75th Anniversary: 41) Trapped!

By Paul Swagemakers, Department of Applied Economics, Public Economics and Political Economy, Complutense University of Madrid

A long time ago, in the 1990s, a friend of mine told me he was going to Wageningen to check out what one could study there. Forestry was among his interests. I came along with him and Wageningen sparked my interest too, as I saw numerous possibilities. I chose a course in rural development studies. I initially intended to follow it just for one year only, thinking it would widen my scope, and teach me about the world’s cultures and economic development, before I would decide what to do and study next.

Once started, I was trapped. I learned to analyse rural development issues: I choose a trajectory that taught me how the study of the heterogeneous social configurations and functional relationships between ‘man’ and nature could help combat rural marginalisation and spirals of economic decline and to identify and help develop departure points for sustainable rural development. I learned how pride and collective ideals among rural dwellers shaped their farming practices and how these were embedded in the wider institutional context of markets and policies. I learned that these external factors are often perceived as the drivers for economic development and that this often brought externalised costs. In the classes I learnt about a, now very well-known, example that illustrated this: to sustain the Dutch animal husbandry, a surface many times that of the Netherlands was (and still is) in use for feed production, including former tropical rain forests now used for soy bean production. Apart from realizing that these forests were lost, I asked myself what happened to the people who used to live in, and from, these former rain forests? And I asked myself what can Dutch farmers do to become less dependent on external inputs, and reduce their negative impact on nature elsewhere? At that time in Wageningen, I learned how neo-liberal economic theory advocates reducing the role of government and policies, and sees markets as the most efficient way to regulate supply and demand and to optimise the allocation of resources. I also learned that the revenues, split up in chunks of value added in the food chain, are highly unequally distributed among the participants in the value chain. I was taught about some innovative governance mechanisms that were emerging in those years, called environmental cooperatives. I wondered what I could learn from the farmers in this movement, and got a job helping analyse how new social configurations and relationships could result in the protection and conservation of the environment, studying the dynamics at the farm level in relation to support from markets and policies.

Over the years I learned how many farmers value and manage their land and herd in ways that differ from the dictums of economic theory that teach one to maximise production and minimise costs, and how many of them attempt to gain a living from what otherwise would often be abandoned because of lack of investment and respect: our environment. I also learned that many values produced at farms are poorly valorised in the food chain.

Triggered by this continuous manifestation of abandonment and disrespect, I continue to study where best to invest, and what to respect. This path has led me to a PhD in Social Sciences at Wageningen University, to several lecturing and researching posts at the University of Vigo, and, currently, to a position as assistant professor at the School of Political Sciences and Sociology of the Complutense University of Madrid. So much for just a year’s study! I am afraid, I am permanently trapped.

Related publications:

Swagemakers, P., Schermer, M., Domínguez García, M.D., Milone, M., Ventura, F. 2021. To what extent do brands contribute to sustainability transition in agricultural production practices? Lessons from three European case studies. Ecological Economics 189: 107197, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2021.107179

Swagemakers, P., Domínguez García, M.D., Milone, P., Ventura, F., Wiskerke, J.S.C. 2019. Exploring cooperative place-based approaches to restorative agriculture. Journal of Rural Studies 68: 191-199, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2018.12.003

Swagemakers, P., Domínguez García, M.D.., Torres, A., Oostindie, H., Groot, J.C.J. 2017. A values-based approach to exploring synergies between livestock farming and landscape conservation in Galicia (Spain). Sustainability 9 (11): 1987, https://doi.org/10.3390/su9111987

Swagemakers, P., Wiskerke, J.S.C., 2011. Revitalizing ecological capital. Danish Journal of Geography 111 (2): 149-167, https://doi.org/10.1080/00167223.2011.10669530

Swagemakers, P., Wiskerke, J.S.C., Van der Ploeg, J.D., 2009. Linking birds, fields and farmers. Journal of Environmental Management 90: 185-192, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2008.11.020

75th Anniversary: 39) Protesting Farmers

In our previous blog, we wrote that to understand the overall evolution of farmer protests around the nitrogen crisis, Jaap Frouws’ doctoral dissertation Mest en Macht (Manure and Power, 1994) is highly relevant.  Among others, his work provides a an important entry point into the history and the crisis of farmers’ representation and cooptation in agricultural policies in the Netherlands.  

