adapted and applied to the emerging decentralised small scale organic farm movement in Taranaki
  • Understand producer and consumer dynamics – motivations to engage and co-create a new way of producing and consuming food and how behavioural change in ethical purchasing behaviour is encouraged to a wider demographic than the current “local ethical consumer”

In consultation with their identified thesis supervisor(s), students will select one of the 4 broad questions listed above for their thesis topic and develop subsets of smaller, more focused research questions to guide their field work in Taranaki. Alongside this more academically-oriented focus, they will apply appropriate methodological approaches to integrate key action research components based on the targeted areas of inquiry developed by Farm Next Door. This dual aspect to the research undertaken in this project will provide academic rigour whilst retaining direct and practical relevance to the Farm Next Door initiative and its wider purview in Taranaki.

Planning

Expected start of the thesis: between January/February 2020.

Expected fieldwork period: April – July 2020 (4 months)

Requirements and procedure

Interested students can apply for this possibility by sending and email to Dirk Roep/Jessica de Koning/Mark Vicol to express their interest in this exciting opportunity. In order to be considered, students must meet the following criteria.

  • Students are enrolled at the Wageningen University
  • Students are preferably part of one of the following programmes:
    • MID programme, specialisation Sociology of Development
    • MOA programme, specialisation Sustainable Food Systems
  • Students preferably have completed RSO-31806 Sociology of Food and Place and/or RSO-30806 The Sociology of Farming and Rural Life
  • Students must be willing to work in a team led by Massey University
  • Students must be willing to stay in New Zealand for a period of 4 months
  • Students meet the criteria of entering New Zealand set by New Zealand immigration.

Final selection of candidates will be made by Dirk Roep, Jessica de Koning and/or Mark Vicol.

In return we offer

  • Relevant work experience in a research collaboration between Massey University and Wageningen University
  • Reimbursement of costs of travel, housing and transport (incl. return flight Netherlands-New Zealand).

Contact

Dirk Roep (dirk.roep@wur.nl), Jessica de Koning (jessica.dekoning@wur.nl) Mark Vicol (mark.vicol@wur.nl).

Thesis skills – an online RSO support system for thesis students

Ever wonder how to write the perfect research question?

Problems in building raport with your respondents in the field?

Never really quite sure what operationalisation of concepts means?

Is a thesis stressing you out?

RSO has just designed an online learning environment on Brightspace called Thesis Skills. Thesis Skills is an innovative platform that is 100% online and 100% based on your needs.

The aim of this digital thesis environment is to give you tools to assist you in the thesis writing process. We have divided this process into topics such as planning, proposal writing, literature review, in the field and after the field, writing, etc. For each of these we have created a module containing information, exercises and self-tests. You do not have to take all modules, but can select the ones most appropriate for you. Mini-tests help you select these.  The digital thesis environment also contains peer support discussion fora to discuss difficulties with other students, and exchange tips and tricks.

All master thesis students (already busy with their thesis or planning to start) of RSO are invited to register for this online education platform. You can do this by sending an email to Jessica de Koning (jessica.dekoning@wur.nl)

Thesis Opportunities “Circular economy for agri-food systems”

Thesis Opportunities “Circular economy for agri-food systems”

The following thesis opportunities are co-supervised by Dr. Vivian Valencia (Farming Systems Ecology) and Dr. Oona Morrow (Rural Sociology Group)

The circular economy is a hot topic these days, with innovations coming from the grassroots, public, and private sector. But the governance of the circular economy is lagging behind, and we lack a systemic and regional view that bridges the gap between innovation and policy, rural and urban, and the social, economic, and environmental. Taking a systems view can help us to identify where policy interventions would make the most impact, by for example focusing on producers instead of consumer waste streams. We advertise three interlinked projects on the circular economy, that will feed into a multi-stage four year project.

Our approach to the circular economy that takes a food systems perspective to map all of the flows, benefits, and burdens of our current agri-food and waste system in the Amsterdam city-region, as well as the governance structures and policy levers that keep this system in place, and have the potential to change it. Importantly, our approach proposes to capture not only environmental and economic impacts, but also social impacts in the AMA city-region, including for example quality of life, social inclusion, food security, and transitions potential.

