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.

Thesis opportunity: food banks as contested spaces for identity struggles

In general a person’s identity has cognitive-descriptive (C), normative-ethical (N) and affective-emotional qualities (A). Besides a person’s identity, a person can find him or herself to be in a certain position or have a certain status, and a person can have certain (un)officially assigned roles, tasks and functions. See the figure below. These three elements can ‘agree’, or be ‘in line’ with each other, but they can also diverge from each other, or be ‘in conflict’.

Plaatje fb identity

These distinctions are to a certain extent superficial: they are analytical distinctions. In that capacity they can help us discover different elements and qualities of peoples’ experiences. Moreover, a person’s identity is not once and for all a ‘given’. Identities develop and keep doing so in interaction with other people: first with primary caretakers and later with a host of significant others who also have an identity, certain roles and functions, a certain position or status, and corresponding expectations towards others.

In this MSc thesis proposal this interaction is taken to be located at the food bank where volunteers distribute food parcels among recipients. Volunteers and recipients have short or longer conversations about the food parcels and/or the reasons for being there at the food bank. In scientific literature on food banks it is an almost unquestioned assumption that the food bank is a charity organisation, very often inspired by religious ideas or values of love and kindness for fellow human beings in need, and an attitude of gratefulness and humility on the side of the recipient. A sociological understanding of charity would indeed point at these expected roles, functions and attitudes that the concept of charity implies. The general research question of this proposal is: To what extent is this general, unquestioned assumption supported by evidence?

Sub-questions are:

  • What are feelings and emotions towards, and what are normative opinions of volunteers and recipients about the existence of food banks and their activities?
  • To what extent do recipients experience discrepancies between the status in which they, (in)voluntarily, find themselves, and the way in which they see themselves or would like to see themselves? (In other words: to what extent do we see conflicts between the three elements in the figure above?)

Proposed research methods are participatory observations, interviews with volunteers and recipients, identity tests and conversation analysis. Starting literature is available.

The thesis will be supervised by Leon Pijnenburg (Philosophy) and Esther Veen (Rural Sociology). Interested? Contact Jessica de Koning: jessica.dekoning@wur.nl.

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

Thesis option: food in suburbia

The CBS (Dutch Bureau for Statistics) has shown that many young families are leaving the city, looking for more space and more affordable housing. These families often want to stay close to the city and therefore move to neighbouring towns or suburban areas. What does this mean for their food provisioning strategies? Where do these people buy most of their food and to what extent are they constrained by what is on offer locally? To what extent to they (still) use the city for their food provisioning, such as going out to dinner or visiting specialty shops? To what extent is such ‘urban food’ available in suburban areas? And how does this relate to people’s lifestyles and identities?

The urban food landscape is in constant transition, but we do not clearly know how people engage with their everyday food planning – where do they go, what choices do they make, and what practical considerations do they take into account? Answering such questions will help us better understand people’s food provisioning practices, and how to make these practices more sustainable and healthy.

We are looking for a thesis student interested in these questions, and willing to do a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group, starting spring 2018. Interested? Send a short motivation to esther.veen@wur.nl and anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

Thesis option: exploring the gentrifying foodscape

The Amsterdamsestraatweg, a street in Utrecht, is known for its kebab take-away restaurants, hairdressers and massage salons. During the last years, however, businesses along the street are changing due to gentrification. ‘Hipster bars’ and vintage furniture shops are appearing. A similar process is happening at the Javastraat in Amsterdam.

The urban food landscape is in constant transition, but we do not clearly know how people engage with their everyday food planning – where do they go, what choices do they make, and what practical considerations do they take into account? Answering such questions will help us better understand people’s food provisioning practices, and how to make these practices more sustainable and healthy.

The Rural Sociology Group is looking for a student interested in exploring one or both of the changing foodscapes (Amsterdamsestraatweg / Javastraat). What kind of people are visiting these food places? Do the same people make use of the full variety, or do the kebab places and the hipster bars (as the two extremes) attract different groups of people? Where do the customers of both types of food places live? What do their food provisioning practices look like, and what is important to them when consuming food?

We are looking for one or two thesis students interested in these questions, and willing to do a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group, starting spring 2018. Interested? Send a short motivation to esther.veen@wur.nl and anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

Thesismogelijkheid: Tuinieren voor kankerpatienten

Due to the nature of this thesis, which involves speaking to Dutch former cancer patients, this thesis is only available for Dutch speaking students.

Voor het project Healing Gardens (zie www.healinggardenswur.nl) ben ik op zoek naar een student die een thesis wil schrijven bij de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie.

