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Exploring cooperative place-based approaches to restorative agriculture

Swagemakers, Paul, Domínguez García, M. Dolores, Milone, Pierluigi, Ventura, Flaminia, Wiskerke, Johannes S.C.
Journal of rural studies 2019 v.68 pp. 191-199
case studies, farmers, farming systems, food chain, income, land use, modernization, politics, product quality, public policy
The modernisation of agriculture has been, and continues to be, the cause of an increasing disconnection between farming, nature, and society. This has given rise to a series of social, economic, and ecological crises in the food chain. Some farmers are responding to this by adjusting their land-use and farming practices so as to make their farms more sustainable. But such changes need to be aligned with the specificities of the local bio-physical environment and the logic of the political economic environment. This article highlights how cooperative approaches allow public and private regulatory systems to support ecological transitions. Through a theoretical lens on place-based and restorative farming practices it analyses and interprets three complementary cooperative approaches as possible starting points for the transition towards a more sustainable agri-food system. The case studies show how farmers cooperatives can be either linked to the environment and to public policies (and thus extrinsic product quality), or to the market (and intrinsic product quality), or a combination of both. These links provide competitive advantages to farmers, and enable them to increase income from farming. We then discuss the effectiveness of these forms of self-governance, and how cooperative approaches, if well organised and implemented and appropriately embedded, can empower farmers to further change and adapt their farming practices so as to restore and improve their endogenous resource base. The analysis shows that while they are place-specific they are far from locally/regionally-bounded and that their success (or failure) critically depends on their alignment with national, supra-national and global actants.