While waiting for my train at Utrecht Central station – I tend to kill my time looking around in the book/magazine shop – the cover of the latest Time Magazine struck my eye, heading: “France’s Rural Revolution, traditional French farmers are dying. Can farmers make money from town dwellers’ love of the land?”. Interested about the heading – and teased by the astonishing landscape on the cover – I bought a copy for the second part of my trip to Rotterdam.
Bruce Crumley (the author) poses the question what eventually will save rural France. French farmers are hit by a shrinking agricultural sector, falling food prices (globalization) and tightening E.U. support (so called CAP reforms (Common Agricultural Policy) in 2013). These developments are not exclusive to France, farmers in many other E.U. member states are facing these problems. However, future CAP reforms are considered to be critical especially to French farmers, since the French receive nearly 20% of the total CAP funding.
By illustrating the developments on three French farms the author focuses on one of the ways to get out of this tightening trap by diversifying the farm business with new (‘non-farming’) activities. A strategy also known as multifunctional agriculture. The farmers mentioned in the article developed new activities in rural tourism and the production and selling of regional products like beer and ham. Interestingly, the article has many parallels with the conversations I had myself (in relation to our research project on (Dutch) multifunctional agriculture). Apparently, many farmers (eventually) don’t regret their step on the multifunctional pathway. On the contrary, many farmers say to enjoy the new farm dynamics, contacts with new people and some even claim to have reinvented entrepreneurship. However, we needn’t to underestimate the step of ‘just’ diversifying your farm to survive. In the article colleague rural sociologist François Purseigle argues many farmers simply refuse to find new sources of income as they see diversification as a betrayal of the agricultural profession they took on. As a parallel, I experienced many interviewed Dutch farmers – who have made the step or are still hesitating in some way – have or are still struggling with their identity of being a ‘real farmer’: “It’s not just running a business” – one farmers stressed – “it’s a way of life!”. I think the notion of multifunctional agriculture has matured but still often perceived as something for losers or nothing ‘real farmers’ should deal with. Often the environments of hesitating farmers aren’t ready for this new way of farming, yet.