In all sciences it is more complicated to study the dynamic than the static. In other words: it is more complex to represent and formalise ongoing processes compared to describing and evaluating a system or phenomenon in a state of balance (Bertalaffy 1968; Dosi 1990).
Agriculture is currently in the middle of such a dynamic process, which in some instances, and in some regions, seems like a storm that not only redesigns agricultural practices, but also redefines the role of agriculture in society. As a result it is not only agricultural sectors that are changing their dimensions and characteristics, the figure of the agricultural entrepreneur is also being recreated.
The recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy that disconnects financial support from agricultural productivity accelerates this process of change. Entrepreneurs, as well as regional and national systems, are introducing changes by engaging in new, diversified strategies in order to counteract the problems created by the conventional agricultural model. In so doing they realise innovations that render agricultural both ecologically and socially more sustainable.
There are a number of innovations that may be distinguished by their objectives (economic, social, and ecological sustainability), by the instruments used and, above all, by the locus of control of the innovation process itself. Innovations, however, differ in their capacity to establish promising and credible alternatives for European agriculture in the long term.
This thesis defines the most innovative and most promising of these changes as novelties. Novelties recombine artefacts, practices, and knowledge in dynamic and locally specific ways. In so doing they construct new and promising answers that meet new social expectations about agriculture.
These new expectations include the production of public goods such as employment and the conservation of landscape, natural resources and rural cultural identity, as well as the production of typical regional high quality food and the promotion of welfare and quality of life. All these are new'agricultural'products, whichEuropeboth needs and wants. At the same time, and in reaction to growing international pressure,Europeseems to be ready to reduce the subsidisation of commodity production.
The novelties documented in this study, transcend the apparent dichotomy between agricultural production and the production of public goods. Rather, they engage in multifunctional practices that are economically, socially and ecologically sustainable. Economic sustainability is essential to safeguard the generational transfer and thus the long term future of farms, especially given the anticipated future difficulty of continuing to provide direct public support to farm enterprises.
The study is based on an empirical study of novelties introduced by farmers in various parts ofEurope. It is divided in six chapters, three of which are theoretical and three of which are empirical.
The first chapter describes neo-institutional theory, which provides the theoretical and methodological framework for the analysis of novelties. Neo-institutional theory analyses the economic relations (transactions) between subjects who organise their production in a specific way and in a specific context. Such analysis highlights the specificity of the resources and of the social-institutional context. This specificity, and the variety of combinations that may result from it, define the governance of transactions and thus the modes of organisation, which may determine success or failure. Different processes may produce analogous results: as Turner notes,'there is a large range of structure, cultures and practices that produce similar results'(2001). The chapter also discusses the concepts of rural development, flexible specialisation, economy of scope and transaction costs. All of these are key elements of the transition process that occurs when shifting from the old paradigm of productivity to a new one of multifunctionality.
The second chapter examines recent literature on innovation dynamics both in enterprises and entire industries. It leads to a definition of innovation and of the role of innovations in achieving paradigmatic change. Innovation is understood as a cognitive process that allows enterprises to create competitive advantages by generating innovations in their organisations, products and production processes. The chapter also analyses the factors that support the birth of novelties and, by establishing alternative innovation processes, explains the difference between these novelty-producing innovation processes and dominant technological trajectories. Finally, chapter 2 highlights the pathway of a novelty from a single entrepreneurial project towards a protected niche that permits consolidation and further development.
The third chapter analyses how novelties affect the organisation of an enterprise and its position within its network of relationships, at both short and long distance. Novelty production can even determine the confines of an enterprise, as partnerships and alliances are built that enlarge the functions of the firm. The capacity of the firm to utilise modern information technology can play a key role in this process, increasing the possibilities of communication and diversifying relationships.
Thus, a novelty develops in a context in which transaction costs are minimised through finding a network with a shared understanding of quality and good agricultural practice. This common understanding facilitates communication between the different'network nodes'. This reduces opportunistic behaviour of actors and information asymmetry between them, resulting in reduced transaction costs. As a result, the novelty needs institutional and market relations that (at least initially) keep them apart from conventional contexts and rules, creating a'protected space'in which the novelty can develop. Such a space may initially be just as large as a niche.
Within this niche the reputation of the novelty is of primary importance. Reputation is built by the repeated contacts with a single client/retailer and by communication and experience sharing between different actors in the network. Thus, organisational changes are both part of the process of developing and establishing novelties. Neo-institutional theory highlights the economic significance of these changes, specifically by analysing how the confines of an enterprise change when a novelty is introduced.
The third chapter introduces and describes a number of dimensions of Strategic Niche Managment : agency and autonomy, governance and policy, knowledge and local integration. Through strategic niche management, multidimensional relations are constructed and developed. These strengthen the novelty, provide the capacity to challenge the dominant technological regime, and allow for its survival and growth.
The fourth chapter reports on a case study done in marginal areas in theAbruzzoregion, inCentral Italy. The study assesses both the economic performance following novelty introduction, and the impact of the novelty on the reorganisation of the enterprises as well as the various dimensions of Strategic Niche Management distinguished in the third chapter.
