RETHINK – Farmers from Salzburg (Austria) explain diversification as a strategy to strengthen resilience

RETHINK is a transdisciplinary research project supported by the European Commission and funding bodies in 14 countries under the umbrella of FP7 and the RURAGRI ERA-NET. The Rural Sociology Group has a seat in the RETHINK Advisory Board.

Researchers from BOKU have made three short films (also with English undertitles) in which farmers explain their family farm strategie in terms of strengthening their resilience.

Resilience refers to the capacity of social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function(s), identity, and structure

1. Resilience needs diversity – Diversity needs balance

Five farmers form Salzburg (Austria) farmers talk about the advantages of having different income sources (both on- and off farm) to strengthen their resilience. But they also point out the challenges related to managing diversity. They talk about what it takes to successfully manage diversity, especially to ensure that the workload for the various family members is not too high and that quality of life does not suffer.

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Internship: diversification strategies of farmers in peri-urban Amstelland


Amstelland is a traditional meadow landscape, dominated by dairy farming, and framed on three sides by the cities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen. The vicinity of the city offers threats and opportunities for farmers in Amstelland. The area is intensively used for recreation.

Citizen organisation Stichting Beschermers Amstelland (SBA) is concerned with the future of the area. SBA presumes that preservation of the landscape is connected to economic sustainability of the farms. For that reason SBA is interested in the strategies of farmers towards diversification and pluri-activity. A number of farmers already have added multifunctional activities to their conventional farm. Most farmers are member in the environmental cooperative De Amstel and take agri-environmental measures. Some farmers have started a B&B or sell products on farm. The peri-urban situation leads to high land prices, slowing down opportunities for farm enlargement. As a result, more farmers are likely to consider diversification and pluri-activity as an alternative strategy.

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From production-oriented farming towards multifunctional entrepreneurship – PhD-thesis Pieter Seuneke

Multifunctional agriculture


On the 9th of May, I (Pieter Seuneke) will defend my PhD-thesis entitled:

From production-oriented farming towards multifunctional entrepreneurship: exploring the underlying learning process


My thesis focusses on the many European and Dutch farming families which, urged by the environmental, social and economic crisis in agriculture, have diversified their conventional production-oriented farming activities by developing new non-farming businesses on their existing farms. Currently, there are many farmers who are involved in agro-tourism, nature and landscape management, processing and selling of farm products and, more recently in The Netherlands, professional (child)care and on-farm education. The development of such new business activities by these farmers represents a shift away from conventional production-oriented farming towards a more ‘multifunctional’ farming model in which the role of agriculture goes beyond mass food production.


Based on four different studies, all drawing on the empirical work done in the context of the Dutch research project ‘Dynamics and Robustness of Multifunctional Agriculture’ (carried out by the Rural Sociology Group from 2009 to 2011), I unravel the learning process which is considered as underlying the switch towards multifunctionality and multifunctional entrepreneurship. In other words: the process by which farmers (men, women and their families) re-invent themselves as ‘multifunctional entrepreneurs’, gain the necessary knowledge, skills and networks ‘to do multifunctionality’ as well as finding their way on the multifunctional pathway. Apart from its contribution to theory – by bringing this complex learning process to light – my work ultimately supports practitioners (teachers, trainers, advisers) in fostering this, for today’s and tomorrow’s agriculture and rural areas, valuable form of agricultural entrepreneurship.


During my PhD, I have been supervised by Prof. Han Wiskerke (professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University) and Dr Thomas Lans (ass. prof. Education and Competence Studies, Wageningen University).

The defence

My defence will take place on Friday the 9th of May, at 13.30, in the Aula of Wageningen University. The event is open to those who are interested and can also be followed/seen back on WURtv.


For more information:

New course: Sociology of Food Provisioning and Place-based Development

The MSc course “Understanding Rural Development: Theories, Practices and Methodologies” (course code RSO-31806) has been revised and renamed into “Sociology of Food Provisioning and Place-based Development”. The course is mandatory for Master students within the track Sociology of Rural Development of the Master International Development Studies, specializing in rural sociology and a free choice course for Master students of other programmes and tracks. If you are interested in topics such as alternative food geographies, food citizenship, food democracy, urban food provisioning, sustainable place shaping, and regional branding, it may be worth participating in this course. Students who do not have a BSc degree in International Development Studies or related field of expertise may not have the assumed prerequisite knowledge to successfully participate and are therefore requested to contact the course coordinator, Han Wiskerke (, to see if and how this gap can be addressed.

For more information about the contents, schedule, learning outcomes and educational activities, please click on this link or contact the course coordinator for more information or the latest version of the course guide.

DERREG film Westerkwartier

Over the last 3 years, we have been carrying out research in the Westerkwartier concerning global influences on rural regional development.

