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.
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.
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.
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.