Thesis Opportunities: Social Economies of food, agriculture, and nature in Gelderland.

Social economy is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of third sector, cooperative, voluntary, non-profit, and social enterprise initiatives that put social and environmental well-being before profit.  They operate in different sectors of the economy, and provide a number of important goods and services – that range from food to social services and care. The social economy is also an important part of the solidarity economy, a term used to describe diverse economic practices that seek to strengthen local economies and communities and create alternatives as a form of resistance to the social, economic, and environmental injustices associated with capitalism, colonialism, racism, and neoliberalism. The cities of Ede, Arnhem, and Nijmegen are home to a growing number of social economy initiatives, especially in the areas of agriculture, food, and nature (e.g. ecosystems services, green infrastructure). Here they play a vital, yet often unrecognized role. With these three thesis topics –  on (WP1) mapping, (WP2) diverse economies analysis, and (WP3) assessment –  we hope to change that.

Start date: January or February 2019

Qualifications:           

  • You are able to conduct qualitative research in Dutch.
  • You are able to engage diverse stakeholders in participatory and collaborative research
  • You can use basic excel and mapping tools (WP1)
  • You have an interest in diverse economies and social innovation (WP2).
  • You have some experience in assessment and evaluation (WP3)
  • You are registered for one of the following MSc programmes: MID, MCS, MLP, MFT, or MOA
  • You have completed at least 2 RSO courses (or relevant social science courses)

Questions? Please get in touch!

Supervisors: Oona Morrow (RSO) oona.morrow@wur.nl and Jan Hassink (PRI) jan.hassink@wur.nl

  1. Mapping social economy in food-health valley

What/ Where is the social economy in food-health valley?

This MSc thesis will seek to inventory and categorize social enterprises in the greater Ede, Arnhem, and Nijmegen region. Through online research and field research you will construct a database and map of social economy initiatives in the agriculture, food and nature domains providing social services. You will work closely with a MSc student specializing in diverse economies to develop a typology for categorizing these initiatives in terms of their organizational model, funding, sector and services,  etc. The data you collect is important for measuring the size and scope of the social economy. And ultimately for making the social economy visible to itself, the general public and policymakers. You will organize several stakeholder events in each city to reflect on the reflect on your data, and also what is missing. You will use your research practice to strengthen existing social economy networks in the region by bringing stakeholders together. Your MSc thesis will thus also reflect on the role of mapping as a method for making networks visible.

  1. Diverse economies of social economy in food-health valley

What are the diverse economies of the social economy?

This MSc thesis will work closely with the Mapping the social economy thesis to adapt the diverse economies framework (Gibson-Graham 2008) to create a typology of social economy initiatives and practices. You will draw upon  the database and map created by MsC 1 to select case studies from several different sectors (e.g. food, agriculture, nature care, etc.) and analyse them for their diverse economic practices and business and funding models. You will examine the social and institutional relationships and policies that shape these practices – e.g. health policy, access to land from the city. And identify emerging social innovations and best practices to share within this network social economy initiatives.

  1. Co-designing Impact and Assessment tools for social economy initiatives in food-health valley

What are the impacts of the social economy, and how can we measure them?

Social economy initiatives have important goals. But how do they know they are achieving them? What metrics and indicators are meaningful? And what types of evaluation tools are actually useful and usable ? And how can they best communicate their impact (to funders, policy makers, and participants)? You will answer these questions, in collaboration with social economy initiatives working in different sectors of the region. Together you will co-design impact and assessment tools that are tailored to the unique needs of social economy initiatives yet also replicable and can be implemented by the initiatives. You will organize communities of practice around evaluation that are rooted in the concrete needs and practices of different sectors.

Further Reading:

Amin, A. (Ed.). (2013). The social economy: International perspectives on economic solidarity. Zed Books.

Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2008). Diverse economies: performative practices for other worlds’. Progress in Human Geography32(5), 613-632.

Gibson-Graham, J. K., Cameron, J., & Healy, S. (2013). Take back the economy: An ethical guide for transforming our communities. University of Minnesota Press.

Loh, P., & Agyeman, J. (2018). Urban food sharing and the emerging Boston food solidarity economy. Geoforum.

Miller, E. (2010). Solidarity Economy. In Eds. E. Kawano, T. Masterson, and J. Teller-Ellsberg. Solidarity Economy I: Building Alternatives for People and Planet. Amherst, MA: Center for Popular Economics. 2010

 

The EU Protein Plan: shifting to sustainable supply-chains or more of the same?

Chris Chancellor, WU Graduate

The impact that our industrialised global food supply-chain has on diverse ecosystems and communities around the world is receiving greater attention than ever before. Scholars and activists have for decades emphasised how European agricultural demand has driven deforestation and environmental destruction in species-rich biomes such as the Amazon and Cerrado regions in Latin America.  Now it is becoming clear that the consequences extend far beyond the environmental harm generated by the production stage itself. When looking at the wider chain, the implications of industrial food systems for issues such as food and nutritional security, human health, social justice, rural vitality, employment, and the concentration of market control, become apparent.

