IAJBS 23rd Annual World Forum University of Namur, Namur, Belgium

Experience level: 
Denise Van Dam, Emeline De Bouver

Organic farming collectives, between idealization and realization

Organic farming collectives, between idealization and realization Organic farming is a component of a more sustainable agriculture and economy. From its origins on it has been considered in its double dimension of social movement and alternative agronomic practices. This contribution aims to understand the internal dynamics of the movement through the multiple collectives that are part of it. Contrary to the lenifying discourses about those collectives, we want to unravel, to open the black box, the internal dynamics in order to make aware of the tensions that those collectives are exposed to. We also analyze the strategies they develop to cope with those. We distinguish three poles within the collectifs : political project, governance structure and personal development. Our interdisciplinary team studied, in Wallonia and in Auvergne, six organic collectives which are more or less structured groups of producers and consumers such as (social) cooperatives, farmer's markets and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We used a variety of qualitative methods (semi-structured interviews- each interview was conducted by a team of two-, study of documents, observation and participant observation. The date were analyzes during several long team meetings. The results show firstly a great diversity of the political projects, between the collectives and within the same collective. The three major projects that emerge are : contestation, sustainable development and the “integral political project”. Secondly, the pole of governance shows a strong discrepancy between discourses and practices. The discourse of informal and decentralized governance contrasts with the informal but centralized practice. Indeed, we observe a gradual shift from collective (informal and decentralized) management towards the taking in charge of the various tasks by the founding members. This gives rise to strong tensions between the members of the collectives marked by emotions of dissatisfaction, frustration, disappointment and anger. Thirdly, personal development is a driving force for engagement in the collective. Members resource themselves in the relationships with the other farmers and costumers, during festivity meetings. However, some founding members become exhausted by caring too much about the others, leading in some cases to burn out. Fourthly, tensions within the poles of governance and of personal development reinforce each other. Fifthly, various strategies to overcome those tensions are implemented. They mostly consist in introducing (or updating) rules of governance allowing to better define the functions and workloads of each. These rules are essentially based on the principles of participatory democracy. The interest of our research goes beyond the field of organic farming by providing a better understanding of the collective dynamics of many citizen initiatives, for instance those in the field of the transition movement. Some of them are mentioned in the movie "Demain" whose producers, Mélanie Laurent and Cyril Dion were honored by a honoris causa of the University of Namur in 2016.