About Dirk Roep

I'm Assistant professor at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University. Besides teaching and supervising thesis students, I'm involved in research on multifunctional agriculture, food provisioning and place-based development. My specific angle is transformative capacity, joint learning and innovation and institutional reform

Financing Future Farming – MSc-thesis by Susan Drion

Susan Drion, MSc-student Organic Agriculture, Wageningen University.

Below the Executive Summary of the MSc-thesis “Financing Future Farming: an exploration of alternative financing constructions to enhance sustainability at farm level“.

The full thesis can be downloaded from the WUR-Library by clicking on the hyperlink.

De thesis bevat ook een Nederlandse samenvatting. Zie ook haar eigen website: waardenscheppers.com

The pressing ecological and economic state of Dutch agriculture begs eagerly for the acceleration of the sustainability transition in this sector. Access to sufficient capital is a major bottleneck in this transition. Established ways of financing agriculture, i.e. via a  bank loan, becomes increasingly harder. This warrants an exploration of alternative financing constructions. This research aims to study to what extent alternative financing constructions enable farmers to achieve sustainability on farm level. It aims to find out how and why these constructions work well, how they are realised and what features of possible best practice can be extracted from them. This research is limited to the context of Dutch agriculture and to financing constructions that yield monetary returns. Alternative financing constructions are defined by the underlying investment logic to create social and natural returns and by the novelty in the mechanisms used.

In this research alternative financing constructions are considered new institutional arrangements, embedded in the framework of neo-institutionalism, practice theory, new practice creation and scaling dynamics. To study the alternative financing constructions, a qualitative case based best practice approach is employed. Eight cases of alternative financing are selected, ranging from citizen participation constructions, alternative loans, business participation constructions and collaborations with institutional investors. Over the course of two months, farmers and investors directly related to the selected case sites were interviewed. The technique of crowd-sourcing was used to find cases, reach the target group and get to know the field of social financing better. Twelve blogs were written about the research process and about the interviewed farmers. Also a collaboration with communication partners was set up to make this technique more effective.

By using the grounded theory approach the data was analysed and the following findings revealed itself:

  1. The key feature that is the foundation of the mechanisms of nearly all alternative financing constructions is the separation of capital and business. Also farmers offered diverse returns on investment;
  2. The added value of the alternative financing constructions to farmers were mostly the friendly collaboration with investors, which gave them a licence to produce, and the solutions they offer to take over of farms by the next generation;
  3. The alternative financing constructions were products of a long build up, earlier failing and the right momentum. Farmers experienced little resistance in the process;
  4. Each alternative financing construction requires certain personality traits of the farmer, the latter is therefore decisive in the choice of financing. Also, the current low interest rates for saving on the bank made it easier for the alternative financing constructions to succeed.

Five features of possible best practice were extracted from the findings.

  1. Make use of certificates, acting as perpetual bonds;
  2. Make use of long term lease contracts to access land and buildings;
  3. Stack capital flows;
  4. Work with shareholders;
  5. Loans remain an option.

Finally, one can say that alternative financing construction do enable farmers to achieve sustainability on their farms. However, the scope is limited because novel alternative financing constructions are yet only used by their designers. Further research is required to find out for whom and under which conditions features of possible best practice are scalable, while at the same time harnessing the personal approach to investors.

Keywords: social financing, Dutch agriculture, alternative financing constructions, elements of best practice, sustainability, separating capital and business, new practice creation, scaling

First generation Farmers: values, practices and relations – MSc-thesis by Laura Genello

Laura Genello, MSc-student Organic Agriculture, Wageningen University.

The average age of farmers is steadily rising across the United States and Europe, while the  proportion of young and beginning farmers declines. Challenging  economic conditions, coupled with agricultural consolidation and rising costs, have led to a decrease in farm successions. Simultaneously, the popular media has reported on increasing interest in agricultural careers among those from non-farming backgrounds.