Master student Emil Dutour Geerling delved into this question of representation in his recently defended thesis on the contemporary farmers’ protests. At the time Jaap Frouws did his important work on the politics of the manure crisis in the 1990s, the first cracks had become visible in the bulwark of farmers’ representation. Today, almost three decades later, the landscape of representation has changed dramatically. The long-time alliance between national farmers organizations, political parties and the ministry of agriculture, has become history.  Feeling under- or not-represented, and, importantly, not heard, discontented farmers established a defense force. This Farmers Defense Force was able to mobilize thousands of farmers, who were prepared to take a more confrontational approach, blocking highways and retail distribution centers, and converged on provincial government buildings.

In his work, Dutour-Geerling explains the form the protests take from the crisis in representation. Yet, he explains the cause of these protests in terms of a crisis of accumulation.  Many of the protesting farmers have built their business strategy on the idea of continuous growth, yet the new nitrogen and phosphate regulations make this business strategy untenable.

This crisis of representation and crisis of accumulation creates a ‘biographical disruption’: the future that farmers perceived for themselves and their farms is not feasible anymore. This asks for a reconsideration of their idea of farming, and their self-perception as farmers. Changing their farming strategy is, if possible at all, costly; the rethinking of their farmers’ identity painful. This explains the fierceness of the protests.

Emil Dutour Geerling. 2021. Understanding the Dutch protesting farmer: A politically informed actor-oriented research into the perceptions of Dutch protesting farmers, Master Thesis Rural Sociology in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Science in International Development Studies at Wageningen University, the Netherlands

75th Anniversary: 21) Geographies of power and rebellious social sciences

Garfagnana, Italy – picture by Jordan Treakle

by Jordan Treakle

My path to WUR’s Rural Sociology Group (RSO) differed from most of my fellow Masters students when I first arrived to Wageningen in August 2015. As a second-year student in the International Masters in Rural Development (IMRD) programme[1], I had spent the first year of my programme nomadically exploring the academic halls of the University of Ghent (Belgium), Humboldt University (Germany), and the University of Pisa (Italy) with my 27 fellow IMRDers. This unique and fast paced academic tour of Europe gave me a range of academic lens on agricultural economies and cooperative development in food systems that were enriching and informative. But these perspectives generally had not touched on the complex geographies of power and agency that I found most compelling. Luckily WUR’s small but worldly campus, with all of its contentious influences of corporate agribusiness research and rebellious social science scholarship, offered a critical forum to both intellectually digest the lessons of the other academic institutions I had visited during the first year of my programme, as well as dive into rural sociological concepts that reconfigured my relationship to place and later guided young career in farmer advocacy and agricultural policy. Continue reading

Comparing pathways towards sustainability: Lessons on transformative agency from three pioneering farms in Europe – MSc-thesis by Samuel van Rozelaar

Samuel van Rozelaar is a Master student Organic Agriculture has recently completed an excellent and beautifully illustrated MSc-thesis on the transformative agency of three pioneering farmers, all members of the lighthouse farms network, and meticulously reconstructed their transition pathways towards sustainable farming systems. ‘Comparing pathways towards sustainability: Lessons on transformative agency from three pioneering farms in Europe‘ can be downloaded (click on hyperlink). Below the abstract.

Abstract

This thesis offers lessons on the transformative agency of the farmers behind three pioneering farms. This is done by comparing the transformative strategies they applied in relation to the three-fold embedding of their farms, throughout their pathways towards more sustainable farming systems. To reconstruct these pathways semi-structured interviews and pathway mapping exercises were conducted with the main actors on each farm. This data was then coded, categorized and grouped in dimensions that allowed for a comparison of the interplay between strategies and embedding. The resulting 8 lessons show that these farmers persevered in developing, adapting, and moving towards their dreams and visions, despite many critical moments, by applying a range of transformative strategies. Through these strategies they managed to transform their farms in terms of its practices and relations. Throughout this process of transformation, the farmers continuously moved through a learning process, and as such also personally transformed in terms of thinking and doing, which in turn further enhanced their transformative capacities and strategies. Finally, the lessons show that these farmers have managed to create and navigate complex sustainable farming systems by tapping into the knowledge, skills, and resources of others. This shows the significance of the co-creation of contextual knowledge and the capacities to apply it in the transformation towards sustainable food systems. For future research, it is recommended to test to what extent these lessons resonate with other pioneering farms, but also with conventional farms. In addition, it is worth comparing family farms with non-family farms in their transformations towards sustainable farming systems, with a focus on intergenerational differences. In doing so, the frameworks of resilience of social-ecological systems and the adaptive cycle of transformations could be highly useful. Lastly, future research into transformations should also include the role of the relations to non-humans.

