From production-oriented farming towards multifunctional entrepreneurship – PhD-thesis Pieter Seuneke

Multifunctional agriculture

 

On the 9th of May, I (Pieter Seuneke) will defend my PhD-thesis entitled:

From production-oriented farming towards multifunctional entrepreneurship: exploring the underlying learning process

Context

My thesis focusses on the many European and Dutch farming families which, urged by the environmental, social and economic crisis in agriculture, have diversified their conventional production-oriented farming activities by developing new non-farming businesses on their existing farms. Currently, there are many farmers who are involved in agro-tourism, nature and landscape management, processing and selling of farm products and, more recently in The Netherlands, professional (child)care and on-farm education. The development of such new business activities by these farmers represents a shift away from conventional production-oriented farming towards a more ‘multifunctional’ farming model in which the role of agriculture goes beyond mass food production.

Focus

Based on four different studies, all drawing on the empirical work done in the context of the Dutch research project ‘Dynamics and Robustness of Multifunctional Agriculture’ (carried out by the Rural Sociology Group from 2009 to 2011), I unravel the learning process which is considered as underlying the switch towards multifunctionality and multifunctional entrepreneurship. In other words: the process by which farmers (men, women and their families) re-invent themselves as ‘multifunctional entrepreneurs’, gain the necessary knowledge, skills and networks ‘to do multifunctionality’ as well as finding their way on the multifunctional pathway. Apart from its contribution to theory – by bringing this complex learning process to light – my work ultimately supports practitioners (teachers, trainers, advisers) in fostering this, for today’s and tomorrow’s agriculture and rural areas, valuable form of agricultural entrepreneurship.

Supervision

During my PhD, I have been supervised by Prof. Han Wiskerke (professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University) and Dr Thomas Lans (ass. prof. Education and Competence Studies, Wageningen University).

The defence

My defence will take place on Friday the 9th of May, at 13.30, in the Aula of Wageningen University. The event is open to those who are interested and can also be followed/seen back on WURtv.

Contact

For more information: pieter.seuneke@wur.nl

Learning about the role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development – student’s reflection (4)

Together with four students of Wageningen University, I spend two weeks in Kaunas, Lithuania to represent Wageningen University, and the Rural Sociology Group, at this years’ ‘Intensive Programme’ on rural development. This post is the last one in a series of posts in which the participating students reflect on the programme and share their experiences.

By Camilo Carrillo Wilisch (Erasmus student Master Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University):

From the 15th to the 28th of April I participated in the IP “Role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development” in Kaunas, Lithuania. The preparation for this IP started some weeks on forehand. Together with the other students, we discussed about the expectations and motivation for participating in the course. In my case, I visited Lithuania few years ago and I liked the country and it’s people a lot, the IP represented a wonderful opportunity to visit and learn more about Lithuania. In addition I’m a Erasmus-Student from Berlin and I study environmental technology. In Wageningen I followed courses of the BSc Minor Sustainable agriculture and consumption. My appetite for new experiences and knowledge and my interests on the links between rural and urban areas, multifunctional agriculture and sustainable food production and consumption were the main reasons why I wanted to participate in the IP. I did expect to get an overview about the agribusiness sector, it’s relation with rural development, and the natural resource management in Lithuania. With my expectations and my small luggage I traveled to Lithuania in company of the other students.

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Learning about the role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development

Together with four students of Wageningen University, I spend two weeks in Kaunas, Lithuania to represent Wageningen University, and the Rural Sociology Group, at this years’ ‘Intensive Programme’ on rural development. In this post I would like to reflect on this interesting experience and share some of the activities, impressions and outcomes.

  

Intensive programme?

An ‘Intensive Programme’ (or IP) is a short study programme bringing together different EU member states’ students and teachers from higher education institutes to study a relevant topic, in this case: rural development. EU’s main motivation to finance these programmes is to encourage multinational learning and teaching in the EU. The Rural Sociology Group has been participating in IP’s on rural development for some years now. Last years’ IP, hosted by colleagues of Padova University, focused on ‘the role of agriculture in territorial identity’ and took place in the Belluno province in the Italian Dolomites. We have also participated in IP’s with other themes. More recent, colleague Petra Derksen participated in an IP on traditional foods and micro-organisms in Romania. In a series of posts on this weblog she, and participating students, reflect on their experiences in this programme.        

The role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development

This years’ IP, on rural development, focused on ‘the role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development’. The programme was hosted by colleagues from the Aleksandras Stulginskis University in Kaunas, Lithuania. Twenty tutors and more than forty students came together for two weeks to discuss and learn about (Lithuanian) rural development. Participants represented universities from: Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Spain and the Netherlands.