This emerging population of first generation farmers has largely been ignored by the  academic literature, with only a handful of studies that suggest the ways in which these farmers differ from others. This study aims to characterize the values, practices and  supply chain relations of first generation, beginning farmers (FBFs). By incorporating concepts from research on farming styles, agricultural paradigm shifts and identity, I investigate to what extent FBFs represent change in agricultural attitudes and practice. To do so, I position their farming styles between the archetypes of the productionist and agroecological paradigms. These paradigms hold specialized, commoditized and production-centric traditions in agriculture on one side of a spectrum, and ecologically oriented, community embedded alternatives on the other. I took a comparative, exploratory approach, recruiting farmers who were both first generation (did not take over a family farm), and beginning (approximately less than 10 years experience) from two countries, the Netherlands and the U.S. state of Maryland. Data collection occurred in two phases: an online survey distributed using snowball sampling, followed by semi-structured interviews with 33 participants (15 in the Netherlands; 18 in the U.S.), selected strategically to represent a diversity of survey respondents. The survey yielded 95 responses that met the inclusion criteria: 38 from the Netherlands and 57 from the United States. Most FBFs were practicing small-scale, diversified agriculture, marketing direct to consumer, and using some level of unmapped organic methods. Interviews revealed FBFs to be motivated by a search for meaningful work, and generally have a strong environmental and community ethic. These principles were balanced with a high valuation of the business of farming. FBFs faced a variety of challenges, predominantly financial constraints, access to land and labor, lack of knowledge and regulatory barriers. Their farm practices and structure were the result of a negotiation between their values and business ethic as filtered through practical constraints. The solutions they employed included small scale, low-investment configurations, direct marketing, judicious application of web-based and small farm technology, strong online and in-person networks, and collaborations to access land, share knowledge and market products. While their practices, relations and values are heterogeneous, overall FBFs represent a shift towards the agroecological paradigm.

Key Words: beginning farmers, first generation farmers, new entrants, agroecology,
farming styles, farmer identity, alternative food networks.

The full thesis From Food Forest to Microfarm can be downloaded from the WUR-Library

From hunger to obesity – MSc-thesis by Sonia Zaharia

By Sonia Zaharia, MSc-student Organic Agriculture.

Many low-income countries deliberately pursue agricultural specialization to increase yields and thereby lift their population out of hunger and poverty. Trade is supposed to offset the implied lower diversity of food production and deliver a food supply that supports the health of their population. This study challenges this assumption. I investigate the link between the prevalence of overweight and agricultural specialization. Using a fixed-effects panel regression on data from 65 low- and middle-income countries over the period 1975-2013, I find that countries in which agricultural production is more specialized have a larger share of overweight women. The positive relationship is higher in countries with lower per capita income. The correlation is not statistically different from zero for the male population, which confirms existing empirical evidence that malnourishment tends to be more frequent for women than for men. My results suggest that there are negative health implications of agricultural specialization in poor countries.

My full thesis From hunger to Obesity: agricultural specialization and obesity in low- and middle income countries can be downloaded from the WUR-Library.

The @MSCActions project @SUSPLACE_ITN published two video’s

The @MSCActions project on sustainable place-shaping (@SUSPLACE_ITN), funded by the EU-commission and coordinated by the Rural Sociology Group (@RuralSociologyW), has published two video’s.

The first video explains sustainable place-shaping in theory and practice, the second introduces the training and networking. The video’s are produced by the Early Stage Researchers themselves as part of their training. Watch below or go to the You tube SUSPLACE playlist of the Rural Sociology Group.

 

 

Welcome Kees Jansen – Scholar in Critical Agrarian Studies

My name is Kees Jansen. A few weeks ago, I have started in my new job at the Rural Sociology Group. I am very honoured that I can contribute to the international development profile of the group and teach in the domain of critical agrarian studies. Rural Sociology is an exciting group with a long history of remarkable work on redesigning the agro-food system and developing a social justice perspective in agrarian and food policies.

