AgriLink The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: direct selling. - AgriLink

The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: direct selling.

Portugal, Tâmega e Sousa
Region

Tâmega e Sousa is an intermediate consumption countryside region (NUTS 3) located in Northwest of Portugal, with an average population density of 235 inhabitants per km2. This region extends from a more westerly location, the Sousa river valley bordering the Porto metropolitan area, towards a more Inland easterly area, in the low part of Tâmega river valley. In this region, 84% of the farms has less than 5 hectares (2017) and familiar small-scale farmers, often part-time farmers, are predominant.

Region map.

Most of the farms are characterised by a polyculture orientation, where the horticultural crops are dominant. However, most of the farms have small areas of vine, part of the region is included in the DOC of Vinhos Verdes, and the cattle breeding, whilst declining it is still relevant in some cases. More recently new crops, such as the berries and the kiwis, expanded in the region, led by new-entrant and young farmers’ settlement dynamics.

Study focus

The study focuses on the marketing and organizational innovation introduced in the region by the PROVE framework, a direct selling approach (www. prove.com.pt). The PROVE built on the creation of small groups, of 3 up to 5 small polyculture-farm producers, which were locally supported by Local Development Action (LDA) groups during the implementation stage, aiming at empower them to be self-sustained afterwards.

PROVE developed training modules and a digital platform were farmers can receive the consumers’ orders on a weekly basis. Producers are expected to organize themselves in order to weekly deliver boxes of fresh horticultural and fruits to the consumers at predefined delivery points in the consumer’s residence area. The PROVE was a funded in its first stages, firstly by the EQUAL EU initiative and later by the Portuguese RDP (between 2007 and 2013). PROVE was piloted in 2008 by four LDA across Portugal, including the ADER-SOUSA, a LDA acting at the subregion of Tâmega Valley.

The PROVE was initially very successful and a number of small producers engaged in the initiative. It rapidly expanded to the easterly side of the region with the support of another LDA. By 2012 the region of Tâmega e Sousa was a nationwide successful PROVE case study concentrating 45% of the PROVE producers and 30% of the groups existing in Portugal at the time. There were at the time a total of 6 groups with 26 producers, each producer’s groups having an average of more than 4 producers. However, and has feared by the producers, the groups were too larger and the number of producers involved excessive to supply the limited demand of consumers. Hence, our study focused on the innovation abandoning by a significant number of initially adopters. Most of the small producers simply drop out from the direct selling or return to its traditional limited direct sale at farm gate or in local markets.

A number of more specialized producers, including new-entrants and young farmers engaged other schemes of direct selling addressing restaurants and gourmet groceries located in Porto metropolitan area. In some cases, producers from this later group opted to deliver their production, namely in the case of kiwis and berries, to local cooperatives. By the time the AgriLink survey took place, in 2018, there were none PROVE groups in the easterly side of the region, whereas a few, including recent groups, have at most two producers, led by individual dynamics.

PROVE http://www.prove.com.pt/www/

Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro

Lívia Madureira, lmadurei@utad.pt

University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) has been involved in PROVE assessment in 2012. The team involved in AgriLink involves researchers from the CETRAD (Centre for Transdisciplinary Development Studies) with experience in former EU projects on farm advice, including PRO AKIS and a focus on KIS (knowledge and innovation systems) and KIBS (knowledge intensive business services).

Lessons learned
1 There is a gap existing respecting the farm advisory supply to direct selling and other marketing and organizational-related innovations.
This case highlights the gap existing respecting the farm advisory supply to direct selling and other marketing and organizational-related innovations. Collaborative innovation is needed, but it requires new players. Novel forms of cooperation and group facilitators are required to tackle the main challenges identified by this case. Are very few the producers, and tend to be more the females, enjoying the effort to engage in direct selling and cultivating long-term relationships with their customers. Most of the small-scale producers, and in particular specialized ones, prefer to dedicate themselves to the production and to prevent excessive burden with the commercialisation of their production. That is a major challenge often neglected by direct selling initiatives, like PROVE, assuming short food supply chain as an ideal solution to increase the income and to ensure socioeconomic sustainability of small-scale familiar farmers.
2 The failure of “PROVE boxes” scheme in this region caches success stories.
On the other hand, the failure of “PROVE boxes” scheme in this region caches success stories that show the initiative was a fruitful experience for collective learning amongst small-scale familiar producers. The producers that progressed with the direct selling took advantage of learning with whom they could easily cooperate to maintain the PROVE “logo” by enhancing the “boxes” quality and diversity to please those loyal customers they had conquered. Hence, new initiatives can emerge empowered by the learned lessons.
3 Farmers need to be alleviated of the excessive burden of direct selling.
Farmers need to be alleviated of the excessive burden of direct selling and for that novel forms of cooperation involving collaborative innovation are required. That could tackle as well the consumers fatigue caused by repetitive ‘boxes’ lacking products diversity and novelty.

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