Healing Gardens is een samenwerking van Rurale Sociologie en Humane Voeding. Doel van het project is onderzoeken in hoeverre tuinieren bijdraagt aan de kwaliteit van leven van ex-kankerpatiënten. Tussen april en september 2017 hebben we een pilot onderzoek uitgevoerd, waarbij 6 patiënten hebben getuinierd in Almere. De pilot was onderdeel van onderzoeksprogramma’s van AMS (Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions) en de Flevocampus.

De deelnemers hebben tijdens de pilot aan drie meetronden meegedaan – aan het begin, in het midden en aan het einde. Vanuit Rurale Sociologie hebben we de deelnemers gevraagd naar hun verwachtingen, in hoeverre die uitkwamen, sociale relaties en lotgenotencontact. Ik ben nu op zoek naar een student om deze interviews te analyseren en daar een thesis over te schrijven. Daarnaast kun je zelf extra data verzamelen. Hiervoor zijn meerdere opties, afhankelijk van je eigen interesse. Voorbeelden zijn follow-up interviews met de deelnemers, of interviews met deelnemers van andere lotgenotencontact-groepen, om de verschillen tussen verscheidene vormen van lotgenotencontact te onderzoeken.

De thesis kan vanaf april beginnen. Geïnteresseerd? Stuur een korte motivatie naar esther.veen@wur.nl.

Social Capital and Fisheries participation in Marine Spatial Planning in Orkney – MSc-thesis Yanick Bakker

By Yanick Bakker, MSc International Development Studies.

MSc-thesis Social Capital and Fisheries participation in Marine Spatial Planning in Orkney, Scotland (complete thesis can be downloaded).

In the autumn of 2016, I spent three months on the Orkney Islands in Scotland, where I delved into the worlds of inshore shellfish fisheries and marine spatial planning. Marine spatial planning is a relatively new tool for marine governance designed to manage the use of marine space while minimizing user-user and user-environment conflicts. The marine environment around the Orkney Islands is an important natural asset for the island communities. The waters are used for recreation and transportation, they provide fresh sea foods and are a central part of the islands’ ecosystem, identity and diverse livelihoods. Since 2010, the inshore waters around the Orkney Islands and the North East coast of Scotland have also become sites for marine renewable energy developments. Controversy over the allocation of marine space for these developments, have led to the set-up of a pilot marine spatial plan for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters.

Writing this thesis, I was curious to see how fishermen relate to this new way of looking at and giving direction to the development of marine space. As the waters in which they fish and the fish stocks they target are central resources for fisher communities, access to these resources is vital for their survival. Not only do new marine developments create concerns for sustainability, the notion of spatial planning at sea also causes concern for decreased mobility and consumption of space among fishermen. Taking community resilience theory as a starting point, I have focused on the use of community social capital in fisheries’ engagement with marine spatial planning in Orkney.

Social capital refers to practices, values and sets of norms found within different forms of social networks (or communities) which can contribute to the collaboration, functioning and collective action of the network. Social capital can be produced within a community (bonding), between different kinds of communities (bridging) or across scales and hierarchical structures (linking). Community resilience theory assumes that community members can act as agents of change, whereby they use different strategies to ensure the survival of the community in face of change. For example by engaging in social relation within and beyond the boundaries of the community to mobilize resources or gain power.

By conducting qualitative interviews with fishermen, representatives of fisher organizations, researchers and policy makers, I have gained insight in the different ways in which the Orkney inshore shellfish fisher community employs and continues to develop its community social capital in order to collaborate, mobilize resources to generate information to reframe the definition and formal representation of marine space and to gain power in (future) marine spatial planning negotiations.

Although social capital seems to be an enabling factor for participation in policy making, this research has shown that it is not a community asset which can be readily mobilized. Having social capital, does thus not equal having agency to act. Seeing the participatory sphere as one of unequal power, stakeholders’ ability to gain influence in governance processes is influenced by institutional limiting and facilitating factors. Social organization of fishermen in fisher organizations has shown to be an important enabling factor for participation in marine spatial planning, in Orkney.

 

Agricultural cooperatives and the social economy in Kenya – IMRD thesis by Jordan Treakle

treakle-dairy-cooperative-in-kenyaLast autumn Jordan Treakle successfully defended his Master of Science thesis ‘Agricultural cooperatives and the social economy in Kenya’s changing governance landscape’ in Wageningen’s Rural Sociology Group to complete his International Master in Rural Development. Below a synopsis of the thesis. Continue reading