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Sustainability and Resilience in

Agrifood Systems: Reconnecting


Agriculture, Food and the Environment
Claire Lamine

Abstract
The sustainability and resilience of agrifood systems are generally considered either
through the sustainable development paradigm, which focuses on the interactions
between agriculture and the environment and often neglects consumption and food
issues, or through the relocalisation paradigm, which prevails in the literature on alternative food systems and social movements. Because of its focus on direct producerconsumer relations, the relocalisation perspective suggests a possible transition pathway,
but does not fully address the diversity of interdependencies in agrifood systems (food
being largely processed, distributed and provided by intermediaries) and therefore fails to
effectively reconnect agriculture and food issues. This article shows the need to consider
the possible reconnections between agricultural, food and environmental issues from a
perspective that takes this diversity in agrifood systems into account. Such a perspective
would go beyond the prevailing paradigm of relocalisation. Based on the analysis of
recent scientific and public debates and on case studies carried out in France and Brazil,
the article suggests a territorial agrifood systems perspective that takes account of the
diverse actors and institutions involved in agriculture and food, and the diverse relations
between agriculture, food and the environment that can contribute to the development of
alternative and more resilient pathways.

he sustainability and resilience of agrifood systems are most often approached


through one of two main paradigms: either the sustainable development paradigm, which focuses on the interactions between agriculture and the environment to
the detriment of food issues, or the relocalisation paradigm, which finds its roots in
the literature on alternative food systems and in social movements and rather claims

This paper is based on a SORU lecture entitled Sustainability and resilience in agrifood
systems: Claims, controversies and paradigms delivered at the ESRS Congress Rural resilience
andvulnerability: the rural as locus of solidarity and conflict in times of crisis, Florence, August
2013.
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DOI: 10.1111/soru.12061

