Special Issue "Distributed, Interconnected and Democratic Agri-Food Economies: New Directions in Research"
A special issue of Agriculture (ISSN 2077-0472).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2016)
Prof. Sergio Schneider
Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Post-Graduate Programme in Rural Development, Avenida João Pessoa, 31, Centro, 90040-000, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil and Academic Visitor at Centre for Food Policy School of Arts & Social Sciences, Department of Sociology, City University London, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB, UK
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Interests: sociology of food; rural development; food security; rural non-agricultural activities; family farming; territorial development and rural policies
Agri-food systems, dominated by vertically integrated large private enterprises, have undoubtedly contributed to achieving high food production and productivity levels along the food supply chain. At the same time, they have failed to meet the challenge of feeding a growing global population within the limits of the “Planetary Boundaries” and the cost-price squeeze of commodity production has increased marginalization, inequality, and vulnerability of small and medium size producers. In order to achieve the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals, the transition to “sustainable agri-food systems” has become a core policy objective at local, national, and international levels.
Following the insights and recommendations of De Schutter’s Report, “The transformative potential of the right to food”, this Special Issue aims at developing a multidisciplinary discussion on the re-construction of local and regional agri-food systems as a response to the existing conventional agri-food systems crisis. In this Special Issue, we frame the transition to sustainable agri-food systems as a re-configuration of rural-urban relationships, putting rural development, economic viability, and “sustainable scaling” for the rural and peri-urban family farms at the heart of the sustainable re-connection between the countryside, ecosystems, and the city. Furthermore, according to De Schutter, transition to sustainable agri-food systems needs democratization of the agri-food production and distribution system since “the greatest deficit in the food economy is the democratic one”. Indeed, the re-construction of local and regional agri-food systems may result in the economic democratization of food by operating a decentralization of control over food systems to the local people, that implies the possibility for communities to choose which food systems to depend on and how to reshape those systems.
This Special Issue aims at creating a space to discuss re-territorialization practices and theories beyond the disciplinary boundaries and at connecting different approaches that are separately dispersed. We are seeking contributions on practices and theories operating at three different levels: micro, meso, and macro.
The micro level perspective corresponds to the farm. New re-territorialization practices consist of new or diverse activities that re-define farming and farm boundaries along four directions:
- multifunctional diversification;
- ecosystem services;
- climate smart agriculture.
The meso level perspective corresponds to the local and regional markets and food supply chains. Re-territorialization strategies involve the construction of new «nested markets» created through a process of re-spatialization and re-socialization of farming and distribution aiming at re-connecting the small and mid-scale farms with the broad local rural economy and at bridging the urban–rural divide. The creation of nested markets is led by new organizational and coordinative economic structures and patterns and innovative business models that are presented in the literature with distinct concepts and approaches:
- Alternative Agri-Food Networks;
- Short Food Supply Chains;
- Values Based Food Supply Chains;
- Complex Adaptive Food Systems.
From being “novelties”, after almost three decades of impressive growth, those practices have become “mature niches” and this Special Issue aims at identifying what the next steps are. Indeed, scaling (up and out) is the next hurdle for these new markets, and organizational and business structures. In order to effect broader systemic impacts and to meet both the rise of the local foods market they will have to grow.
According to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity and avoiding the risks of the “local trap” and “defensive localism” thisSpecial Issue aims to analyze the main challenges rural development strategies in the scaling process:
- providing the right quantity and consistency of products and at the same time maintaining the quality for individuals, families, and big buyers needs,
- providing a more varied range of products, and therefore overcoming the existing tension between variety and locality
- improving accessibility and convenience for meeting the consumers needs of healthy and fresh food, especially for low-income communities
- assuring food security and safety while preserving ecosystems through the introduction of climate smart, sustainable land use practices along the food chain.
To cope with those challenges, more diffused, coordinated, effective, and efficient supply and distribution systems are needed, but many scholars advert the risk of co-optation within the conventional food systems. Can local food scale (out and up) its positive impacts on society without becoming Tesco? In other words, is it possible to borrow some of the economic and logistical efficiencies of the conventional food chain while retaining social and environmental priorities such as sustainable agricultural practices and profitability for small- and mid-scale family farms and food businesses? New business models and organizational structures as Food Hubs (out and up) are able to achieve scale by aggregating products from multiple farms. In opposition to the economies of scale model, they allow small-scale farmers sustainable scaling up through collective action rather than increasing the size of individual farms.
This Special Issue aims at answering these questions and to go further into the theoretical speculation for the understanding of how this transition to sustainable regional and local agri-food systems model can be conceptualized into more macro (national and international) economies that characterize our societies.
We invite case studies, theoretical, or literature review papers aiming at presenting and analyzing different approaches adopted to conceptualize re-territorialization strategies at a micro level (agroecology, multifunctional diversification; ecosystem services; climate smart agriculture) at a meso level (Alternative Agri-Food Networks; Short Food Supply Chains; Values Based Food Supply Chains; Complex Adaptive Food Systems). Furthermore, we invite papers on the scaling-up of local food systems and on how a distributed and interconnected agri-food economies model can respond to macro level socio-economic structures.
Rather than presenting a single unified and overarching conceptual framework, this Special Issue aims to ‘connect the dots’, creating a conceptual map of the different theories and discourses on sustainable regional and local agri-food systems. In this conceptual map we aim to identify limits and potentials of the single theories and discourses and to emphasize the differences and similarities that exist among them. Recognizing that activities at the scale of the local and the global are in many ways co-constitutive and relational, we also examine how processes operating at different scales interact and feed back into each other, rather than operating in isolation.
Manuscript Submission Information
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- sustainable and climate smart agriculture
- local food system
- food value chains
- alternative food networks
- territorial food systems
- nested market
- complex adaptive food systems
- rural development
- food democracy