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Variety of COFAMIs in Europe

Characteristics of COFAMIs in Europe

In particular in the last decade, a broad variety of new types of new collective marketing initiatives can be witnessed that at least partly are to be understood as active farmers’ responses to the differentiation in food markets, changing societal demands with regard to rural areas and a growing policy attention for more integrative rural and regional development strategies. Many recent COFAMIs can be understood as multi-purpose networks that combine product marketing with collective learning, and collective strategic action with other actors as consumers, food chain partners, societal organisations, policy institutions, agricultural advisory services etc.

Cooperative activities emerged first in regions where small-scale farming predominated. The main aim was to improve the difficult economic situation of these farmers. While in North-western, Southern Europe and the Alpine region the evolution of cooperatives is characterised by relative continuity, there were ruptures in development due to changes of regime in Central and Eastern Europe. There, the ‘trauma of collectivisation’ attaching a negative connotation to collective action is only slowly beginning to be overcome.

Overall, the historical trajectories vary much due to different policy discourses and measures and due to different contextual embeddings. The importance of traditional-type farmers’ cooperatives is rather heterogeneous comparing regions, countries and even sectors. However, traditional cooperatives still play a relatively important role in those countries where their evolution has been rather continuous. At the same time, an emergence of promising new approaches to collective farmers’ marketing can be observed.

Common typology

Based on an analysis of the situation and trends in ten countries a characterisation of the main forms of COFAMIs has been derived. A first cluster is ‘initiatives with the aim of pooling volume’. This group includes ‘traditional cooperatives’ with a long tradition that often developed into highly international oriented agri-business. In terms of total turnover, these cooperatives play the most important role, but they often have to face a decrease in members as farmers feel little involved and very much depending on the decisions of the management board. In some cases such traditional cooperatives have changed their legal status and had become shareholder firms. At the same time a large number of ‘innovative forms of classic co-operatives and producer organisations’ can be found. They are often based on EU or national regulations like e.g. the decrees for Producer Organisations and Producer Groups. Many of these initiatives try to improve their product quality in response to public or even private quality standards.

In the cluster ‘high-quality food production’, initiatives emphasize quality specification at production level with the aim to create exclusive, distinctive products. In order to define and realise a special product quality, an externally defined production code is adhered to, which is often controlled and guaranteed by an external control agency and/or backed up by state legislation. In this category, labels play a crucial role, communicating the differentiated nature of products to consumers.

COFAMIs included in the cluster ‘Regional food production’ focus on the production of local food quality products. Often, local producers with the aim to valorise territory-specific resources and to contribute to local economic development have joined in order to together market their products in a certain region. Product specificity is enhanced by increasing embeddedness, e.g. by valorising or renewing traditions of typical local products and gastronomy. The cluster ‘regional marketing’ unites COFAMIs that brand a region as a whole. Regional labels can comprise all kinds of farm products, processed products or even agro-tourism. Jointly, the activities make the region more visible and attractive. The initiatives often include both farmers and small regional processors; in some cases even consumers.

The basic strategy of initiatives aiming at ‘direct producer-consumer relations’ is to create direct linkages between producers and consumers. The aim is to avoid middlemen, to improve the communication between both ends of the supply chain, and to retain a larger share of value added at producer level. Generally, initiatives in this cluster appear very dynamic, well-grounded in the locality with relatively little involvement of the government or public regulations.

Within the cluster ‘non-food-markets’, initiatives engaged with agri-environmental and rural services are included. The cluster nicely expresses the idea of multifunctional agriculture as an alternative farm development trajectory. New non-agricultural activities include the provision of services (tourism, care, energy, etc.) and the ‘production’ of public goods (landscape, biodiversity, etc.). Initiatives engaged in ‘non-food production’ comprise the production of energy crops, plant dyes, fibres and textiles.

The status-quo reports of the countries examined within this project have exposed a wide range of new innovative collective marketing strategies. These trends offer a great potential for the future development of collective action in rural areas. The synthesis report that provides an overview can be downloaded from: www.cofami.org/publications.html

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© Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). All rights reserved. Last Update: 01.08.2009

Logo EUThe project acknowledges the financial support of the Commission of the European Community under the 6th Framework Programme “Integrating and Strengthening the European Research Area, Policy-oriented Research”. Logo 6th Framework Programme