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closer links between agriculture and food, considering that these are also good for the
environment. The prevailing argument is that a relocalisation of production and
consumption is more sustainable in ecological, economic and social terms owing to
shorter distances, fewer intermediaries, more direct links between producers and
consumers, and less industrial processing. Reconnecting producers and consumers
seems to be considered as equivalent to reconnecting agriculture and food. I show
that the relocalisation perspective does not really reconnect agriculture and food. First
of all, agricultural and food practices are often considered asymmetrically; possible or
necessary changes in diet are often not given the same priority as the need to change
agricultural practice. Secondly, the relocalisation paradigm fails to address the interdependencies in agrifood systems1 and the diversity of actors and institutions due to
its focus on direct producer and consumer links and on alternative actors. As a result,
the relocalisation paradigm suggests a possible transition pathway to sustainability
based on a radical simplification of agrifood systems interdependencies. However,
food is not only produced and consumed, but also processed, distributed and provided
by a great diversity of other operators (including less alternative ones). These operators collaborate in numerous and complex interdependencies that in many contexts
require the conceptualisation of more inclusive transition pathways.
The article aims to show that what is at stake goes beyond relocalisation; there is
a need to observe the possible reconnections between agriculture, food and environmental policies and issues from a perspective that takes account of the diversity of
agrifood systems actors and institutions and the complexity of their interdependencies. The current disconnection between agriculture and food is even stronger than
between agriculture and the environment, considering that environmental aspects
have been considered a core issue for the last few decades, albeit to various degrees
depending on national and local contexts. Of course, the connection between agriculture and food seems so obvious agriculture produces mainly food, most food comes
from agriculture2 that one largely fails to see their contemporary disconnection. As
Mintz (1985) and many ethnologists before him pointed out long ago, most human
communities in the pre-industrial world relied and some still rely on a universal
pattern of agronomy and cuisine (agriculture and food) based on three elements: a
core (grain or tuber), a legume (for protein and nitrogen fixation) and a fringe (for
flavour). As a result of the long-term processes of industrialisation, transportation
development, division of labour and specialisation of agriculture, this dyadic pattern
of agriculture and food, agronomy and cuisine3 is no longer necessary for the survival
of human communities. This has led to the current situation in which, despite their
obvious connection, agriculture and food are usually disconnected in scientific theories and public policies.
The findings are based on my analysis of recent and ongoing debates in the
scientific, civil society and institutional arenas, and on the empirical evidence of case
studies that I have carried out in recent years in France and Brazil. My intention is to
demonstrate the need to go beyond the relocalisation paradigm and to consider the
diversity of actors and institutions in these agrifood systems, as well as their interdependencies, with a view to reconnecting agriculture not only with the environment
but also with food, both in analytical approaches and in collective action addressing
the issues of agrifood systems sustainability and resilience.
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In the first section, I discuss how the sustainability and resilience of agrifood
systems is being debated in the social sciences and demonstrate the pre-eminence of
the relocalisation paradigm. In the second, I characterise the claims concerning these
issues in social movements, based on the analysis of recent changes in the discourses
of three French social movements: the box scheme networks of the Associations pour
le Maintien de lAgriculture Paysanne (AMAPs), the Confdration Paysanne small
farmers union, and the Alimentons nos rgions food procurement campaign. In
these claims, the relocalisation paradigm is also strongly present, even though related
paradigms have recently emerged, such as food sovereignty and agro-ecology. In the
third section, I turn to public policies and look at the institutionalisation of agroecology in Brazil and its emergence in France, and analyse how the different visions
of agro-ecology address the link between agriculture, food and the environment, and
the controversies they raise. I discuss the presence of the relocalisation paradigm and
of agriculture-food-environment reconnection arguments in these different worlds
(academia, social movements and public policies), which of course interact extensively, as will be shown. In the fourth and last part, based on a territorial case study in
southern France, I draw the outlines of a theoretical and empirical approach designed
to address the main shortcomings of the relocalisation paradigm. In other words, I
consider the diversity of stakeholders, institutions and initiatives in the agrifood
systems as well as their interdependencies, with a view to reconnecting agriculture
and food.
Debates in the social sciences over sustainability and resilience in agrifood
systems: competing paradigms and approaches
How do social scientists address the sustainability and resilience of agrifood systems?
While sustainability has for some time been a key word in the agrifood systems
literature and in other fields, resilience entered the field much more recently. Due to
a historical anchorage of resilience approaches in the ecological sciences, they have
only lately started to be applied by social scientists to agrifood systems (Sundkvist et al.
2005). The sustainability of agrifood systems is most often defined in reference to the
three classical pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic and social), in an
often static and normative way, while the notion of resilience is defined in a more
dynamic way, in terms of the ability to cope with shocks and stresses. There tends,
however, to be confusion between the two notions. In the social sciences resilience
sometimes becomes equivalent to sustainability. Moreover, most studies in social
sciences literature focus on the sustainability of agricultural practices (and on their
impacts), thus addressing mainly agriculture-environment interactions, while the
larger scale of agrifood systems is rarely explored. The only exceptions, as will be seen,
are studies from a critical standpoint, which assess the unsustainability of the dominant (or mainstream or corporate) agrifood system, or articles in the literature on
alternative food networks.
In the food regimes theory, agrifood systems scientists have concentrated on the
global-scale analysis of negative trends in global food relations (Friedmann and
McMichael 1989; McMichael 2000). This theory identifies two key periods in capitalist history: the colonial food relations regime and the post-World War II food and
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aid policies regime. These two food regimes are based on two key relations: distance
between producers and consumers, and durability of key food commodities like
wheat. In a different theoretical language, this has also been explored by Mintz (1985)
in Sweetness and power: study of the place of sugar in modern history and by Cronon (1991)
in Natures metropolis, in which he explains how the interrelations between three
distinct ecosystems (beef, grain and lumber trade), distant from one another and from
the city, underpinned the growth of Chicago. Cronon also describes the processes of
decomposition and recombination of basic food elements that characterise commodity chains. This interpretation echoes that of some regulation theorists who have
identified two conceptions of quality: one based on such processes of decomposition
and recombination; the other on a conception of a holistic quality based on identity
(Allaire and Wolf 2004).
Like Buttel, one may wonder what are the forces and processes that enable the
social and ecological reproduction of the unsustainability of agriculture? (Buttel
2006, p. 218). The post-World War II global food regime was sustained, despite its
ecological and social unsustainability, thanks to the regulatory processes and structures that allowed its stabilisation, but also because the ecological and social consequences were distant from the decision makers and consumers. However, the mutual
reinforcement of actual ecological crises in intensive agriculture and the emergence
of a cultural de-legitimisation of the regime, exemplified in the 1990s series of food
scares, have led to the crisis of the present global food regime (Campbell 2009).
Industrial food has shifted from being scientific and safe (as well as cheap) to
being toxic and potentially detrimental to our long-term health (Campbell 2009). In
that sense, the same two principles underpinning the food regime (distance and
durability) also explain the unsustainability and the crisis of this regime (Friedmann
1993).
These authors revealed the mechanisms through which the global food regime
responds to the growing criticism, for example, through green labels (Buller and
Morris 2004; Campbell 2005),4 which acknowledge the emergence of a new corporate environmental food regime. This third regime is characterised by the audit
culture (as in GlobalGAP schemes), the measurement of food safety, the definition
of ecological quality and even sometimes the new emphasis on the value of taste
and localness, all of which create information flows and feedbacks between consumers and distant ecologies (Campbell 2009). However, this corporate environmental food regime might also lead to the exclusion or exploitation of vulnerable
producers or producers not resourced or culturally positioned to meet these
Eurocentric production standards (Campbell 2005), and to the export of negative
ecological externalities.
Beyond their critical perspective, food regime theorists also consider the sites of
resistance, and explain how they are caught in a complex political dialectic with the
emergence of this green capitalism (Friedmann and McNair 2008). From a more
optimistic perspective, Friedmann argues that a sustainable food regime would need
to subvert the corporate regimes dynamics and to create sites for re-embedding food
in local settings, based on the argument that the two foundational principles of
distance and durability have to be reversed into localness and seasonality (Friedmann
1993).
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Beyond this specific field of food regime theory, there has clearly been a growing
interest since the early 2000s in the social sciences in alternative food systems,
though of course with national particularities. For example, there seems to be greater
focus on health issues in Canada and in the USA, whereas in Europe the attention is
rather on small farms (Deverre and Lamine 2010). In this literature, the sustainability
of alternative food systems is often linked to the relocalisation paradigm, sometimes
through a more or less explicit application of the three classical pillars of sustainability: more local meaning less physical distance and thereby less environmental
impact5; fewer intermediaries between producers and consumers and thereby more
added value and better economic conditions for (generally small) farmers; and, finally,
less social distance between producers and consumers and therefore closer social
links and more social sustainability.
This alternative food systems literature encompasses a diversity of theoretical
approaches. Some authors focus on social actors agency and their ability to become
active in challenging the dominant regime, and consider locally based food networks as
a new paradigm for rural development (Van der Ploeg et al. 2000). Others rely on actor
network theory to focus on learning processes and on the connections between production and consumption (Whatmore and Thorne 1997; Stassart and Whatmore 2003).
The sustainability of alternative or local food systems can also be analysed from a
socio-ecological perspective, inspired by resilience theories. From that perspective,
local-scale food systems can be considered as more sustainable because they have
tight feedback loops linking consumers, producers and ecological effects (Sundkvist
et al. 2005). In contrast, in the mainstream globalised food system there is no opportunity for ecological and social feedback as the focus on distance and durability
directly undermines the potential for system-wide ecological feedbacks and signals
(Campbell 2009). Campbell also wonders whether ecological feedback can operate
over longer distances in the world food system and whether new environmental and
food audits may act as a vector for genuine ecological feedback. This leads to the
question of whether some adaptive responses, such as reduced chemical usage,
carbon footprinting and food miles criteria, may be considered as ecological feedback.
This ecological perspective gives way to a new version of the relocalisation paradigm,
one which claims to go beyond a strict definition of localness. Some authors have
started to discuss the advantages of regional (versus just local) approaches. Their
argument is that on a larger scale (geographically variable according to context), the
diversity of soils, climates and crops helps to meet a self-sufficiency objective and
promotes resilience because it preserves options, and hence flexibility, and enables
producers to persist in the face of change a key process in resilience theories (Clancy
and Ruhf 2010).
While most of the alternative food networks literature tends to focus on the
relocalisation of agrifood systems from an essentially optimistic perspective (as in a
large range of studies about food sheds, community-supported agriculture, farmers
markets, etc.), some negative aspects of localism have also been pointed out. This is
found in more critical perspectives that reveal risks of inequity or exclusion, as well as
a certain compatibility of alternative food systems with neoliberal governmentality
and the focus on individual responsibility (DuPuis and Goodman 2005; Goodman
et al. 2011).
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Whether from a more optimistic or more critical (or more neutral) perspective, a
focus on the relocalisation paradigm might hide the need for reconnections. In the
relocalisation literature (Watts et al. 2005), reconnection is strongly associated with
direct links between consumers and producers and with proximity. This frequent
focus on relocalisation can be partly explained by the fact that most of the literature
discusses the competing dynamics of globalisation and relocalisation (Marsden and
Smith 2005), and has indeed offered fruitful insights into the transformative potential of alternative food networks, provided that critical pressure on the dominant
global food regime is maintained (Allen et al. 2003). Despite this incontestable
transformative potential, I argue here that the relocalisation paradigm has three
important limits.
Firstly, even though it maybe implicitly considered, the issue of eating habits and
diet (and of their sustainability) is rarely addressed in the alternative food systems
literature. While current agricultural and marketing practices are most often considered as unsustainable and in need of profound change, the necessity to transform
eating habits and diets as well is generally not addressed.6 There is greater attention
on it in the growing literature on urban agriculture urban food strategies, community gardens, etc. due to its focus on nutrition and food security (Friedmann 2007).
It also appears more frequently in the burgeoning literature on agro-ecology, as
discussed below.
The second neglected aspect is the interdependencies in the agrifood system. Of
course, a possible pathway to sustainability is a radical simplification of these interdependencies, as for example in some types of community-supported agriculture
(CSA) box schemes. However, agrifood systems include many more social actors and
institutions than just consumers and producers, all of which interact and are connected through interdependent relations, and it is pertinent to consider these interdependencies as well.
Thirdly, it is necessary to consider this great diversity of stakeholders, institutions
and initiatives without pre-defining their alternativeness in a normative way, and to
examine their possible complementarities in a process of strengthening the sustainability and resilience of the agrifood system. It is often a combination of localised
production, marketing and consumption strategies with more distant ones, and of
more alternative and more mainstream schemes, which leads to a viable future at
both the individual and the collective level. Based on different case studies, I have
shown that complementarities between different outlets and networks (short and
longer food chains) allow for a better liveability (overall quality of life and working
conditions) for farmers, and that these complementarities often rely on collective
formal and informal strategies, which have to be addressed more broadly than on the
farm scale (Lamine 2012). For example, whereas in the past most fruit farmers would
deliver all their produce to the local cooperative or wholesaler, today they tend to
combine these traditional outlets with more direct sales most often in their small
region but also sometimes in distant regions through informal networks and other
types of regional outlets such as public procurement. Therefore, on a local or regional
scale, it proves worthwhile to consider a diversity of initiatives without pre-defining
their alternativeness in a normative way, as I argue in the last section. In other words,
one needs to consider the emergence of regional food networks that defy strict
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categorisation of local and global, fair trade, alternative and conventional, etc.
(Kneafsey 2010).
Calls for sustainability and resilience in the social movements: on relocalisation
and other related paradigms
Social movements involved in agrifood issues often link sustainability and resilience
to the local and to relocalisation processes. I illustrate this in an analysis of the
discourses of three French networks: Confdration Paysanne and La Via Campesina,
the AMAPs and the Alimentons nos rgions campaign.7 Although many more networks could be mentioned (transition towns, for instance), I selected these three cases
because I have studied them before and am able to discuss the evolution of their
discourses and claims in time. I have also noticed how strongly they are related, which
may explain why certain claims and paradigms spread so fast. I show that
relocalisation, and also food sovereignty and agro-ecology, appear today as common
political banners in all three networks.
While historically the main claims of the Confdration Paysanne and La Via
Campesina farmers movements8 were centred on production their key words
being peasant and small farms consumption and food have gained importance
in these organisations discourses in recent years. Consumers were absent in the
1998 peasant agriculture charter drawn up by the Confdration Paysanne; the only
references to consumption were the notions of transparency and quality, clearly
linked to the food scare context of the 1990s. By early 2013, in its Envie de paysans
campaign, the Confdration Paysanne defined peasant agriculture as a way to
re-establish ties between producers and citizens,9 and to allow everyone to have
access to quality and tasty food (Confdration Paysanne 2014a). It was thus aimed
at fostering the link not only between producers and consumers, but also between
peasant agriculture and good food. Today consumers are invited to visit farms and
farmers markets in the hope that this will prompt them to change their eating
habits and strengthen their relations with farmers. They are likewise encouraged to
take part in various actions (Confdration Paysanne 2014b), of which quite a symbolic example is the recent dismantling of the Ferme des mille vaches (1,000 cows
farm), a large intensive milk production estate in the north of France, coined as a
factory farm (Reporterre n.d.). For many militants this action was reminiscent of
the famous civic actions of previous decades, such as the Plateau du Larzac in the
1970s and the dismantling of the Millau McDonalds restaurant (1999), which
brought Jos Bov and the Confdration Paysanne into the foreground. In this
mobilisation of citizens in the defence of small farms, food appears as an important
feature. In the declaration of La Via Campesina (the international movement of
which Confdration Paysanne is member) about small farms and short supply
chains (2012), a strong argument links small peasant farms to diversified
diets:
The presence of numerous small farms provides a food that is culturally and naturally rich
and varied, although under the strong attack of corporate farming and distribution, which
tends to standardise the European diet (European Organisation via Campesina n.d.).
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The notions of local food autonomy and food sovereignty are also increasingly present
in these networks. While food sovereignty a concept that presumably emerged with
the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996 as an alternative to food security (Thivet
2014) was absent in the 1998 charter of the Confdration Paysanne and its
principles, today it appears as the first point in the definition of what peasant agriculture actually is (Confdration Paysanne 2012a). Food sovereignty and relocalisation are also two of the positions claimed by the organisation, along with peasant
agriculture, access to land, pesticides and the Common Agricultural Policy
(Confdration Paysanne 2012b). Interestingly, while the Confdration Paysannes
(2012c) position paper on relocalisation initially focused on hygiene standards and the
claim for more flexibility for small farms, its current version expresses a collective,
multi-stakeholder and territorial vision of agriculture-and-food connections. At the
international level, the 2007 Nyeleni declaration was probably an important turning
point in the trajectory of this notion of food sovereignty in the social movements
claims. It defined food sovereignty as
the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically
sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture
systems (Nylni 2007)

This reframes the issue of food security, taking it from a balance between agricultural
production and population growth to notions of fair distribution and autonomy in the
definition of agrifood systems, also called for by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter (2014).
Interestingly, the emerging notion of agro-ecology was not mentioned in the
Nyeleni declaration, while ecologically sustainable management, peasant and family
farms were. It seems that agro-ecology has gained importance in these organisations
discourses only in the last few years. In the Confdration Paysannes publications, it
is mainly from 2011 onwards that one finds references to agro-ecology, for instance in
a report on the future Common Agricultural Policy, which calls for a practical turn
towards agro-ecology (Confdration Paysanne 2011). On the international scale of La
Via Campesina, where agro-ecology was not present in the 2007 Nyeleni declaration,
it is frequently mentioned in more recent publications:
Peasant agro-ecology is a social and ecological system encompassing a great diversity of
technologies and practices that are culturally and geographically rooted. It removes dependencies on agro-toxins, rejects confined industrial animal production, uses renewable energies, and guarantees healthy food. It enhances dignity, honours traditional knowledge and
restores the health and integrity of the land. Food production in the future must be based on
a growing number of people producing food in more resilient and diverse ways (La Via
Campesina 2013).

In this recent definition of agro-ecology by La Via Campesina, one sees the emergence
of resilience and socio-ecological systems. The two notions of food sovereignty and
resilience are also closely associated in the international peasant movements call for
the Year of Family Farming (2014), which defines food sovereignty as the framework
for family farm resilience (La Vie Campenisa 2014). This new focus on resilience and
the wish to enhance the ecological dimension of peasant agriculture is also strongly
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related to the alliances that emerge among social movements and between these
movements and the academic world. For example, P. Rosset, a Mexican-American
researcher who is a well-known specialist on ecological farming and agro-ecology
(Altieri and Rosset 1996), offers technical support for the sustainable peasant agriculture commission of La Via Campesina (Thivet 2014).
One finds similar changes in more consumer-oriented and consumer-led networks10 such as the AMAPs, although with different starting points. In this movement, which emerged in France in the early 2000s and currently has about 1,600
CSA-type consumers participating in box schemes, the first claims already linked
peasant agriculture (small farms) to ecological farming and good food. Logically, food
was more central in their claims than in those of the farmers movement. Food
relocalisation has always been a core argument in these networks. While some
stakeholders lead their argument towards a notion of local self-reliance that also
involves an adjustment of consumers dietary needs and producers capacities, others
argue that reconnection beyond geographical distance can also be necessary. In their
view, consumers might be in touch with distant farmers for products that cannot be
produced in their region, and regional networks can also be linked through delivery
routes in order to offer more diversity in the product range, as in the case of the
Ecovida network in Brazil (Lamine et al. 2012).
Finally, as in the farmers movements, agro-ecology started to be put in the foreground by these box-scheme movements only recently. Today we find references to
agro-ecology on many AMAP documents and websites, which was not the case just a
few years ago. This is the result both of lasting controversies in these networks over
the right forms of agriculture (Lamine et al. 2012) and of a more general trend of
differentiation in the organic movements, as seen in the next section. The parallel
trajectory of the notion of agro-ecology in both networks (Confederation Paysanne and
AMAPs) might also partly be explained by the fact that in many regions AMAPs are
strongly linked to the Confederation Paysanne, through both their farmers and some
of their consumers. Some events that bring together a diversity of social movements,
such as a first national agro-ecology congress, held in Albi, south-western France, in
2008, have also probably played a role in this process. Lastly, various alliances
between different social movements (such as a French platform for food sovereignty
created in 2013 and involving several food networks, including those of the AMAPs)
most probably facilitate the dissemination of these claims.
Of course these social movements expect to directly or indirectly influence the
definition of national or European policies through consumer mobilisation. La
campagne qui fait bouger les politiques agricoles (the campaign that makes agricultural policies change) is one of the main arguments used by the Confederation
Paysanne to rally citizens. Along with consumer education and the implementation of
alternative forms of trade such as that of the AMAPs, consumer mobilisation in
various types of campaigns is one of the consumer movements main fields of action
(Dubuisson-Quellier et al. 2011). This is generally the case when it concerns public
food procurement policies, and I consider here a campaign that defines a much larger
claim: the Alimentons nos rgions campaign in France. This campaign in favour of
regional food self-reliance brought together most French alternative agriculture and
food social movements: the AMAPs and the Confdration Paysanne, as well as
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organic farming organisations such as Nature et Progrs, the French platform for fair
trade (Minga), farm seed movements (Semences Paysannes) and rural development
organisations such as Civam (Centres dInitiatives pour Valoriser lAgriculture et le
Milieu). It was launched in 2009 before the European elections and was reinforced in
2010 for the regional elections and then again in 2012 in the context of the French
presidential campaign. One of the first sentences of its call is to make food issues a
priority for development ... [and] ... a project of crucial democratic necessity
(Alimentons nos rgions 2012). Here too, food sovereignty and agro-ecology appear as
the main goals. In line with these campaigns, some French regions or smaller
territories are initiating agrifood policies. For instance, in the Provence-Alpes-CtedAzur region, a regional food sovereignty plan was discussed in 2013, although at the
time of writing it had not yet been launched.11
A common feature in all these cases is that scientists are increasingly mobilised by
social movements in order to legitimate their claims or become involved themselves. In
addition to the long list of social movements that are signatories, the Alimentons nos
rgions published a list of personalities, mainly from the academic world. It is partly
through such new alliances between civil society and the academic world that these
claims influence not only the agrifood systems literature mentioned above, but also
international, national and local policy making. Yet the main turn in agricultural public
policies in the last decades has been towards a reconnection not of agriculture and food
but rather albeit to a limited extent of agriculture and the environment, whereas it
could have been both. The commodities vision has not given place yet to a more
food-orientated vision, except in rare recent policies such as a government policy in
France concerning circuits courts (short food supply chains), first implemented in 2009
(Chiffoleau 2012). But it is mostly at local and regional level that more food-orientated
policies are defined, and all these policies, whether implemented on a national or more
local scale, still seem weak by comparison with the mainstream trends and policies.
Could the emergence of a new paradigm such as agro-ecology at the core of national
policies as has recently been the case in France lead to some reconnection of
agriculture and food, as the case of Brazil seems to suggest?
Controversies over competing denitions of agro-ecology in France and Brazil:
towards a vision of sustainability that would better connect agriculture, food and
the environment?12
Agro-ecology, as some of its best-known theorists suggest by explicitly including
food-related issues and food systems into their theoretical frameworks (Francis et al.
2003; Gliessman 2007) seems to be a paradigm that more adequately takes into
account the necessity to reconnect not only agriculture and the environment, but also
agriculture and food, and which also considers this as central to agrifood systems
sustainability. However, there are different visions of agro-ecology, and these visions
give more or less importance to the need for reconnecting agriculture, food and the
environment, as I argue here, based on the comparison of Brazilian and French cases.
In Brazil, the emergence of agro-ecology can be dated to the 1980s in networks
linked to what were then called alternative agricultures, that is, in social movements
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of farmers and citizens who defended family farming against the emerging
agribusiness (industrial agrifood system) in the political context of the Brazilian
dictatorship. Basically, alternative agricultures constituted a counter-movement to the
modernisation process supported by the dictatorial state. This alternative agriculture
movement soon became organised through a national network of alternative projects in agriculture (Assessoria e Servios a Projetos em Tecnologias Alternativas;
Support to Project in Alternative Techniques, created in 1980) and was progressively
institutionalised in the 1990s, still under the family farming banner. The institutionalisation has been visible in the creation of a Ministry for Agrarian Development
(MDA) in 2000 and of a national programme to support family farmers (Pronaf). It
has counterbalanced though with far fewer resources the Ministry of Agriculture,
which for decades implemented the successive phases of Brazilian agricultural
modernisation. In this process of institutionalisation, agro-ecology progressively took
a larger place. This was mainly the result of strong, lasting and organised interactions between social movements, scientific arenas and policy making, through
specific debates and in stakeholders trajectories (Lamine and de Abreu 2009; de
Abreu et al. 2011). The increasing influence of agro-ecology had a lot to do with the
fact that from 2000 onwards, key members of Brazilian agro-ecological movements
(mainly scientists close to the social movements or even from them) have occupied
important positions in the government and public institutions such as MDA, extension services and research. Brazilian extension policy officially turned towards agroecology in 2010, and agro-ecology is also increasingly present in research and
education as various universities develop doctoral and post-graduate programmes in
this field.
In short, agro-ecology in Brazil has appeared as a banner, first, for social movements and then for public policies focused on family farming. This concerns most
Brazilian farmers who have mostly remained outside the modernisation process. In
France, by contrast, most family farms have been transformed or excluded by the
modernisation process since the 1960s. These differences are also strongly linked to
the trajectory and place of organic farming in each country. In Brazil, the presence
and organisation of organic agriculture was rather weak until recently, except in a few
richer regions like the state of Sao Paulo (Blanc 2009), whereas in France organic
farming has been institutionalised since the early 1980s. This may explain why
agro-ecology in France was initially embedded in a counter-movement stemming
from some of the most alternative environmental and farmers movements, all of
which criticised and rejected the institutionalisation and conventionalisation of
organic farming. In fact, unlike the Brazilian case, French pioneers of agro-ecology in
the 1980s came from social movements with strong ideological and ethical dimensions, with few interactions with the academic world (Ollivier and Bellon 2013). More
recently, since the late 2000s, there has been a process of differentiation in organic
farming and in alternative and ecological agricultures, along with more interactions
between these social movements and the academic world.
It was only around 2010 that agro-ecology began to be institutionalised in France,
whereas in Brazil the 2003 law on organic farming had already officially recognised
it. This institutionalisation process started in research, probably more under the
influence of international academic and institutional debates among organisations
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such as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations than as a result of the influence of social movements (like those in Brazil),
and mostly as a framework combining agronomy and ecology. Soon afterwards,
agro-ecology started to appear in national agricultural policies as a paradigm aimed at
accelerating the ecologisation of agricultural practices. Announced in December 2012
and presented at a national conference, the new French agricultural programme,
Produisons autrement, aims to put agro-ecology back at the core of the system
(Ministry of Agriculture 2012). These announcements have triggered critical reactions in the social movements mentioned above, especially since some large-scale
farmers, cooperatives and farmers organisations in France have also recently adopted
this paradigm. In Brazil, by contrast, agro-ecology is more clearly linked to family
farming. In January 2013, several French civil society organisations (CSOs) joined
forces to write an open letter in which they claimed that the Ministry of Agriculture
talked of agro-ecology while promoting industrial agriculture, instead of a real agroecology, which they define as a proximity agriculture that allows numerous peasants
to make a living, territories to remain vibrant and people to get fresh and diversified
food products (Les Amis de la Terre 2013).
These significant differences between the processes of emergence and institutionalisation of agro-ecology in France and Brazil are due to differences both in the
historical process of social restructuring of the agricultural sector and in the interactions between the academic world, public policies and civil society. However, an
important common denominator is the occurrence of two comparable competing
visions of agro-ecology in both countries. Some militants and committed scientists
defend a vision of agro-ecology strongly linked to social movements, or even claim
that agro-ecology might rescue organic farming from an industrialisation model
(Altieri and Nicholls 2003). On the other hand, most scientific institutions consider
agro-ecology as a banner for a general process of ecologisation of agriculture, and call
for an agro-ecology that is more technical and closer to the notion of sustainable
intensification. Although the boundary between the two visions is not that stable,
certain key issues nevertheless define it, such as social and ethical issues (types of
farms, types of certification, farmers wellbeing etc.) and the consideration of food
systems (Lamine and de Abreu 2009). As noted above, well-known agro-ecology
theorists advocate including food issues and food systems in the agro-ecological
framework (Francis et al. 2003; Gliessman 2007); most of the theorists are involved
in social movements or support them. However, many scientists who today refer to
agro-ecology have adopted the more technical vision, focused on the interactions
between agriculture and the environment, without really triangulating them with food
issues.
Even though food does seem to be more prominent in current debates on these
issues, largely due to the influence of civil society on the academic world and on policy
making, does its prominence allow for more effective inclusion of food issues in
research agendas and agricultural policies? The case of the Brazilian public food
procurement programmes which focus on family farms, provide price premiums
for agro-ecological products and are managed with a concern for schoolchildrens
diets, in terms of both nutritional input and cultural and local meaning is an
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interesting attempt to reconnect agriculture and food (Grisa et al. 2011). In contrast,
the analysis of French debates suggests that agro-ecology seems to be seen by most
policy makers and many scientists in mainstream research institutions more as a
convincing version of the agriculture-environment connection than as an attempt to
reconnect agriculture, environment and food.13
Sustainable transitions in a territorial agrifood system: how can we go beyond the
issue of relocalisation and reconnect agriculture, food and the environment?14
In view of the fact that the diversity of actors and institutions in agrifood systems is
seldom examined in the literature on sustainability and resilience, I have developed a
theoretical and empirical approach that analyses the interdependencies and diversity
in agrifood systems. The approach considers alternative and mainstream actors and
institutions, as well as the conditions that favour a transition towards greater sustainability and resilience. In doing so, I chose to work at the regional level where the
actors and institutions could more easily be identified. Based on a case study that is
focused on a small region that has undergone a transition towards organic farming
for several decades, I analysed the changes in the territorial agrifood system and the
local public policies that were progressively implemented, as well as the controversies
over this project.
The focus of this territorial case study, which has continued for several years, is the
Drme Valley in southern France. In this small region where nearly 30 per cent of the
agricultural land is organically farmed, the development of organic agriculture was
initially seen as a way to sustain local agriculture, which was threatened by processes
of rural exodus, lack of competitiveness and agricultural crises. From the early 1990s,
local policies were implemented in the valley with the objective of turning this
hinterland of the productivist period, into a foreland of the quality turn (Sencebe
2001).
Organic agriculture was seen as an option for a revival of local agriculture, as
were other options implemented at the same time, such as the growth of medicinal
and aromatic plants, which has indeed contributed to the development of organic
farming since then.15 Even though one cannot say that reconnecting agriculture and
food was an issue at that time (it was much more a matter of survival), the local
stakeholders and the policies and programmes they implemented were involved in
what can be considered as an integrated and systemic approach, as I now demonstrate. A common programme for the four local producers cooperatives was implemented in 1992 with the objective of facilitating transitions towards organic
agriculture. This programme supported investment in new organic collecting and
processing units (in addition to existing conventional ones), as well as specific marketing actions. It supported and illustrated complementarities between the different
regional crops, such as grain, wine and medicinal and aromatic plants, found
together on many farms.
The grain and wine cooperatives were initially conventional, but progressively
increased their organic share to 70 per cent and 20 per cent respectively (Bui et al.
2013). Recently, the cereal cooperative was able to set a 100 per cent organic target,
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mainly owing to a relative (and progressive) convergence between organic and conventional farmers. Organic farmers have increasingly been participating in the
cooperatives administration board since the 1990s, and the presence of conventional
and organic farmers on this board has gradually led to a re-alignment of values among
conventional and organic farmers. Another factor that has allowed for increasing the
organic share is that the cooperative could find outlets for its organic products
through its own activities or its links with regional processors, such as producers of
animal feed and grain mills. This shows an integrated approach to the ecologisation
of agriculture, which takes into account the whole food chain and includes conventional stakeholders.16 In this case, the inclusion of (i) a diversity of interdependent
components of farms and food chain activities and of (ii) both more conventional and
more alternative farmers and economic operators17 partly responds to my criticisms of
the relocalisation paradigm, and allows one to talk of an integrated and systemic
approach. Yet local consumers are not directly involved in such projects, nor are their
food practices questioned.
As is the case elsewhere, the potential or actual role of consumers is more present
in civil society arenas and, specifically in this small region, in the local consumer
cooperatives discourses and actions. This cooperative has brought together up to 700
consumers in a small region of around 5,000 inhabitants corresponding to the upper
Drme Valley. While its position regarding product sourcing was initially focused on
environmental arguments, it has gradually turned towards more local procurement,
and in the last few years has increased the share of local producers in its purchases by
up to 25 per cent.
Are all these initiatives and changes an indication of effective reconnections
between agriculture, food and the environment? In 2005, the local authorities set up
a Biovalle project that focused not only on agriculture and agrifood chains, but
much more generally on urban planning, transport, ecological building, etc. The
interesting feature of this project is that it is driven by an environmental perspective
based on the idea of closing ecological cycles. This perspective allows issues like urban
or agro-industrial waste recovery in local agriculture to be addressed.18 Even though
concrete actions regarding food and agriculture focus mainly on local food procurement strategies and may seem to remain within the relocalisation paradigm, they take
into account the issue of the reconnection between local agricultural systems and local
diets, at least through the issue of seasonality. This occurs with public food procurement, for example, in which seasonal products (possibly farmed locally) are to be
favoured. Local policies have also started to include more alternative and conventional
operators through these procurement strategies, which accords with my critique
about the inclusion of a diversity of stakeholders.
The Biovalle project is often presented as a success story a small region in which
all its stakeholders have been brought together around a common goal of sustainable
agriculture and have seen the share of organic increase from 15 per cent to nearly 30
per cent in the last five years. However, besides the fact that the actual reconnection
of agriculture, food and environmental issues and policies is still to be assessed, based
on an analysis of current programmes and their impacts, this success has to be
analysed in the light of the regions specific characteristics. These characteristics are
the strong presence of self-aware actors and innovators, and specific demographics,
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with the original coexistence between local populations, newcomers and former
neo-rurals who have been there for at least a generation and who brought with them
not only skills, but also connections to distant outlets, including international
markets, especially in the case of the plant industry (Duffaut-Prvost 2014). Another
feature of this Drme Valley region is the local governance of the territorial agrifood
system based on a combination of a long-term strategy and a more tactical one aimed
at seizing opportunities.19 This ability to combine long-term vision and short-term
opportunism has been a skill admirably developed in the local institutions of this
small region for more than 30 years. In particular, the region has managed to obtain
surprisingly high levels of European funding. The context dependency is therefore
relatively high and the case is clearly not reproducible anywhere.
There are many controversies around this project and between local stakeholders
(Bui et al. 2013). Some of the stakeholders, including pioneers in organic farming,
consider that local politicians have hijacked or usurped a dynamic that was launched
and is maintained by others. Some also fear that such a dynamic might have unexpected consequences, such as rising prices of land and housing. More generally, many
local stakeholders feel that the Biovalle project comes from outside and does not
include them. In this context, the inclusion of CSOs and of citizens in general seems
an important challenge for the near future. It will be necessary to initiate a network or
a rural web (Marsden 2013) involving not only local authorities and agricultural
institutions, but also economic actors and CSOs, thereby allowing these actors to
build a shared vision for the territory (Lamine 2012).
Conclusion
The sustainability and resilience of agrifood systems are generally considered through
one of two main paradigms: the sustainable development paradigm, which focuses on
the interactions between agriculture and the environment, or the relocalisation paradigm which prevails in the alternative food systems literature and in social movements discourses. Because of is focus on direct producer-consumer relations, the
relocalisation paradigm does not address the larger interdependencies in agrifood
systems and thus fails effectively to reconnect agriculture and food issues. The
frequent focus on alternative agrifood systems, which differ radically from the mainstream, does not help to develop pathways towards sustainability and resilience for
less alternative institutions and actors. My analysis of the emergence and institutionalisation of agro-ecology in France and Brazil demonstrates the co-existence of two
competing visions: a mainstream vision that focuses on the agriculture-environment
connection (prevailing in most institutions, at least in France), and an alternative
vision that aims to reconnect agriculture, food and the environment in a way that
appears quite similar to the relocalisation paradigm.
Based on this analysis, I propose a territorial approach that takes into account the
diversity of actors and institutions involved in what I define as the territorial agrifood
system. In order to do so, I borrow elements from different theoretical frameworks.
As a first step, one needs to conduct a socio-historical study of changes over the last
decades in which local dynamics and projects, and their impact on larger scales,
would be considered (as inspired by the food regime theory).
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A systemic approach based on pragmatic sociology20 would then be adopted to