75th Anniversary: 8) Kyoto meets Wageningen, Political Economy meets Rural Sociology

Countryside excursion at the 2016 Graduate Workshop

 Introduction

The collaboration between the group of rural sociology at Wageningen University and the group of agri-food political economy at Kyoto University officially started in July 2014, when we signed a letter of intent to foster international cooperation in education and research. This was first materialised when Kyoto University invited Dirk Roep in February 2015, and Guido Ruivenkamp and Joost Jongerden in March 2015 (http://agst.jgp.kyoto-u.ac.jp/topics/report/376). Their visit to Kyoto kickstarted a series of intensive lectures given by invited RSO members as well as a series of joint workshops between the two groups either in Kyoto or in Wageningen, as explained below. Continue reading

Values and relationships in the diverse economy of De Ommuurde Tuin: an illustrated ethnography

inez thesis coverLast year Inez responded to a RSO thesis advert to join a research team exploring the social economy of food and nature in Gelderland in connection with several science shop projects coordinated by Jan Hassink. Inez completed her research at de Ommuurde Tuin in Renkum, and took the opportunity to further explore visual and creative methods, documenting her results in an illustrated ethnography that was shared with stakeholders at our most recent network gathering Nijmegen. Thanks for being part of our research team Inez ! 

Inez Dekker, MSc student Sociology of Development (MID) Wageningen University

Below please find the abstract of the MSc  minor thesis Values and relationships in the diverse economy of De Ommuurde Tuin: an illustrated ethnography

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

Summary : In the last decades a growing number of alternative food and care initiatives emerged in North-America and Europe. Due to uncertain situations within current neoliberal economic systems such as the recent recession, ongoing outsourcing and environmental depletion, and alienation from production (Morgan and Kuch, 2015), these initiatives offer an alternative to an existing neoliberal model. Moreover, they inspire to create a more diverse pallet of economies alongside dominant economic and social systems. Important to mark here is that their decisions and actions are not merely led by dominant economic models, but intentionally done to create worlds that are environmentally and socially just (Gibson-Graham et al., 2013). Often these initiatives fit in an alternative economic framework where a diverse, interdependent, rich and prolific disarray of ‘good life’ are central for their economies. One of such frameworks is the diverse economic research framework based on the work of Gibson-Graham (2008) where the economy is one based on a myriad of human and non-human social relationships that go beyond capitalist economic models. While there seems to be an emerging interest for practices within alternative economic frameworks, such as in community supported agriculture (CSA) or care farms, there is an absence of how human and non-human relationships create values that form an (diverse) economy. Moreover, in conventional economic thinking, practices occurring outside current economic system remain often unrecognized and unseen, though, these are essential for an economy to exist. Therefore, I aim to strengthen a network of diverse economic initiatives focus on initiatives located in the Dutch province Gelderland. To do this, I created a visual illustration that highlights the diverse practices and human and non-human relationships in the organic horticulture business located in Gelderland called ‘De Ommuurde Tuin’. I add to the scholarship of diverse economies by describing and showing the processes that produce a diversity of values in De Ommuurde Tuin’s daily economic practices. These processes are not only led by relationships among humans but include human and non-human relationships as well. To do this, I not only use a written form, but foremost I used visual and sensory research methods that highlights relationships between humans-humans and humansnonhumans. By putting forward the senses, the visual and emotional, this research concerns the processes in daily economic practices through a study of an economy that is lived and experienced. Moreover, I make alternative and diverse frameworks of economy/is more visible for a wider public through presenting my outcomes in a visual manner in booklet form. This approach tries to display and recognize economic alternatives, which helps to connect and build a coherent and powerful social movement for another economy (Miller, 2008; Gibson-Graham, 2008; Gibson-Graham and Miller, 2015)

Searching for a master thesis topic? Write your master thesis about community fridges in The Hague!