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Uitnodiging Studiedag Multifunctionele Landbouw

Op woensdag 15 juni a.s. organiseert de vakgroep Rurale Sociologie (samen met collega’s van Educatie- en Competentiestudies) een studiedag rond het thema multifunctionele landbouw. Deze bijeenkomst vormt de afsluiting van van het tweejarige onderzoeksproject ‘Dynamiek en Robuustheid van Multifunctionele Landbouw’.

De studiedag vindt plaats op Landgoed Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt en is bedoeld voor iedereen geïnteresseerd in en betrokken bij de huidige en toekomstige ontwikkelingen van multifunctionele landbouw in Nederland (ondernemers, onderzoekers, beleidsmakers, adviseurs etc.). Aan deelname zijn géén kosten verbonden.

Download hier de volledige uitnodiging. Voor meer informatie en aanmelding kijk ook op de website van het onderzoek ‘Dynamiek en Robuustheid van Multifunctionele Landbouw’.

Tot ziens op 15 juni a.s.! 

 

Aankondiging Onderwijsdag Multifunctionele Landbouw

Op donderdag 19 mei a.s. organiseren de Groene Kennis Coöperatie, de Taskforce Multifunctionele Landbouw en KPC Groep de ‘Onderwijsdag Multifunctionele Landbouw’. De dag richt zich op docenten in het (groen)onderwijs die meer willen weten van multifunctionele landbouw, het ondernemen op deze bedrijven en de manier waarop het onderwijs hierop kan inspringen.

Workshop

Naast een bijdrage in de vorm van een inleidende presentatie organiseren wij, n.a.v. van onze recente onderzoekswerkzaamheden, een interessante workshop op deze dag. In de workshop staat de verankering van multifunctionele landbouw in het onderwijs centraal: hoe kunnen we aandacht besteden aan deze vorm van ondernemen en om welke (nieuwe) vormen van leren vraagt het?

Onderwijsdag Multifunctionele Landbouw

Doelgroep: docenten, stagebegeleiders

Datum: 19 mei a.s. van 09.30 – 16.15 uur

Locatie: Fruittuin Verbeek, Oldebroek

Deelname is gratis. Meer informatie over de dag, het programma en aanmelding is te vinden op de volgende website.

Altijd al eens willen modderworstelen, of toch liever een boeren barbecue?

De Taskforce Multifunctionele Landbouw heeft een studieprijs uitgeschreven voor leerlingen en studenten van het MBO, HBO en Universiteit:

Gaat jouw studieonderwerp over Multifunctionele landbouw? Doe mee met de Studieprijs Multifunctionele Landbouw en win, met vrienden en vriendinnen, een geheel verzorgde VIP-dag bij De Boerinn. Je mag zelf een dag samenstellen, met bijvoorbeeld polderchallenge, klompengolf of kaasmaken en barbecue.

Je moet het studieproject hebben afgerond tussen 1 januari 2010 en 15 april 2011, of ervoor kiezen volgend jaar mee te doen. Kies dan een opdracht-, project-, stage- of scriptie-onderwerp uit de multifunctionele landbouw. Wil je meer weten over de spelregels of je aanmelden? Kijk op http://www.multifunctionelelandbouw.nl/studieprijs

Wat is multifunctionele landbouw? Dit omvat agarische bedrijven die naast hun veehouderij-, akkerbouw- of tuinbouwbedrijf andere activiteiten uitoefenen, gekoppeld aan het primaire landbouwbedrijf. Deze activiteiten zijn zorglandbouw, recreatie, agrarische kinderopvang, boerderijeducatie, agrarisch natuur- en landschapsbeheer en/of de productie en verkoop van streekproducten. Een onderwerp zou dus kunnen zijn: het maken van een ontwerp voor een minicamping of de gevolgen van de bezuinigingen in het zorgstelsel voor zorgboerderijen. Maar (juist) ook andere ideeën zijn welkom!

Time Magazine about multifunctional agriculture, some thoughts about the farmers’ identity

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.  

The article can be found on the Time website. The page also offers a great picture gallery about the topic.

Can farmers inform policy about multifunctional agriculture?

By Leonardo van den Berg (MSc. student International Development Studies, Wageningen University) & Klarien Klingen (graduate International Land and Water Management, Wageningen University).

On the 8th of October we participated in the mini-conference about multifunctional agriculture organized by the Rural Sociology Group. We would like to share some thoughts about the conference and relate them to our thesis research experiences in Brazil.