My teaching activities will mainly focus on the courses Sociology of Farming and Rural Life, Globalization and Sustainability of Food Production and Consumption, and Advanced Social Theory.

Latin America is the region where I have done most of my own field work, but shorter stays in a number of Asian and African countries have been important for grasping the significance of comparative research. By working on an organic farm in France, by living with small potato producers high in Andes and with maize-bean producers in Honduras, through interviewing export crop producers in Costa Rica and Mexico, and by visiting farmer co-operatives in the Philippines, I have experienced the multiple pressures on different types of farmers in this globalizing world. In the Rural Sociology Group I will continue my research activities on agrarian political ecology (the greening of the agrarian question; nature-society issues), pesticide risk governance, and theoretical issues in agrarian studies.

The latest examples of my work have just been published in Global Environmental Politics: Business Conflict and Risk Regulations: Understanding the Influence of the Pesticide Industry  (sorry, not yet open access) and in the Journal of Agrarian Change with Jaye de la Cruz: Panama disease and contract farming in the Philippines: Towards a political ecology of risk – open access).

The interesting aspect of doing sociology in Wageningen is the unique opportunity to collaborate with natural scientists on analysing social-technical configurations. Besides my own more specific research topics, I am always interested in exploring new, creative and challenging ideas of prospective thesis students and PhD candidates within the broader domain where international development studies and agrarian studies intersect. Examples are labour conditions of a flexible (often migrant) labour force, the social conditions for agroecology, social responses to risks of agricultural technologies, counter-expertise and social movements, people’s adaptation to climate change, agribusiness strategies, the future of corporate social responsibility, hunger and food security, sociology and politics of knowledge (including interdisciplinarity), autonomy/dependence in agrarian change, and comparative analysis of food sovereignty actions in the Global South. You can read more about me and my work on my website: www.keesjansen.eu.

Do not hesitate to contact me at kees.jansen@wur.nl to talk about your ideas.

Drijfveren, waarden en praktijken van eerste generatie boeren – MSc thesis onderzoek Laura Genello

Laura Genello, student MSc Organic Agriculture van Wageningen University, doet een vergelijkend onderzoek naar eerste generatie boeren in Nederland en de staat Maryland in USA. Eerste generatieboeren zijn zij die geen familiebedrijf hebben overgenomen, maar toch op de een of andere manier zijn begonnen met boeren. Zie haar website Beginning farmers research voor meer informatie (in Engels). Daarop staat ook de online vragenlijst met een Nederlandse en Engelse versie.

Laura wil onderzoeken of deze instromers bepaalde ideeën en waarden over hoe goed te boeren met elkaar delen en in hoeverre ze die in praktijk weten te brengen. Laura heeft een online vragenlijst gemaakt die ingevuld kan worden door personen die in het profiel passen. Hier vindt u de Nederlandse versie van de online vragenlijst. Mocht u zelf een eerste generatie boer zijn dan kunt u de vragenlijst zelf invullen. Mocht u iemand kennen die hier aan voldoet, dan mag u de link doorsturen.

U kunt ook uiteraard ook contact opnemen met Laura Genello: laura.genello@wur.nl

Vacancy Assistant Professor in Food Sociology – Join us!

The Rural Sociology Group is looking for an Assistant Professor in Food Sociology. More information regarding this tenure track position is published at the WUR Vacancies website: Assistant Professor in Food Sociology. The vacancy is open for application. We most warmly welcome your application.

International conference New Extractivism, Peasantries and Social Dynamics: call for papers

The BRICS Initiative in Critical Agrarian Studies will have its fourth conference entitled ‘New Extractivism, Peasantries and Social Dynamics: Critical Perspectives and Debates’, this time in Moscow, 13-16 October 2017.

Deadline for submission of abstracts is June 15. Selected Abstracts will be invited to submit full papers. All papers will be published online as BICAS working paper and will be uploaded on to the conference website and might be selected for a Special Issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies.