Kracht van koeien – vier ontwerpen voor een duurzame melkveehouderij

Brochure 'Kracht van koeien' Gisteren is het resultaat van het project ‘Kracht van koeien‘ gepresenteerd: een prachtig geillustreerde brochure met vier ontwerpen voor een duurzame melkveehouderij, waarmee zowel de wensen en eisen van de koe, de ondernemer, het milieu als de burger gediend zijn. De ontwerpen zijn gebaseerd op een vernieuwende ontwerp-aanpak voor systeeminnovaties in de veehouderij ontwikkeld door prof.dr.ir. Peter Grootkoerkamp (peter.grootkoerkamp@wur.nl) en dr. Bram Bos (bram.bos@wur.nl)  van Wageningen UR. 

Zo doen de projectleiders in Kracht van Koeien afstand van een traditionele stal voor melkvee. Ze stellen dat het beter is als koeien zelf kunnen kiezen of ze buiten staan of onder een beschutting. Ook maken ze werk van het opvangen van mest en urine. Die komen weer van pas als kunstmestvervanger. ‘In Kracht van Koeien doen we voorstellen voor anders denken en anders doen’, zegt Groot Koerkamp. ‘Ze vormen de basis van de ontwerpen. Let wel: geen van die voorstellen is speciaal ons idee. Allerlei onderzoekers, boeren en andere praktijkmensen zijn er al jaren mee bezig. Wij zetten ze alleen in samenhang om te laten zien dat ze mét elkaar een meervoudige sprong in duurzaamheid bereiken.’

Places to care for (2) Westerkwartier

landschap_zevenhuizenThe modernization of Europe’s agriculture and rural areas has been uneven, also in the Netherlands. As Han argued (13 of March) rural regions subject to the Dutch spatial modernization project have become non-places, striped from ‘constraining landscape’ interchangeable, not worth to care for. Those areas which escaped this process are now heralded for re-discovered values beyond economic rationalization. The neighboring area to the Frisian Woodlands, the area Westerkwartier, located in the province Groningen is also one of those areas which escaped modernization through spatial reconstruction. Collective farmers opposition and rejected spatial plans in the 70s led to a voluntary and much diluted plan in 1989 which preserved farming and landscape structures.

Landschape and Identity

In the southern Westerkwartier, the small-scale landscape with hedgerows, belts and alder trees is a strong symbol of local identity. The landscape reflects the soil structure with sandy ridges in north-west direction where many villages are located and in between lower peat moors and peat-clay soils. A poor soil in terms of farming and historically it was an area where living conditions were tough and where people sought their own diverse ways of sustaining their livelihoods often effectively resisting state intervention. From a modernization perspective the area/landscape was seen as ‘lagging behind’, from a local perspective the landscape symbolized resistance and a headstrong mentality.

Over the last decade the landscape received more and more attention and care by collaborations between farmers in agri-environmental trusts (Agrarische Natuur Verenigingen) and between those trusts and the Forestry Commission (Staatsbosbeheer). Ways have been explored to combine a viable farming practice with preservation of landscape and biodiversity. The meaning of the landscape slowly received another symbolic layer; that of an asset to be explored for cultural and educational purposes and for diversifying the local economy.

Action Research

Students from Wageningen University, amongst others, have contributed to this development through a project called “Brug Toekomst”. Based on a local problem definition, master students of Wageningen University and the colleges of Van Hall Institute and Larenstein conducted research based on questions articulated in a local group/ network which emerged as a consequence of the project. Over the five years around 50 students visited the area for action research, leaving behind many reports and recommendations. But more importantly, the project evolved into a Community of Practice, a learning community in which different types of knowledge, experience and energy developed on the basis of equality. On the 2 of April a book, in Dutch, will be presented in the area which tells the story of this five year project and the local dynamics around it.