analyse the territorial agrifood system. This systemic approach would allow for the
identification of the main social actors and institutions involved in food production,
transformation, distribution and consumption, such as farmers, intermediaries, processors, CSOs, agricultural institutions and local authorities.21 The analysis would
then focus on the characteristics and trajectories of these social actors and institutions
(how their aims, actions and discourses change over time), whether they are essentially mainstream or more alternative. Their actual interdependencies, the alliances
they form and the modes of coordination they implement would also be studied. Such
an approach is quite close to actor network theory, in the sense that it combines an
analysis of actors visions and practices (the material-semiotic system) with studies
of ongoing processes, and focuses on controversies and trade-offs, alliances and
compromises.
In a third step, a turn to sustainable transition theories might help to investigate
the up-scaling and out-scaling processes that are at stake (Bui et al. 2013): how some
initiatives that could be considered as niches would develop and impact the larger
system. This approach would allow one to demonstrate that local stakeholders try to
build more adequate sets of rules (modes of coordination and commitment) for their
interactions and transactions in diverse initiatives (and not only alternative ones). In
that way, besides representing niches that could (or could not) experience a scaling-up
process, they partially redesign the interdependencies in the territorial agrifood
system in what they consider to be a more ethical way, that is, in the search for greater
fairness and equity.
In summary, a theoretical and empirical approach capable of dealing with the
agriculture-food-environment reconnections should consider the diversity of initiatives in agrifood systems, as well as their possible complementarities and the conditions that favour these complementarities. Its main building blocks would be a
socio-historical study of past changes and an ethnographic analysis of ongoing
changes in a systemic approach allowing for the identification of the main social
actors, their interdependencies and alliances, and their modes of coordination in their
actions.
This territorial agrifood system approach should in the future be developed in two
directions that are insufficiently addressed in this paper: the analysis of the processes
of exclusion (and not only the alliances) involved, and the socio-ecological perspective.
The latter should also involve a phenomenological focus considering that the material
and metabolic nature of agricultural and food processes makes it necessary to build
modes of coordination that take the variability and the uncertainty into account, which
are intrinsic to both agricultural and food processes.
Notes
1

