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


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.


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).


Dirk Roep (, Jessica de Koning ( Mark Vicol (

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



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)

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!

Internship or Thesis Opportunity: Allotment and Community Gardens in Warsaw and Berlin


person wearing black lace up sneakers standing on green grass with fallen leaves

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

Are you interested in the politics and governance of community and allotment gardening ? How these gardens can become more inclusive? And what lessons gardeners in Berlin and Warsaw can exchange?

The research project “Integration von Kleingärten und Gemeinschaftsgärten in Warschau und Berlin” seeks a German speaking research assistant.

We are looking for a person with:

– German language (spoken and written).

– Research interest in the topic of urban gardening;

– Training and experience with qualitative research methods

– Knowledge about Berlin allotment and community gardens’ and/or administrative situation and structure;

Project duration December 2019 – March 2021
  • November/December 2019 – Kick off. Interviewing gardeners, the city administration, city dwellers and other persons related to the topic – in Berlin (December and January)
  • May 2020 – Focus Groups in Warsaw and Berlin, a visit of Berliners to Warsaw
  • September 2020 – VISIS workshops on challenges and opportunities of this integration.
  • March 2021 – final meeting in Warsaw

The rest of the time is for research, reading, meeting with the project team, writing and meetings in gardens (action research).

The project is a cooperation with Humboldt University and Łódź University in Poland. With funding from the Deutsch Polnische Wissenschaft Stiftung.

Deadline: Please send expressions of interest to  by October 14

RSO supervisor: Oona Morrow

Field Research supervisors: Agnieszka Dragon and Anna Dańkowska

Thesis opportunity: Brewing Social, Economic and Ecological Change in the Global Hops Industry

With the rapid expansion of the craft beer sector globally, the organization of hop production is changing in producing countries. We seek one or two MSc students to conduct a primarily qualitative study on how interrelated social, economic and ecological dynamics shape sustainability outcomes (broadly conceived) in a rapidly expanding and changing industry. Potential topics of focus include the role of plant breeding and new varieties, trade-offs between cooperative vs competitive relationships, and how changing beer markets are influencing how people produce, sell and use hops. Potential frameworks include STS, Assemblage Theory, Global Value Chain Analysis and Political Economy. Students may choose to complete fieldwork and data collection in one of the target countries of New Zealand, UK, Belgium, US, and Germany.

low angle photo of green leaves

Photo by ELEVATE on


  • You have some training in qualitative methods and critical social theory
  • You have a keen interest in the sociology of agriculture, food systems, sustainability, food politics and/or foodscapes
  • You are willing to develop fieldwork-based methodologies
  • You have completed at least two social sciences courses, preferably with RSO
  • You are eligible to do your thesis with RSO

Questions? More information? Email

Thesis of stage project: Versterken Vernieuwende Landbouw Beweging

Er is een forse toename in het aantal netwerken en pioniers op gebied van innovatieve agri-food systemen. Ze ontstaan vanuit de agrarische produktiekant en ook vanuit de consumentenkant en willen een alternatief bieden voor de dominante voedsel- en landbouwpraktijk. Ze richten zich vaak op de lokale context, werken integraal met aandacht voor biodiversiteit, koolstof vastlegging, betrekken van burgers en een gezonde leefomgeving.  Voorbeelden zijn Heerenboeren, Community Supported Agriculture, Food Forests, Agro-ecological agriculture,  bodemboeren en toekomstboeren. Bij veel van dit soort innovatieve agri-food systemen wordt uitgegaan van agro-ecologische principes.

De verschillende initiatieven ontwikkelen zich tot grotere netwerken die de ambitie hebben om te komen tot een gezamenlijke beweging. Wellicht met een gezamenlijk loket en/of steunpunt om zo aanspreekpunt te kunnen zijn voor beleid, onderzoek en andere partijen.

Om een goede strategie en aanpak te ontwikkelen voor het creëren van een sterke beweging met impact is het van belang de verschillende initiatieven en hun onderliggende waarden en principes goed in beeld te brengen.

We zoeken studenten die interesse hebben mee te werken aan deze ontwikkeling van de vernieuwende landbouwbeweging.