 

fridge foto hagueWhat are community fridges?

Community fridges are refrigerators located in a public space, for example in a neighborhood or community centre. These refrigerators enable food to be shared within a community. In The Hague, community fridges are utilized primarily to share left-overs from restaurants with people facing hardship, with the goal of offering easy access to fresh, nutritious food. The initiative aims to simultaneously reduce poverty and food waste. To read more about the specific case in The Hague, visit their website: https://www.versenvrij.nl/

vers frij hague

Interested in writing your master thesis about this initiative?

In cooperation with LUMC (Leiden University Medical Center – Campus The Hague), we are searching for a master student who wants to do a thesis research about community fridges in The Hague.

Topic 1: To explore user experiences and the role of these fridges in addressing food insecurity.

Topic 2: To explore how users manage risk and safety in the distribution of surplus food, and the care of community fridges.

We will encourage you to actively design your own research and hope you are eager to use various methods.

You are :

  • interested in the issues of food insecurity and food waste
  • willing to engage actively in designing a research about community fridges
  • willing to conduct research in The Hague (think about travel-costs)
  • experienced in doing qualitative research; e.g. participant observation, semi-structured interviews, the photo-voice method, focus groups
  • interested in mixed methods; combining qualitative with quantitative data (e.g. surveys or questionnaires)
  • a native Dutch speaker and willing to write your thesis in English
  • able to start this spring (possible to start immediately)

 

If you are enthusiastic about this research topic, please send an e-mail to thirza.andriessen@wur.nl , L.A.van_der_Velde@lumc.nl , & oona.morrow@wur.nl

De weg naar duurzame pachtafspraken tussen boer en gemeente: uitkomst ACT-opdracht

Image

Door Amarins Bouman, Jurrian Veldhuizen, Henry Abbink, Robin Kampert, Ester Klein Hesselink en Floor Sluijter. Studenten van Wageningen Universiteit die als onderdeel van hun Master opleiding een Academic Consultancy Training (ACT) opdracht hebben uitgevoerd.

De afgelopen twee maanden hebben wij onderzoek gedaan in het kader van het Wetenschapswinkel project ‘Boeren zonder land: hoe is dat mogelijk?’ in opdracht van Vereniging Toekomstboeren. Met 6 studenten van verschillende achtergronden (consumentenwetenschappen, bos-en natuurbeheer, international development & biologische landbouw) zijn wij aan de slag gegaan met het onderzoeken van alternatieve pachtconstructies. Binnen dit onderzoek is er gekozen voor de gemeente als landeigenaar, waarna er 3 verschillende boeren & gemeenten zijn geïnterviewd. Het onderzoek richtte zich op de sterke en zwakke punten van de pacht- en huurovereenkomsten en hoe deze de (on)zekerheid van duurzame boeren beïnvloeden. Dit is visueel weergegeven in bovenstaande figuur.

Boeren worden in de overeenkomsten met de gemeente vaak geconfronteerd met onzekerheden die verband houden met de duur van hun overeenkomsten en de duurzaamheidsaspecten. Er is vaak geen visie en/of beleid vanuit de gemeente op het gebied van het faciliteren van (duurzame) landbouw. Dit leidt tot de onzekerheidsproblematiek zoals korte contracten en beperkte mogelijkheden tot investeringen voor de lange termijn, zoals die in een goede bodem. Echter blijken de gemeenten en duurzame boeren elkaar te vinden in de waarde die de onderlinge afspraken kunnen hebben voor de lokale gemeenschap. Naast de agrarische functie kan een boerderij in de stad ook van grote maatschappelijke waarde zijn.

Op basis van onze bevindingen moedigen we boeren en gemeenten aan om meer te weten te komen over elkaars behoeften en hoe de pachtovereenkomst in ieders voordeel kan werken. Zie de Infosheet hieronder. In ons rapport kunt u hier meer over lezen.