We take a geographic, sectoral, and sustainability perspective on circularity, to ensure that not only are materials reused – but that they find their highest and best use in the local food economy. For example, surplus food is redistributed to people rather than bio-digesters, organic waste is composted or converted to animal feed rather being burned for home heating or converted to jet fuel. These re-generative loops are depicted in the diagram below by Feedback Global.  

feedback global

Furthermore, we take seriously the role of urban design in reproducing or disrupting our current agri-food-waste system through the (re)design of green space, logistics, waste, and waste water infrastructure. Approaching urban design and infrastructure as vital components of agri-food systems offers opportunities for crafting shorter and more regenerative loops at every stage in the agri-food system, including the “end of pipe” recovery of nutrients.

If you wish to pursue this as a thesis opportunity you will receive supervision in the development of a research proposal on the governance of the circular economy.  The following topics are possible:

  1. Mapping Circular Economy Innovations in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area

We seek a motivated student to conduct a scoping study and stakeholder mapping of circular food innovations in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. We take a broad view of circularity, to include traditional and emerging innovations, and social, economic, and environmental impacts.

2. Governing the Circular Economy

We week a motivated student to conduct a scoping study, media analysis, and literature review on the governance of circular urban and regional governance for the circular economy practices that are being tested and developed in city-regions across the globe, while focusing in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. We seek to learn from inspiring examples, best practices, as well as failures.

3. Methods for Visioning the Circular Economy in Place

You will research visioning and futuring methods that are well suited for stimulating creative out of the box thinking on the governance of the circular economy, develop a workshop design, and test your methods. There are already many existing participatory methodologies for visioning the future and co-creating transformation pathways for the future. Which may work best when it comes to transitioning to a circular economy?

Questions: contact oona.morrow@wur.nl

 

 

Energy and labour use on farms: case studies from the Netherlands and China – PhD-thesis Tian Yu

November 20, 2019 at 4.00 pm Tian Yu will defend his PhD-thesis ‘Energy and Labour use on farms: case studies from the Netherlands and China‘. See the Abstract below.

The full thesis will be available after the defence ceremony. The ceremony will be live-streamed by Weblectures.wur.nl but can be viewed later as well. Tian Yu is affiliated as PhD-candidate at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University.

Abstract

As one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emission, agricultural production is responsible for climate change. In the most industrial countries, agricultural production has built a great dependency on fossil energy consumption by replacing most human labour with agro-technologies on the farm. This is unsustainable in the context of climate change and resource depletion. Therefore, in order to mitigate climate change, the transition to sustainable food production is necessary and urgent. Rising in the 1970s, organic agriculture is believed to be a sustainable approach for agricultural production. It has been proved to use less fossil energy due to a commitment not to use any synthetic substances, but at the same time it uses more labour. When labour and fossil energy are regarded as two basic resource inputs on a farm, it seems that organic farms use more labour to compensate for the reduced fossil energy consumption. However, it is still unknown how the input balance of fossil energy and labour on organic farms is different from that on conventional farms, and how the different input balance would influence the sustainability of agricultural production. It is valuable to explore these questions against the backdrop of climate change. As the issue of fossil energy and labour input balance on farms has not been studied thoroughly, this thesis is written based on an exploratory research. The main objective is to explore the balance of fossil energy and labour input at farm level by comparing conventional and organic farming systems, and to explore the possibility to optimise sustainability of resource use in agricultural production.

By conducting comparative case studies in both the Netherlands and China, this thesis first calculated the energy and labour input balance separately in the two countries, and it concluded organic farming uses less energy and more labour compared with conventional farming in both countries, but there is great variation among all the farms in the size and farming activity of this gap. When comparing the results from the two countries, the thesis concluded that Dutch farms use more energy while Chinese farms use more labour due to their different resource endowments. However, the situation is changing in both countries, and the changes show that the so-called industrial agriculture – which consumes much more energy – is not the only nor the best trajectory for agricultural development. Requiring more labour use on-farm, how organic farming can deal with the labour constrains is then answered: organic farmers should be encouraged to explore their diverse local solutions to increase the resilience of their farm when dealing with the constraints. In further, using the theory of farming mode and farming style, this thesis discussed farmers’ input strategies by clarifying the heterogeneity within organic farms, and highlighting the trend of conventionalisation in the development of organic agriculture, and it supports the hypothesis that organic agriculture with peasant qualities shows better potential in applying organic principles to optimise the sustainability of an organic farm. At last, the thesis discussed the theoretical concept of organic peasant agriculture and tries to distinguish it from conventional agriculture and conventionalised organic agriculture. It concludes that organic peasant agriculture is valuable in the transition to sustainable food production.

