Academic journal article Rural Society

Classifying Short Agrifood Supply Chains under a Knowledge and Social Learning Perspective

Academic journal article Rural Society

Classifying Short Agrifood Supply Chains under a Knowledge and Social Learning Perspective

Article excerpt

Over recent years, the industrialization of mainstream agrifood systems and globaliza- tion of food markets have led to uniformity in agricultural production and to the standardization of products. The introduction of capital-intensive and highly specialized forms of production and chemical-industrial agriculture have contributed to commodification of agricultural inputs, dete- rioration of biological and cultural diversity, and significant ecological impact (Feagan & Morris, 2009; Jarosz, 2008). This context of globalization and liberalization combined with agrifood mar- kets concentration have increased detachment between producers/consumers and farming/food. Big agrifood corporations monitor almost every food exchange among disconnected producers and consumers through complex supply chains. This general trend in the dominant agrifood system results in the loss of bargaining power for farmers/producers, a 'crisis of trust' in mass- produced 'placeless and faceless' products among consumers (Feagan & Morris, 2009; Sánchez Hernández, 2009; Watts, Ilbery, & Maye, 2005).

The recent increasing consumer demands for quality safe, healthy and ethically correct food, as well as societal pressure on issues such as sustainable development, led to a widening consensus that conventional agriculture is no longer sustainable and radical changes are needed (Sánchez Hernández, 2009; Watts et al., 2005). Many innovative organizational solutions based on processes of synergistic collaboration between SMEs and consumers, have been beginning to spread all over the world, with the aim of cre- ating new systems of provision that go beyond purely market-led initiatives (Chiffoleau, 2009; Goodman, 2003; Renting, Marsden, & Banks, 2003).

At the beginning, farmers and other people or organizations dealing with agricultural and rural issues have started organizing themselves sponta- neously in order to solve their problems and those of rural communities. New networks of farmers and consumers have modified their pre-existing relationships. In more recent years, scholars are helping farmers to develop new and alternative business models able to guarantee competitive advantages, to improve farm revenue streams, to return in taking an active role in the agrifood sys- tem, and to develop new consumer market niches (Chiffoleau, 2009; Goodman, 2003; Renting et al., 2003; Volpentesta & Ammirato, 2010, 2013). Scholars have named such models under different terms: 'alternative food initiatives' (Allen, Simmons, Goodman, & Warner, 2003), 'alter- native agro-food networks' (Goodman, 2003), 'alternative food networks' (Watts et al., 2005), alternative strategies' (Kirwan, 2004), 'short food supply chains', (Renting et al., 2003), or 'alterna- tive food supply chains' (Ilberry & Maye, 2005). These models can be considered as 'collaborative networks', consisting of a variety of entities that are largely autonomous, geographically distrib- uted, and heterogeneous in terms of their oper- ating environment, culture, social capital and goals, but that collaborate to better achieve com- mon or compatible goals (Camarinha-Matos & Asarmanesh, 2006). In the agrifood sector CNs are 'characterized by a re-connection or close communication among producers and consum- ers, allowing for the development of new forms of relationship and governance of the actors' net- work and also enhancing a re-distribution of value for primary producers' (Ammirato, Della Gala, & Volpentesta, 2013, p. 294).

In this paper we use the umbrella term alter- native agrifood networks (AAFNs) adopted by Goodman (2003) to indicate all these new forms of collaboration. As a more specific term of AAFNs, we introduce the acronym short agrifood supply chains (SAFSCs) to denote those AAFNs where all economic activities are performed only by pro- ducers and consumers and, in some cases, no more than one middle-agent. This requires considerable commitment from farmers and consumers, as they have to perform activities that are often conducted by other middle-agents. …

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