Infosheet: ‘De weg naar een duurzame pachtovereenkomst tussen boer en gemeente’.

 

 

 

Food Self Sufficiency in a Community: Dream or Reality? A documentary by MSc-student László Bartha

Food Self Sufficiency in a Community: Dream or Reality? a documentary by László Bartha, MSc-student Organic Agriculture of Wageningen University.

During his internship at the Wageningen student organization Otherwise, László Bartha made a documentary of his MSC thesis research for the ecovillage The Vlierhof. It has been hard work, but it has become a very nice, and respectful documentary of a decision-making process regarding the future development of the ecovillage. “The Vlierhof” approved the creation and online publication of the documentary. Below a brief introduction to the documentary. 

Intentional communities and ecovillages are present in almost every country in the world. People decide to live in these places because they want to explore and experiment with new organizational forms and alternative livelihoods. “The Vlierhof” is one of these communities with the vision “to promote awareness and peace on earth. We want to make a contribution to the social and environmental problems faced by society today, living as self-sufficiently as possible.” According to this vision, they also grow part of their food. But is the amount of food that they produce enough to sustain themselves? In this short documentary, we can learn about the community, its members and find answers to this question. The film has been created from the recorded materials of an action research project. Among the audio-visual research methods interviewing was the main data collection method. The purpose of the research was to explore social dynamics in the community and follow a decision-making process regarding the future of the community garden.

Collaborating towards Berlin Food Policy: Exploring civic-state collaboration in current urban food governance in Berlin – The Case of the Berlin Food Strategy

dinah thesis coverDinah Hoffman, MSc student Communication, Health and Life Sciences
Specialization: Health and Society, Wageningen University

Below please find the abstract of the MSc thesis Collaborating towards Berlin Food Policy: Exploring civic-state collaboration in current urban food governance in Berlin – The Case of the Berlin Food Strategy

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

 

Urban food policy is an area that joins actors from civil society, academia, the local state and the market. To accomplish sustainable changes of local food systems these actors work together in governance arrangements. Two prominent instruments that are used in urban food governance where these actors collaborate are the food policy council and the urban food strategy. Both can be initiated through top-down or bottom-up processes or a combination of both with the relationship of local government and civil society having an impact on the success of the initiatives. One of the cities where civil society and local government engage in collaborative food governance is the city-state of Berlin, the biggest city in Germany, surrounded by the agricultural region of Brandenburg. Drawing on data from 11 interviews and 40 documents, this thesis describes and examines the nature of the relationship and governance arrangement of the two main actors in current Berlin food governance. The collaborative governance framework, a categorization of civic-state relationships found in urban food governance and the concepts of integrated food policy and institutionalization were used to guide the analysis. The objective of this thesis is to understand how civic-state collaboration in urban food governance looks like in Berlin, what impact the local context has on the development of the governance arrangement and what strengths and challenges involved stakeholders perceive. The two main stakeholders were found to be the civic food policy council Ernährungsrat Berlin and the Berlin Senate Administration for Consumer Protection. It was found that the Ernährungsrat Berlin’s food policy activity brought forward a relationship where they are striving for independence but are linked to the government through a secondary agency, being the aforementioned administrative department. Although not embedded in municipal institutions, which has been identified as crucial for a food policy councils’ success, the Ernährungsrat Berlin proved to be an agile and resilient structure able to successfully be an independent advocate for civil society and a valued advisor to the government. Their collaboration resulted in the development of a Berlin Food Strategy. In this thesis I investigate the process of developing this strategy as a form of collaborative governance. Regarding their governance arrangement around the Berlin Food Strategy, the involvement of the Green Party in the current coalition was found to have had a big impact on the position the Ernährungsrat Berlin but also food policy was able to occupy on the urban agenda. This research identified a number of strengths and challenges of the governance arrangement including a strong interdependence, a strong and long history of civic action, the presence of political food champions in the coalition and the administration, the limiting structure and functioning of the Senate administrations and the limited inclusiveness and representatives of the Ernährungsrat Berlin.

Key words: urban food governance, urban food policy, food policy council, urban food strategy, collaborative governance, Berlin food strategy, Ernährungsrat Berlin, Senate of Berlin