Third @voedselanders (Food Otherwise) Conference 2020 – call for participation

The third national Voedsel Anders (Food Otherwise) conference in Wageningen will take place in February 2020. The conference organization team calls all those interested to participate and make the third edition again successful. Some general information below. See Voedsel Anders conference 2020 for more detailed information.

Voedsel Anders is a movement of people in the Netherlands and Belgium working towards just and sustainable food systems. A lot has happened since the first conference and the drafting of our manifesto. Political as well as societal attention for the challenges and opportunities of the agri-food system have grown significantly and the urgency to ignite a transition is bigger than ever.

During the Voedsel Anders Conference 2020, we will identify and reflect on wins, barriers and solutions in our joined quest to an alternative food system. We will touch upon questions such as: What have we already achieved and what were the factors of success? How can we identify and deal with barriers? What possibilities and opportunities lie ahead? Can we strengthen the food movement whilst making it more inclusive and diverse?

If you have further question, want to organize a workshop or sponsor the conference, you can send an email to info@voedselanders.nl

De weg naar duurzame pachtafspraken tussen boer en gemeente: uitkomst ACT-opdracht

Image

Door Amarins Bouman, Jurrian Veldhuizen, Henry Abbink, Robin Kampert, Ester Klein Hesselink en Floor Sluijter. Studenten van Wageningen Universiteit die als onderdeel van hun Master opleiding een Academic Consultancy Training (ACT) opdracht hebben uitgevoerd.

De afgelopen twee maanden hebben wij onderzoek gedaan in het kader van het Wetenschapswinkel project ‘Boeren zonder land: hoe is dat mogelijk?’ in opdracht van Vereniging Toekomstboeren. Met 6 studenten van verschillende achtergronden (consumentenwetenschappen, bos-en natuurbeheer, international development & biologische landbouw) zijn wij aan de slag gegaan met het onderzoeken van alternatieve pachtconstructies. Binnen dit onderzoek is er gekozen voor de gemeente als landeigenaar, waarna er 3 verschillende boeren & gemeenten zijn geïnterviewd. Het onderzoek richtte zich op de sterke en zwakke punten van de pacht- en huurovereenkomsten en hoe deze de (on)zekerheid van duurzame boeren beïnvloeden. Dit is visueel weergegeven in bovenstaande figuur.

Boeren worden in de overeenkomsten met de gemeente vaak geconfronteerd met onzekerheden die verband houden met de duur van hun overeenkomsten en de duurzaamheidsaspecten. Er is vaak geen visie en/of beleid vanuit de gemeente op het gebied van het faciliteren van (duurzame) landbouw. Dit leidt tot de onzekerheidsproblematiek zoals korte contracten en beperkte mogelijkheden tot investeringen voor de lange termijn, zoals die in een goede bodem. Echter blijken de gemeenten en duurzame boeren elkaar te vinden in de waarde die de onderlinge afspraken kunnen hebben voor de lokale gemeenschap. Naast de agrarische functie kan een boerderij in de stad ook van grote maatschappelijke waarde zijn.

Op basis van onze bevindingen moedigen we boeren en gemeenten aan om meer te weten te komen over elkaars behoeften en hoe de pachtovereenkomst in ieders voordeel kan werken. Zie de Infosheet hieronder. In ons rapport kunt u hier meer over lezen.

Infosheet: ‘De weg naar een duurzame pachtovereenkomst tussen boer en gemeente’.

 

 

 

Honourable Distinction for RSO PhD candidate Lucie Sovová

On Tuesday the 29th of October, Lucie Sovová, PhD student at the Rural Sociology Group, won an honourable distinction from the Storm-van der Chijs Fund. The objective of this fund is to encourage and support Wageningen University female PhD students to pursue their study and career in science. 

The RSO chair group nominated Lucie, and soon found out that she was awarded the honourable distinction. As head of the jury Prof dr ir Arnold Bregt stated that Lucie bridges urban gardening and alternative food networks. In her work on Central and Eastern Europe, she questions framing informal food economies as remnants of the socialist era. She shows how they are not necessarily “inferior” to, but merely coexisting and interacting with their market-based counterparts. Next to her academic work she is in many ways involved and contributing to NGOs in this field.” 

The honourable distinction comes with 500 euros, which Lucie plans on spending by visiting a conference in Manchester.

Click here and here for more information. IMG-20191029-WA0000 (002)

Food Self Sufficiency in a Community: Dream or Reality? A documentary by MSc-student László Bartha

Food Self Sufficiency in a Community: Dream or Reality? a documentary by László Bartha, MSc-student Organic Agriculture of Wageningen University.