Onderwerpen van een thesis of stage project kunnen zijn:

  • In beeld brengen van de initiatieven en netwerken
  • In beeld brengen van de onderliggende visie/principes van de verschillende initiatieven en initiatiefnemers
  • In beeld brengen aan welke maatschappelijke uitdagingen initiatiefnemers een bijdrage willen leveren.
  • Strategie en aanpak ontwikkelen om de impact van deze vernieuwende initiatieven meer bekend te maken en breder ingang te laten vinden en bruggen te slaan met meer reguliere vormen van landbouw produktie.



Meer informatie:


Jan Hassink

Wageningen Plant Research



Thesis of stage: Agro-ecologische en lokale voedsel Beweging inspiratie voor een circulair landbouw- en voedselsysteem


Agro-ecologische en lokale voedselbewegingen in Nederland proberen verloren verbindingen te herstellen, en nieuwe verbindingen te maken, zoals tussen stad en platteland, landbouw en natuur, en producent en burgers om de waardering voor kwaliteit van gezond en lokaal voedsel te verhogen. De bewegingen en initiatieven hebben een aantal uitgangspunten en waarden zoals positieve en integrale bijdrage te leveren aan biodiversiteit, aantrekkelijk landschap, vruchtbare bodems, koolstof vastlegging en korte ketens. Deze bewegingen winnen snel aan populariteit en kunnen een inspiratie zijn voor boeren, bestuurders, ondernemers, beleidsmakers, maatschappelijke organisaties en wetenschappers die streven naar meer duurzame landbouw- en voedselsystemen. Minder expliciet is in hoeverre zij bijdragen aan circulariteit en welke initiatieven daar het best op scoren.


We zoeken studenten met interesse in de betekenis van agro-ecologische en lokale voedselbewegingen voor de transitie naar een circulaire landbouw


  • Verkennen en beschrijven van beelden over circulaire landbouw en hoe daar op bedrijfsnivo concreet invulling aan kan worden gegeven.
  • Interviewen van succesvolle pioniers (bestaande landbouwbedrijven en burgers die betrokken zijn bij lokale voedselbewegingen) op het gebied van integrale voedselproductie en het creëren van lokale verbindingen tussen producenten en burgers. Ze zijn aangesloten bij netwerken als Herenboeren, CSA boeren, Toekomstboeren, Caring agriculture, voedselfamilies en netwerk Voedsel Anders. Het proces naar duurzaamheid van de pioniers in beeld brengen om een sociaal, ecologisch en economisch duurzaam initiatief te realiseren.

We richten ons op hoe hun bedrijfsvoering eruit ziet, hoe hun businessmodellen eruit zien, de obstakels die zij ervaren, de waarden die zij centraal stellen, de  resultaten zij (willen) bereiken, hoe zij nieuwe verbindingen aanmaken, en hoe zij circulariteit zien en in hoeverre ze daar in hun ogen invulling aan geven. We richten ons ook op burgers die betrokken zijn bij voedsel initiatieven.


Meer informatie:

Jan Hassink

Wageningen Plant Research




Thesis of stage: Biodiversiteit Agro-ecologische landbouw

Achtergrond en aanleiding

De biodiversiteit in de landbouw is de afgelopen decennia sterk afgenomen. De meeste wilde plantensoorten zijn nagenoeg verdwenen en ook met veel vogelsoorten op het boerenland gaat het slecht, mede door de sterke teruggang in insecten, t.g.v. het gebruik van gewasbeschermingsmiddelen en de afwezigheid van struiken, bomen, heffen in het agrarisch landschap.  Deze achteruitgang hangt samen met de huidige manier van landbouw bedrijven waarbij de focus ligt op optimale productie. Er is in de reguliere landbouw wel steeds meer aandacht voor minimalisering van de belasting van de omgeving, maar er is onvoldoende aandacht voor het beheer van  biodiversiteit in een agrarisch landschap.

Er is tegelijk een groeiende groep van vernieuwende boeren en boerennetwerken die een alternatief willen voor de reguliere landbouw en voedselproductie. Zij werken ook nu al vanuit agro-ecologische principes aan lokaal georiënteerde, natuurinclusieve landbouw- en voedselsystemen waarbij de ambitie is een positieve en integrale  bijdrage te leveren aan (herstel) van vruchtbare bodems, ruimte te geven aan en gebruik te maken van biodiversiteit, koolstof vastlegging, korte ketens en verbinden van boeren en burgers.