SPIN farming and other forms of urban agriculture

On the last day of the second week of my course ‘Understanding Rural Development’ I discussed the topic of urban and peri-urban agriculture. As background to this topic I mentioned the following trends:

Given these trends, the question is how to feed the growing urban population and to do this in a sustainable and healthy way. In class we discussed whether or not urban and peri-urban agriculture are a means to feed the urban citizen. And, elaborating on that, what kind of (peri-)urban agriculture is desirable and/or necessary. Continue reading

Places worth caring about

This week I have discussed, in my MSc course Understanding Rural Development, the modernization of Europe’s agriculture and rural areas in the post World War II era. By showing pictures, tables and figures I have tried to demonstrate how drastically the rural landscape, the agrarian structure and the food supply chain have changed in a period of several decades. Multifunctional countrysides were transformed into places for specialized and high-tech forms of food and fibre production, the number of farms decreased by some 80% in 50 years time, the average farm size increased enormously, agricultural employment decreased drastically, an ever increasing part of the agricultural products are processed by the food processing industry and the supermarket has become the dominant outlet for most food products. There are, of course, differences between regions and countries, but this is the prevailing development trend in EU member states that have been subject to the EU’s original Common Agricultural Policy. The agricultural modernization project has been very successful in terms of creating food self sufficiency in Europe at low prices for consumers, but this has also come at a cost. By the 1990s the negative side-effects of modernization became widely acknowledged. When talking about negative side-effects topics as environmental pollution, degradation of biodiversity, declining farmers’ incomes, animal welfare concerns and consumers’ distrust in the modern food system are usually brought to the fore.

Inspired by a humorous and thought-proviking presentation of James Howard Kunstler at the TED 2004 conference (“The tragedy of suburbia” ) as the analogy between suburbian development and agricultural modernization is astonishing, another side-effect came to mind: the loss of a sense of place and a sense of belonging due to the (feeling of) expropriation of local self control (e.g. due to centralized spatial planning) and due to the eradication of many specific and distinctive regional assets (cultural history, landscape, traditional products and processing techniques, etc…). Rural regions that were subject to the agricultural modernization project have de facto become non-places and are thus easily interchangeable. And as a result many rural regions have become, quoting Kunstler, places not worth caring about … and places not worth caring about are places not worth protecting or defending.

Looking at rural development from this point of view sheds an interesting light on its dynamics. Continue reading

Regional differentiation

On 2 March my MSc course “Understanding Rural Development: Theories, Practices and Methodologies” started (also see the course outline). This course is specifically designed for the specialization Sociology of Rural Development of the Master in International Development Studies, but is open to students from other Master programmes as well. At this moment 14 students (from Columbia, Germany, Ghana, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and South Africa) are participating. Each week we focus on one particular theme that I consider to be highly relevant to better understand rural and regional development dynamics.

This week’s theme was “Regional differentiation”, which refers to the fact that rural regions are moving along distinct and different development trajectories. During the last decades a vast body of scientific literature about regional differentiation has been developed, although a substantial part of this literature is characterised by an urban bias towards regional development. Terry Marsden and Jonathan Murdoch are among the few scholars that have explicitly included the rural in theories of regional differentiation. With their conceptualisation of regional differentiation as the outcome of different constellations of political, economic and social networks they have been able to significantly contribute to contemporary theories about regional development that also take the rural into account.

Although it is important that students are introduced to these concepts, I want to avoid that theoretical insights remain abstract notions. That’s why students are also introduced to empirical realities (through field trips, presentation of case studies from research projects and (short) movies). This week we looked at five movie clips about regional development in Southwest Minnesota. Together these five clips very well showed some of the key factors impacting on changes in regional political, economic and social networks: migration, utilization of endogenous resources, learning and innovation (learning region), technologies, and visionary leadership. More in general the case of Southwest Minnesota shows that regional development is a specific combination of endogenous and exogenous development, or,  a specific local response to global developments.

Evolution of Rural Development Paradigm in Brazil

In a recent research seminar prof. Sergio Schneider (schneide@ufrgs.br), coordinator of the  Rural Development Post Graduate Program from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), presented a telling analysis of major changes in Rural Developments Policies in Brazil in the last twenty years. He explained that the recent evolution in rural development policies, as effectuated by president Lula, has to be understood within the context the evident political struggles on land. Brazil is a large country with traditionally a sharp contrast between the interests of agro-industrial conglomerates and social rural movements of landless people and peasants (e.g. MST).

This is reflected in a dualist agrarian structure between capitalist and entrepreneurial family farming and peasant familiy farming and rural poor (landless) who are struggling for survival and autonomy. In 1995 1 % of the owners with more then 1000 ha owned 45% of all land, while 90% of the owners with less then 100 ha owned only 20%. An unexpected and striking consequence of rural poverty is, that food security in rural areas is significantly lower then in urban areas. In rural areas 26% of the housholds suffers severe food insecurity versus 17% in urban areas. Because of this dualist agrarian structure Brazil is probably the only country in the world with two Ministries of Agriculture, serving different needs.

Continue reading

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