Gianluca Brunori spoke of the benefits of multifunctionality in Tuscany. Here, farms are not merely production spaces rather:

  • Educational sites where children learn about biodiversity and breeds of animals.
  • Sites where farmers are community leaders and negotiate with public institutions.
  • Sites where food quality is negotiated with consumers and subsequently created. This not only entails consumers’ feedback on wine but also farmers educating consumers on what other parts of a cow are edible.

These thoughts turn past and present public concerns of educating farmers upside down and coincide with our thesis experiences in Brazil, where we studied a movement of innovative peasants. Here, farmers refused to be assigned a role as a poor class and instead re-established their role as experts over production, consumption and the environment. Their knowledge, farming systems, and achievements surprised social and natural scientists.

Roberta Sonnino and Katrina Rønningen focused on state policies. Sonnino criticised the little support UK policy grants to multifunctional agriculture. She argues that the UK equates best value with low costs. The few developments in multifunctional agriculture have occurred despite rather than thanks of state action. An exception is the Scottish case where an increase in organic and locally produced school meals gained €150.000 of regional revenues. Rønningen showed us another picture: in Norway multifunctionality has been embedded in society for a long time. She says it started with market demand and that it is now supported by policy: the government aims at having 20% of the food locally produced by the year 2020. Farming as a profession is highly appreciated by the public: farmers are seen as managers of cultural heritage and as producers of healthy food.

Two things struck us about these two cases. First, the UK case shows how difficult it is to penetrate the neo-liberal armour that defines not only political but also much of our own rationality. Policies are often perceived as an obstacle rather than as enabling factors. It was this hostile context in which Brazilian peasants operated. Through diversification, agroecology, and community forms of exchange these peasants have increased their autonomy enabling them to pursue their own values. Second, the case of Norway gives us a taste of the role public policies could play in the valorisation of farmers as (re)producers of healthy food, nature, landscape, biodiversity, and public health. That most governments are lacking this is no secret, even according to a market oriented, middle size farmer in our research area:

I could fence a water source, buy some wire and provide some poles. If it were more, how do you say; all this imprisonment of all that is commerce, if it were more humane, looked more at the human side, I think there would be more left and all of society would gain from this (interview November 2009).

In short: we would argue that that the lessons from the third world should not be underestimated. Our experience learns that some of these cases may be running well ahead of theory and policy practice.

New ideas, but where are the new policies?

On behalf of Merel Heijke: second year student Master of International Development Studies at Wageningen University.

Thursday the eight of October I took part in the mini-conference: ‘Dynamics and Robustness of Multifunctional Agriculture: Lessons from abroad’ organized by Wageningen University’s Rural Sociology Group. I participated in the conference because since I came to Wageningen to study International Development Studies (I did my bachelor in interdisciplinary social science at the University of Utrecht), I really got interested in the way life is approached by people in the countryside. The topic multifunctional agriculture however, was quite new to me. Some considerations:

This conference opened my eyes about the difficulties people can face with certain top-down rural policies. The Norwegian guest Katrina Rønningen argued that too much attention and pressure is directed towards rural actors active in multifunctional agriculture. People that do not have sufficient knowhow and capacities to adjust their business to this way of life, fail and get into a lot of stress. This might be a consequence of a second point of view that struck me that afternoon, namely: policies implemented by the (national and/or local) government may not be relevant or can even hinder the development of new ideas. From a sustainable point of view: if we, as the global society, want to sustain the luxurious life we have, we need to adapt. Export versus quality, economical versus sustainable, short-term incomes against long-term investments – the choices are hard to make when governmental policies do not really support new initiatives (even the cheap ones) or the advertisement to the big public. An interesting topic to study…

I am very curious what the future will bring us… How will our food be produced in twenty years? What does our relationship with the countryside look like? How is our land going to be used? Let’s have an other conference about this subject in five years! This international exchange of information was really interesting and asking for new thoughts to develop. I am hungry for more!

Merel Heijke

Terugblik kenniskringbijeenkomst: buitenlandse ervaringen multifunctionele landbouw

Op donderdag 8 oktober jl. organiseerde de vakgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen Universiteit een discussiebijeenkomst in het kader van het onderzoeksproject: “Dynamiek en Robuustheid van Multifunctionele Landbouw”. De bijeenkomst kende het uitwisselen van buitenlandse ontwikkelingen en ervaringen met multifunctionele landbouw als doel en was met 70 deelnemers goed bezocht.

Een korte terugblik op de bijeenkomst en de presentaties van de internationale sprekers zijn te vinden op het weblog Dynamiek en Robuustheid van Multifunctionele Landbouw.

Discussiebijeenkomst buitenlandse ervaringen van multifunctionele landbouw