The Westerkwartier, Groningen Province, The Netherlands

This research was carried out as part of the European project DERREG. The Westerkwartier was involved in two work packages of the project: 1. Investigating arrangements through which public support for joint learning and innovation is provided to development initiatives active in the region (WP4) and 2. Investigating global networking activities among rural businesses in the Westerkwartier (WP1).

In the summer and fall of this year, three film students from the University of Aberystwyth in Wales made their way around Europe to visit all case study areas and to film the present development activities. In the Westerkwartier, the film focuses on our research conducted for WP4 (joint learning and innovation). In this film, several supporters as well as the beneficiaries were interviewed. Their stories describe the development activities in the Westerkwartier very lively and give a feeling of the enthusiastic and motivated engagement of the denizens in developing their Westerkwartier. The film is available on YouTube and can be viewed here. Enjoy!

Integrated-regional food paradigm

In the current second year Bsc course ‘Agrarische en rurale ontwikkeling; sociologische perspectieven’, students have to make assignments in groups connected to documentaries which subsequently provide input for discussion tutorials. During the first week we worked with the concept of ‘paradigm’ and compared current competing agro-food paradigms. The agro-industrial paradigm (see e.g. Ploeg 2010) and the integrated-regional paradigm (see e.g. Wiskerke 2010).

It led to interesting discussions on feeding the world and the future of our resources. Very remarkable was that the integrated-regional paradigm changed names in the student reports to the ‘traditional’, or ‘local & artisanal’ paradigm. When asked, this turned out to be no conscious choice. It revealed implicit images of the integrated-regional paradigm which influences judgements about the feasibility of this alternative. It also revealed that the practice and future potential of this paradigm is still partly unimaginable.

Earlier this year, other Msc students went to see the integrated-regional paradigm in practice in Hemmen, just at the other side of the river Rhine. Here, several entrepreneurs in organic agriculture and retail are integrating their businesses while keeping their independence and are regionalising their practices step by step. This may still sound abstract. A true explanation needs more than one blog. Here, for now an example of what ‘integrated’ could mean.

Organic arable farm Lingehof (aprox. 80 hec. and 14 mainly contract crops) includes in its rotation scheme space for the gardeners of the Stroom, who run an organic vegetable box scheme for approx. 200 households. Together they also make it possible for people to adopt a (high-stem) apple tree. The dairy farm Opneij and the Lingehof together function as a mixed farm, exchanging manure and straw, rotating grassland and fodder crops. Organic shop the Smidse sells vegetables from the Stroom, meat from Opneij and bread from wheat of the Lingehof. Last year they also started collaboration on another level through the ngo Stichting Hemmens Land (and see earlier blog). One of the activities of this ngo is to set up thematic excursion arrangements to offer groups (such as the Wageningen students) the possibility to visit all involved entrepreneurs around a coherent (educational) program such as closing the nutrient cycle. This can be seen as an integrated (farm)diversification strategy and will create a source of extra income.

Discussiebijeenkomst multifunctionele landbouw: ervaringen uit het buitenland

Op donderdag 8 oktober 2009 organiseert de vakgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen Universiteit een interessante discussiebijeenkomst over buitenlandse ervaringen van multifunctionele landbouw. Wat gebeurt er in het buitenland en wat kunnen we ervan leren?


Op de bijeenkomst geven een aantal toonaangevende internationale onderzoekers u een indruk van de ontwikkeling rond multifunctionele landbouw in Italië, het Verenigd Koninkrijk en Noorwegen. In de aansluitende forumdiscussie gaan we hierover met elkaar in debat. We verwachten ongeveer 80 tot 100 mensen uit o.a. praktijk, wetenschap, overheid en belangenbehartiging.

De bijeenkomst is interessant voor iedereen actief op het gebied van multifunctionele landbouw en meer wil weten over de betekenis van buitenlandse ervaringen voor Nederland. Als u graag over (uw) grenzen heen kijkt, dan mag u deze bijeenkomst niet missen!


Datum: Donderdag 8 oktober 2009
Tijd: 13.00 – 17.00 uur
Locatie: Landgoed Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt, De Hooge Schuur, ‘t Klooster 5 in Beesd


Aan deelname van deze bijeenkomst zijn geen kosten verbonden, de voertaal is Engels.



