AgriLink The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: innovative labour arrangements, farmers willing to work together and form a legal structure such as a coöperative. - AgriLink

The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: innovative labour arrangements, farmers willing to work together and form a legal structure such as a coöperative.

Belgium, West Flanders
Region

The focus region that was chosen in relation to the selected innovation was the province of West-Flanders (BE25 – Nuts 2 – Rings, see figure 5). This region was chosen because:

  • This is the region in Flanders with the largest amount of farmers
  • This is the region with the most farmers that are in a cooperative structure

However, because this region was not large enough to get the complete picture of the case study, we had to include some other provinces in Flanders to get a complete picture.

Region map.

In May of 2013, a total of 8,678 agricultural and horticultural businesses were counted in West Flanders, which is 34.9% of the Flemish total. This situation is reflected in the distribution of agricultural area in Flanders. In West Flanders, a total of 205,764 hectares are used as agricultural land, which is exactly one third of the Flemish total. Almost three quarters (74.1%) of the 15.1 million animals in the West-Flemish herd was poultry; 23% of the total were pigs. It is clear that a process of scaling up is going on in agriculture and horticulture. In May of 2009, the average horticultural company in West Flanders consisted of 21.8 hectares of land; in 2013 this had increased to 24.6 ha.

Study focus

This case was chosen because as innovation support service in Flanders we were integrating a new advisory service on cooperatives in our organisation. One of the main hurdles for sustainable and innovative agriculture is that farmers are struggling to work together. The study focus is how advisory services can help farmers take this hurdle and start to work together and form legal structures.

A cooperative is “an independent association of women and men, united voluntarily to meet their common, social, cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise”. agricultural cooperatives unite mainly farmers who are owner, decision maker and manager of the company (cooperative) that realize a common goal like marketing and processing of their farm products, the purchase and production of farm inputs or machineries, research… Most of the cooperatives aim to increase members’ income or facilitate the business of the individual farmers by helping them to better link their production and income with finance, agricultural inputs, information, or output markets. The cooperative might specialise in production, service provision, or marketing. It also might offer support within some (or all) of these various stages. In this case we want to study how the advisory system on cooperatives works nowadays and how it aids farmers in setting up new cooperatives. Furthermore, we want to examine how existing cooperatives handle their governance, and we inform whether they are getting help from advisors to strengthen the cooperative on different aspects (governance, member engagement, …). Finally, we want to find out if setting up new cooperatives can stimulate innovation in agriculture because some farmers believe that, if you are too small to innovate on your own, you can do it together.

 

Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

Innovation Support Centre

Innovation Support Center for Agricultural and Rural Development – INNOVATIESTEUNPUNT,  is situated in Flanders, the Dutch speaking northern part of Belgium. Our mission is to inform and inspire farmers about new challenges and opportunities and to support them with the development and implementation of concrete projects.

Lessons learned
1 A distinction can be made between the large, traditional cooperatives and the smaller, younger ones.
For this case study, a distinction can be made between the large, traditional cooperatives and the smaller, younger ones. For the former, advisory organisations hardly played a role during the awareness and assessment stages. Farmers stated that joining cooperatives has grown historically, and that they gradually became aware of their existence through their parents while growing up.
2 Joining the cooperative often seemed like the only logical thing to do.
There was not really an active assessment stage, as joining the cooperative often seemed like the only logical thing to do or even went automatically when taking over the farm of their parents. In the few cases were there was an active assessment stage, farmers would gain advice from farmer based cooperatives under the form of one-to-one advice in person, or through organised workshops. The implementation stage was reduced to a single meeting with representatives from the cooperative, where the shares were purchased and everything was arranged.
3 For the smaller and younger cooperatives, the role of advisory instances was more prominent.
For the smaller and younger cooperatives, the role of advisory instances was more prominent. Pioneers who had the idea of starting a cooperative would try to gain as much as advice as they could, from a variety of sources. They would meet up and negotiate with representatives from the private sector, farmer based cooperatives (e.g. Innovatiesteunpunt), environmental workers, accounting offices, peers from other countries… These same actors played a part in the implementation stage as well. New members often would hear about the existence of these new cooperatives through other farmers who already were member or via farmer based cooperatives.

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