During his internship at the Wageningen student organization Otherwise, László Bartha made a documentary of his MSC thesis research for the ecovillage The Vlierhof. It has been hard work, but it has become a very nice, and respectful documentary of a decision-making process regarding the future development of the ecovillage. “The Vlierhof” approved the creation and online publication of the documentary. Below a brief introduction to the documentary. 

Intentional communities and ecovillages are present in almost every country in the world. People decide to live in these places because they want to explore and experiment with new organizational forms and alternative livelihoods. “The Vlierhof” is one of these communities with the vision “to promote awareness and peace on earth. We want to make a contribution to the social and environmental problems faced by society today, living as self-sufficiently as possible.” According to this vision, they also grow part of their food. But is the amount of food that they produce enough to sustain themselves? In this short documentary, we can learn about the community, its members and find answers to this question. The film has been created from the recorded materials of an action research project. Among the audio-visual research methods interviewing was the main data collection method. The purpose of the research was to explore social dynamics in the community and follow a decision-making process regarding the future of the community garden.

Introducing RSO’s new Assistant Professor!

Well, the last four months has been a whirlwind of moving houses, living out of suitcases, new climates, new friends, stroopwafel, bicycles and mind-blowing public transport (for an Australian, anyway). Having finally set up some photos on my desk, and unpacked all my boxes, I thought it was time to introduce myself to all you past, present and future RSO blog readers out there.

G’day, I’m Mark, RSO’s new assistant professor, and yes that is an Australian accent you hear.

Moving to the Netherlands to join WUR has been a mix of the old and the new for me. It’s been a great thrill to reconnect with friends and colleagues from around the world who have also found their way to Wageningen, including some fellow survivors from my PhD days in the Geography school at the University of Sydney.

A little bit about me then…Coming from an environmental science/development studies background, it was in Sydney that I discovered my love for the discipline of Geography (how does a geographer end up in a sociology group you may ask? More on that later). There, I pursued a PhD thesis project working with small farmers in Maharashtra, India who were being enrolled in potato contract farming schemes by agribusiness firms.

It was through this work that I developed my ongoing interest in what is known as ‘the Agrarian Question’, which connects to old debates about agrarian change and rural development going all the way back to Karl Marx himself, implicating Lenin, Karl Kautsky, and Alexander Chayanov along the way, before being renewed and applied to current agrarian and rural development problems by my contemporary intellectual heroes including Henry Bernstein, Harriet Friedmann, Michael Watts and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. My time in India also triggered a life-long love affair with the country (not to mention the humble potato…).

That interest has since taking me to Indonesia (working with smallholder coffee farmers engaged in global value chains), Myanmar (working on a large-scale rural poverty, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods project), and back to India (studying the links between land and livelihoods). My own take on rural development in South and Southeast Asia is that we need approaches that bridge the structural insights of agrarian political economy with a ‘people-first’ approach that explicitly acknowledges the agency of rural people.

My ongoing task then has been to break down unhelpful dualisms by attempting to construct a political economy of everyday livelihoods in South and Southeast Asia. If you’re interested, you can find a list of my publications here. I’d love to hear from any students interested in pursuing a thesis on any of these topics!

Back to the new about moving to WUR. Well, while I’ve always looked to Wageningen as a place I’d love to work, I never quite saw myself joining a sociology group! Of course, there is a lot of overlap between geography and sociology, and you can find us geographers infiltrating all sorts of university departments all over the world.

One challenge I’m looking forward to is learning about the different frameworks and conceptual approaches that my colleagues at WUR apply to these common themes of sustainability, justice, equity and transformation in global food systems, while also getting my head around the teaching program! This academic year, you’ll be able to find me teaching into RSO34806 (Transforming Food Systems), RSO21806 (Origin Food), and RSO20806 (Agricultural and Rural Development). I’m excited to meet all the students studying these courses!

Finally, with my lovely partner, Katharine (who is actually a sociologist, and an amazing one at that!), we have a project investigating social, organisational and technological change in the global hops industry. I have to say, this involves the most enjoyable fieldwork I’ve been a part of. If you are interested in craft beer, the sociology of agricultural, and talking with hop farmers we are currently looking for one or two thesis students to work on this topic.

As winter approaches, I am starting to miss the sun and surf of Sydney a little bit. However, the cosy houses, the numerous Wageningen pubs, day trips to Den Haag, my clumsy attempts at learning Dutch, and my wonderful new colleagues more than make up for it. Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome so far, and I’m looking forward to all that is ahead in RSO!