Agrifood systems are defined here as socio-technical systems composed of the main social
actors and institutions involved in food production, transformation, distribution and consumption (farmers, intermediaries, processors, CSOs, agricultural institutions, public policies etc.) and of the rules and modes of coordination which link them. They can be considered
on a local scale (such as in the case of alternative food systems) or on a larger scale.

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2

5
6

10
11
12

13

14

15
16

17

18
19

20

57

What constitutes mainly and most is actually an important issue the relative place of
food and non-food products in agriculture which I do not tackle here.
There is also a long history of long-distance transactions such as in the Roman world where
wine and olive oil were transported to distant regions of the Empire.
Other authors have explored these tensions between social movement-inspired critique and
forms of capitalist appropriation (Boltanski and Chiapello 1999).
Even though this is a matter of controversy; see for example (Redlingshofer 2006)
Although in the literature that focuses on the dominant food system it is sometimes
addressed through the question of how food habits are framed or how consumers are
disqualified (Jaffe and Gertler 2006).
In this section, the empirical material consists mainly of documents accessible on these
networks websites, which I analysed to determine the main paradigms or frames. I drew on
former studies that I had carried out on these networks in order to analyse the changes in
discourses and paradigms over the past few years (10 years for the AMAPs).
Confdration Paysanne is the main alternative French farmers union and is part of the
international peasant movement of La Via Campesina.
This wording, although frequently used, may seem strange as it could suggest that producers are not included in the category of citizens.
I use the plural as there are several networks, at national, regional and local level.
Personal interviews.
In this section, the empirical material includes documents and interviews with scientists,
policy makers, militants and farmers (about 30 in Brazil alone) as well as participation in
several congresses and events in both countries in the last four years.
I also acknowledge an emergence of agro-ecological issues at European level. Based on an
analysis of debates at an agro-ecology conference in Brussels in June 2013, attended mainly
by NGOs and a few scientists, I found a convergence of relocalisation/local food systems and
agro-ecology stakes, justified by ecological arguments (cycles, circular systems) and social
ones (small farmers first, a fair share of added value, more relationships between farmers
and consumers, etc.). Food sovereignty and agro-ecology appeared in this conference as two
visions that were often used together, thus expressing the same call for a reconnection
between food and agriculture (Lamine 2013). However, the conference also showed the
marginal place of agro-ecology in the current debates over the Common Agricultural Policy.
(See European Network of Scientists (2013)).
In this section, the empirical material consists of a wide range of documents from public
policies, agricultural institutions, economic operators, CSOs, etc. It also draws on numerous
participations in meetings and events, and about 60 interviews by S. Bui, J. Tual and C.
Lamine, held between 2011 and 2014.
Today, 60 per cent of local farms producing these plants are organic (Duffaut-Prvost 2014).
The local wine cooperative appears to have more difficulties in reaching such high levels of
organic production (it is about 20 per cent organic today), because it produces a very specific
sparkling wine (Clairette de Die) for which the organic market is much more limited than
for cereals (that can be processed and sold in a variety of outlets). This seems to make it
difficult for this wine cooperative to compensate for the price premium given to organic
producers.
In the sense that the cereal and wine cooperatives were initially conventional stakeholders
while the plant cooperative was historically more alternative.
Interview with a local industrial processor (150 employees).
This echoes one of the key networking features of T. Marsdens sustainable communities,
that is, a combination of bottom-up and top-down planning framed within supportive policy
(Blay-Palmer et al. 2013).
The general principle of pragmatic sociological approaches is to study not only discourses
and arguments in individual or collective action, or to relate these discourses or actions to

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21

Lamine
specific social groups, but rather to study all these things in parallel, through a focus on
individual and collective trajectories. Actor-network theories are often considered to be part
of pragmatic sociology.
Although one has to keep in mind that some aspects remain exogenous to the area, such as
seed regulations, pesticide industry and the European agricultural policy.

Acknowledgement
This paper is based on a SORU lecture given at the ESRS Congress, Florence, in August 2013.
I thank the ESRS as well as the Sociologia Ruralis editorial board for its invitation and Bettina
Bock for her support in publishing this conference paper. I am also very grateful to all the
colleagues who gave me useful comments on my lecture and to Liz Libbrecht for her efficient
language editing.

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Claire Lamine
INRA Ecodveloppement
Agroparc
84914 Avignon
Cdex 9
France
Email: claire.lamine@avignon.inra.fr

2014 The Author. Sociologia Ruralis 2014 European Society for Rural Sociology.
Sociologia Ruralis, Vol 55, Number 1, January 2015