Het betreft vernieuwende (boeren)netwerken als de Herenboeren, netwerk natuur-inclusieve landbouw, CSA boeren, Toekomstboeren, Stichting Voedselbosbouw, de Vereniging Biologisch Dynamische Landbouw, Vegan boeren. Zij werken nu samen binnen de federatie Agroecologische boeren. Daarnaast zijn er het netwerk BoerenNatuur, het platform natuurlijke veehouderij  en het netwerk VoedselAnders. Zij hebben de ambitie hun krachten te bundelen, ontwikkelingsvragen te bundelen en samen op te trekken in een lerend en vernieuwend netwerk.

We zoeken studenten die interesse hebben om samen met boeren en andere betrokkenen in het netwerk agro-ecologische landbouw te verkennen wat goede en bruikbare methoden zijn om biodiversiteit in de praktijk te monitoren en boeren en burgers daarbij in te schakelen.



  • Wat zijn methoden die worden gebruikt om maatregelen die biodiversiteit bevorderen in kaart te brengen en biodiversiteit te monitoren. Wat zijn goede voorbeelden van monitoring door boeren en burgers die bruikbaar zijn.
  • Interviews met boeren: wat voor biodiversiteit vinden zij belangrijk; wat zijn maatregelen die zij nemen om biodiversiteit te versterken en hoe zou volgens hen biodiversiteit op hun bedrijf gemonitord kunnen worden.

Op basis van het literatuuronderzoek en de interviews met boeren ontwikkelen we een praktijkgerichte methodiek om biodiversiteit en voorwaarden voor biodiversiteit in beeld te brengen en te monitoren.  We selecteren boeren die dit gaan toepassen.


Meer informatie:

Jan Hassink

Wageningen Plant Research




Onderwijs op de boerderij: samenwerking met scholen en gemeenten (scriptie of stage mogelijkheid)

Binnen het wetenschapswinkelproject ‘Leerarrangementen in het Groen’ is plek voor een stagiair of MSc thesis student. Doel van het wetenschapswinkelproject is te komen tot een sterke, geaccepteerde en professionele sector van boerderijen die onderwijs bieden aan leerlingen die om verschillende redenen tijdelijk niet passen op een reguliere school.

Voor een deel van de leerlingen in het primair en voortgezet onderwijs werkt een schoolse omgeving soms contraproductief. Deze kinderen hebben het moeilijk met zichzelf en hun omgeving en willen, kunnen, mogen, of durven daarom tijdelijk niet naar een reguliere school. Deze leerlingen komen vaak noodgedwongen thuis te zitten, wat kan leiden tot moeilijk gedrag, een negatief zelfbeeld en een toekomst zonder perspectief. Verschillende zorgboeren bieden deze leerlingen onderwijs op de boerderij. Een groep van ongeveer 20 van deze boeren heeft een netwerk gevormd om ervaringen en knelpunten te delen. Problemen zijn bijvoorbeeld knellende regelgeving en de kloof tussen zorgboerderijen en scholen. Klik hier voor meer informatie.

Verschillende studenten hebben al een rol gehad binnen ons project, zowel voor hun stage, als voor hun scriptie, als binnen vakken. Zo krijgen wij steeds een completer beeld van het onderwijs op de boerderij en hoe boerderijen dat vormgeven. Waar we echter nog geen zicht op hebben, is de visie van gemeenten en scholen: hoe kijken zij aan tegen de samenwerking met boerderijen, wat spreekt ze aan als het gaat om de boerderij als leeromgeving, wat zijn volgens hen de knelpunten in de vormgeving of uitvoering van onderwijs op de boerderij, en hoe zou de samenwerking tussen scholen en gemeenten enerzijds en boerderijen anderzijds verbeterd kunnen worden?

Een specifieke opdracht op basis van deze vragen kan samen met de student worden opgesteld. Studenten zullen onderdeel worden van het wetenschapswinkelproject (stages worden begeleid door Jan Hassink van Wageningen Plant Research). Voor meer informatie: