Service Communautaire d'Information sur la Recherche et le Développement - CORDIS

Analysis of rural development impact of case-study organic marketing initiatives

Our study of Organic Marketing Initiatives (OMIs) was designed to explore the extent to which the benefits of organic production are secured and multiplied for the rural environment and the communities that depend on it by marketing and processing activities. We used a comparative case study approach (informed by Actor Network Theory) particularly as examples of rural development driven by organic production are as yet relatively rare.

Four case study OMIs were selected in Austria, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, and the process involved both local teams and researchers from other countries, and an Advisory Committee of local actors. Fieldwork was carried out consecutively in October and November 2002. The key contributions of the OMIs to rural development of all OMIs studied are relatively modest in terms of direct income and employment generation, although their indirect or softer contributions are considerable, supporting and embedding confidence and raising regional profile. They also provide a model for improved impacts in the future, particularly if marketing management can be improved.

Most operate in peripheral areas valued for their culture, landscape and production of traditional, typical regional products; most have good transport links to thriving markets. Institutional conditions provide a key dimension to rural development success. However, other initiatives capitalising on regional image have bypassed organic producers, who have tended to concentrate on more specialised opportunities; tensions exist as to whether organic agriculture should be promoted as a mainstream opportunity or market niche.

We use Actor Network Theory (ANT) to explore interdependence between initiatives and regional institutional actors in rural development processes. The main process analysed by the ANT is the growth and extension of spheres of influence and power, through processes of translation or enrolment. Translation follows four stages: an actor analysing a situation, defining the problem and proposing a solution; other actors becoming interested in the solution proposed and changing their affiliation to a group in favour of the new actor; the solution becomes accepted as a new concept and a new network of interests generated; and finally, the new network operating to implement the proposed solution. This framework is increasingly used for analysis of rural change processes, showing how rural networks function, and exploring their ability to involve various stakeholders into a common set of interests.

Case study OMIs have not been particularly active in introducing their ideas and solutions to institutional structures, though the prevailing institutional climate plays a key role in the nature and extent of the cooperation. OMIs should attempt to become more open-minded: internally, they need to absorb newly converted organic farmers whose perceptions and experience is likely to be different from that of the existing membership; externally, in the framework of intensifying competition, partnership between OMIs is required in consumer education, promoting the wider social, cultural and environmental benefits of organic food. Conflict and misunderstanding between regional policymakers and OMIs need to be resolved through a process of dialogue and integration; this will help to reinforce public sector support for the process of new OMI formation, and also to take advantage of Structural Funds. National governments have a clearly defined role in supporting the organic sector, in regulating organic standards, providing conversion aids, carrying out research and providing extension services. A broader perspective, concentrating on the position of primary organic production in the supply chain, would assist OMIs; specifically by investigating the market potential of supply chains extending beyond home regions, and provision of supportive infrastructure; and contributing their own resources to supplement the likely shortfall in the Rural Development Plans funding. All the OMIs we investigated had a keen interest in and a desire to learn from the experience of others. The European Commission, in consultation with national governments, should act to establish a continent-wide network of producer initiatives, which market sustainably produced primary products to disseminate best practice.

Reported by

University of Wales Aberystwyth
School of Management and Business, Penglais
United Kingdom