12.30 Ontvangst (koffie/thee)

13.00 Opening door dagvoorzitter

Krijn Poppe – Chief Science Officer Agroketens en Visserij, ministerie van LNV

13.05 Welkomstwoord

Frans van Verschuer – eigenaar Landgoed Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt, Beesd

13.15 Dynamiek en robuustheid multifunctionele landbouw – introductie onderzoeksproject en presentatie eerste resultaten

Han Wiskerke – projectcoördinator en hoogleraar Rurale Sociologie, Wageningen Universiteit

13.30 Multifunctionele landbouw in Italië – de ‘rural disctrict approach’ in Toscane

Gianluca Brunori – hoogleraar Agrarische Economie, Universiteit van Pisa, Italië

14.00 Multifunctionele landbouw in het Verenigd Koninkrijk – de rol van de staat en de publieke sector

Roberta Sonnino – universitair docent Milieubeleid, Universiteit van Cardiff, Verenigd Koninkrijk

14.30 Multifunctionele landbouw in Noorwegen – een presentatie door:

Katrina Rønningen – senior onderzoeker, Centrum voor Plattelandsonderzoek, Universiteit van Trondheim, Noorwegen (uitgenodigd)

15.00 Pauze

15.30 Dynamiek van plattelandsontwikkeling en landbouw wereldwijd – een vergelijking tussen Europa, China en Brazilië

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg – hoogleraar Transitiestudies, Wageningen Universiteit

16.00 Forumdiscussie – inspirerende lessen voor multifunctionele landbouw in Nederland

16.55 Afsluiting door dagvoorzitter

17.00 Borrel



Meld u aan met het aanmeldformulier. Wij willen u er op wijzen dat er een beperkt aantal deelnameplaatsen beschikbaar zijn. Voor aanvullende informatie neem contact op met Corine Diepeveen via of 0317 – 484507.

De discussiemiddag wordt georganiseerd in het kader van het onlangs gestarte onderzoeksproject ‘Dynamiek en Robuustheid van Multifunctionele Landbouw’. Het onderzoek is ondersteunend aan de Taskforce Multifunctionele Landbouw en wordt gefinancierd door het ministerie van LNV.

Terugblik Dag van de Zorglandbouw

Dinsdag 21 april bezocht ik, in het kader van ons onlangs opgestarte onderzoek ‘dynamiek en robuustheid multifunctionele landbouw’, de Dag van de Zorglandbouw. Onderweg naar Apeldoorn kwam er via Radio 1 al een opwarmertje langs. Een Brabantse zorgboerin sprak in het interview haar zorgen uit over de gevolgen van de wijzigingen in de AWBZ (Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten). Ook één van de Tweede Kamerleden gaf een voorproefje op de dag. Ik zat er al helemaal in en dat terwijl het programma nog moest gaan beginnen! Continue reading

Excursions Understanding Rural Development

As a part off the course Understanding Rural Development (RSO 31806) we went on a field trip to de Eemlandhoeve in Bunschoten and explored the inner-city of Utrecht. By this excursion we visited a number of interesting expressions of urban-rural relationships, from a rural and an urban perspective.

De Eemlandhoeve

De Eemlandhoeve, owned by farmer, rural entrepreneur and philosopher Jan Huijgen, can be considered as an extreme example of a multifunctional farm enterprise. The group of Blonde d’Aquitaine’s form the centre of a rural enterprise which includes a large number of activities like a farm shop, care facilities, meeting and office facilities, an education garden and even a farmer’s cinema under construction.Blonde d'Aquitaines at the Eemlandhoeve

Next of being a multifunctional entrepreneur Jan Huijgen is a well known personality in Dutch rural development, active on a local, national, international (and maybe in the near future on a global) level. The farm residents a rural innovation centre and last October de Eemlandhoeve hosted the EEconference or Europese Eemlandconference, veelzijdig platteland.

On the excursion owner Jan Huijgen told us about his inspiration, motives and future plans with his farm. After his presentation we had an interesting discussion and were showed around the place.

Local food in the city of Utrecht

The second trip brought us to a rather different surrounding; the historical inner-city of Utrecht. On de Eemlandhoeve our focus was on the rural side of urban-rural relationships, in Utrecht we looked upon it from an urban perspective.

Cheese stall at the Vredenburg MarketTogether with our guide Frank Verhoeven (see his website)  we first went to the Wednesday Vredenburg Market. On this market we visited a cheese seller linked to the organization called Dutch Cheese Centre (website under construction). The stallholder told us about some typical Dutch cheeses and the trade in locally produced ones. After some tasting we set out for the traditional bakery Bakkerij Blom were owner Theo Blom showed us around and told about his bakery, traditional products and production.  

Our last stop was a visit to the five star hotel and restaurant Karel V for a number of short presentations. In the hotel our guide Frank Verhoeven started by telling us about his ‘Boerenbox’ initiative and his vision on a more locally based production and consumption. Secondly, one of the Karel V chefs explained us about the way they work with seasonal products originating solely from regional grounds and local suppliers. Lastly, Arie Bosma, one of the initiators of the campaign ‘Lekker Utregs’, told us about the initiative to reconnect the city of Utrecht with its surrounding countryside by establishing a so called Green Participation Society.

By the fieldtrips we got acquainted with several interesting expressions of urban-rural relationships, from a rural and an urban perspective. It was a nice and inspiring way of linking theory from class to reality by ‘tasting’ real life examples in ‘the field’.

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.