Having found its way onto the political agenda, the European Union (EU) has come up with the idea of a European Protein Plan. The EU is currently heavily reliant on imports of protein crops, primarily soybean from Latin America’s Southern Cone region. As well as being linked with major environmental and human rights concerns, the reliance on imports also makes the EU agricultural industry vulnerable to shocks in international commodity prices. Soybean is the favoured ingredient in animal feed for the EUs powerful livestock industry, and therefore a price shock would have major socio-economic consequences.

The Protein Plan essentially proposes increasing the amount of domestic protein crop production. The idea is that this would lift the burden on Latin American ecosystems whilst at the same time providing the EU with greater ‘protein independence’. This has been presented as a win-win situation, and yet the manner in which this production would take place has received little or no critical attention.

A report published by civil society organisation European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) highlights the dangers of simply transplanting the same corporate industrial supply-chain into Europe. Last year, an agreement called the European Soya Declaration was signed by 13 member states, highlighting the suitability of fertile and ‘underused’ lands in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) for expansion of European soybean production. The ECVC report details the recent emergence of agribusinesses and financial investors in the CEE region. Land here is cheaper and often more fertile than in Western Europe, and offers suitable agro-climatic conditions for commodity soybean cultivation. There is therefore an opportunity for large profits to be made if land is bought up now, cultivated with soybean or other commodity protein crops, and potentially sold later when land prices have reached western European levels. As one company puts it: ‘protein crops are the new gold bars’. However, this process is not a neutral one, and entails radical reformulations of arable land ownership and control, threatening the livelihoods of the region’s small-scale producers and rural communities.

Another report from the Land and Resource Lookout reaches a similar conclusion, pointing out that ‘a control-blind approach’ to sustainability is evident. Much attention is given to the fact that this soy would be non-GM, would be deforestation-free, and would help to fix nitrogen in crop rotations. These are undoubtedly positive, yet these traits in isolation don’t automatically equal sustainable supply-chains. The manner in which this soy is produced, distributed and consumed, as well as how and who controls these processes and relevant markets, are key for building a truly sustainable and inclusive food system. It argues that sustainable food system strategies must explicitly address the issue of corporate control if effective progress is to be made.

With the European Commission set to release a report on the EU Protein Plan before the end of the year, both reports advocate for the inclusion of agroecological principles and the concept of food sovereignty in any future EU protein strategies. An agroecological transition offers a potential pathway for a truly inclusive, interconnected and mutually beneficial food system to be built, but this must receive political backing in order for it to really take hold.

The fact that the sorts of headline issues emphasised in the European Soya Declaration are receiving genuine political attention is a positive step. It provides an opportune moment to address deep-seated systemic problems in our current industrially-based food system; policy-makers must now be brave enough to seize it!

Note: are you a WU master student and interested in doing a thesis research on this issue, please contact joost.jongerden@wur.nl

Vacancy: the Rural Sociology group will recruit an Assistant Professor in Agrarian Sociology

The Rural Sociology group will recruit an Assistant Professor in Agrarian Sociology (Tenure Track). For more information see: https://www.wur.nl/en/vacancy/Assistant-Professor-in-Agrarian-Sociology-chair-group-RSO-Tenure-Track-.htm

De duurzaamheid van de Nederlandse landbouw, 1950-2015-2040: PhD thesis Meino Smit

Op 11 september 2018 van 13.30-15.00 verdedigd Meino Smit zijn proefschrift getiteld: De duurzaamheid van de Nederlandse landbouw, 1950-2015-2040. De verdediging is live te volgen en ook terug te kijken via weblectures.wur.nl.

Het volledige proefschrift (klik op de link) is te downloaden via WUR-Library. Hieronder de samenvatting uit het proefschrift:

Dit proefschrift gaat over de duurzaamheid van de Nederlandse landbouw. Deze is in de periode 1950 t/m 2015 sterk afgenomen. Dit als gevolg van een toename van het gebruik van energie en grondstoffen, een toename van het landgebruik en een afname van de hoeveelheid arbeid. Verder zijn de opbrengsten en de arbeidsproductiviteit veel minder gestegen dan tot nu toe werd aangenomen. Meer gebruik van energie en grondstoffen betekent ook een hogere emissie in CO2-equivalenten en als gevolg daarvan een emissiereductie die veel groter moet zijn dan in het regeerakkoord is aangegeven. De landbouw moet omschakelen naar een lage-input kringlooplandbouw. Voor het jaar 2040 is een schets gegeven van een duurzaam landbouwsysteem, dat kan voldoen aan de eisen die op basis van het akkoord van Parijs worden gesteld, voldoende voedselzekerheid biedt en een aanzienlijke vermindering geeft van de door de landbouw veroorzaakte maatschappelijke kosten.

Organic Times – first edition of the MOAgazine

 

Recently students of the Master programme Organic Agriculture (MOA) of Wageningen University launched the first edition of the MOAgazine entitled ‘Organic Times’. The magazine (Organic times online) is written and edited by MOA students and provides some insights into the programme, study and student activities and a variety of issues linked to MOA, including book reviews and organic recipes. As chair of the MOA study programme committee I have enjoyed reading the Organic Times and am proud of the time and energy the students invested in developing this magazine. It reflects the enthusiasm and commitment of this great and dedicated group of international students as well as the interdisciplinary character of the MOA programme.

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.

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

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