Chapter 5 analyses the case of the VEL and VANLA environmental co-operatives, situated in the Frisian woodlands in the northeast of theNetherlands. The chapter explains in detail how this co-operative succeeded in constructing a protected space for farmers by developing close relationships with representatives of public institutions who manage the funds and regulations governing the use of natural resources.
Chapter 6 reports on studies carried out in nine areas inSicily,CalabriaandBasilicata, in southernItaly. First, socio-economic characteristics of the area are presented. Second, the results of interviews with farmers and key informants are given, as an introduction to the study of 80 innovative farmers. Detailed analysis reveals the extent to which their new activities resemble the novelties defined in the previous chapters. Third, the results of a structured survey among 225 farmers are presented. By means of combined factor and cluster analysis six different styles of farming were distinguished, among which the'pioneers'were the ones who introduced novelties on their farms.
These novelties are part of an agricultural and rural dynamic, which is born out of new social movements, and local and transnational networks that are present in rural areas. These are currently restructuring and reorganising the food supply chain, by redistributing bargaining power, information and wealth (Busch 204).
All the aforementioned phenomena are multidimensional and may be called novelties, as they try to respond to the new social demands on agriculture. It is essential, however, to analyse these multidimensional phenomena systematically and from different angles in order to understand how the various dimensions relate to each other.
These relations are extremely fluid while the process of change is not finalised or balanced. Thus analysis of the stages and interrelations of each dimension may, just like a picture taken from different angles, result in different images of similar phenomena.
In the case of novelties, the various dimensions may differ in nature and importance because of the specificity of the innovation context, which will differ between farms and geographic areas. Also, within the multidimensional space in which the novelty develops, the co-ordinates of each dimension may differ from novelty to novelty, and change over time. A novelty may thus incorporate a strong component of local knowledge at the moment of introduction, but at the moment of establishment its political relationships may be of more importance. Moreover, as the innovation process of each novelty occurs at a specific moment in time, novelties differ from each other because of the moment in which a novelty is discovered and developed. Thus this thesis aims to provide a comprehensive description of novelties, taking into account the specific perspectives and different life stages.
The key elements for the definition of novelties, which distinguishes them from other types of innovation in the agricultural sector, lies in their capacity to link the various dimensions of the innovation process in a coherent way and in their capacity to offer more long term promise compared to solutions developed from the premise of the dominant paradigm.
A recurrent characteristic element of novelties is the rupture with the dominant regime of production and their capacity to reconnect the farms with their territory, either by using hidden resources or by creatively using resources applied by the dominant regime. This capacity of reconnection, together with a farmer's reacquisition of agency and autonomy, is the very trait that makes a novelty more promising compared to other innovations. It allows for better solutions to problems of social, economic and ecological sustainability, which tend to be locally specific and therefore not amenable to'off the shelf'solutions.
Novelties are more promising in the long term, because of their ability to build human capacity. They involve and require continuous development of new knowledge and new competences; they enrich entrepreneurial creativity and use the synergies resulting from co-operation with other entrepreneurs and from new, trans-sectoral networks.
The impact of novelties on relations and transactions of enterprises is revealed when their economic success is analysed via the new-institutional economic approach, i.e. by studying the internal and market transactions as representing the whole system of organisation.
From this perspective the competitive advantages of novelties appear to result from economies of scope and'economies of network', rather than from economies of scale. Thus novelties may help address the problems of scale, which numerous small agricultural enterprises inEuropeare confronted with.
The new structure of relations that accompanies novelties, contributes to a redefinition of the confines of the agricultural enterprise. Participation in new networks becomes the driving force for the development of a new agricultural model that is better suited to sustainable rural development. As a consequence, the enterprise assumes a new role that extends beyond the interests or responsibilities of individual entrepreneurs and results in the construction of new common interests, such as a sustained environment and a network of relations, in which the individual enterprise may thrive.
Given the peculiarities of agricultural production, which repeatedly has been described as a process of co production of man and nature, in which sustainability is essential to the reproduction of the agricultural activity itself, strengthen the relevance of these objectives become more self evident.
The novelty comes into existence, develops and becomes established only where a strong process of re-internalisation takes place which reorganises the three dimensions described above. The process results in agricultural activity, which is truly sustainable in economic, social and ecological terms. Such'real'sustainability, which creates long-term opportunities, is determined by the presence and development of human capital. Human capital allows for continuity in farming because it promotes the interaction of various subjective and collective elements:
· A new self-confidence as a result of reskilling agricultural labour;
· A new social value of agricultural labour;
· A regained consciousness of the pivotal role that agriculture plays in supporting the viability of rural areas, because of the horizontal synergy between agriculture and other human activities;
· The emergence of the recognition of food as an important agricultural product, rather than an insignificant input into food supply chains.
The promising character of a novelty lies in its capacity to demonstrate and concretise the interaction between the elements that are expressed in the Strategic Niche Management of the novelty.
The strategic relevance of investing in the human capital of the agricultural enterprise instead of delegating decision making to the dominant Technological and Administrative Task Environment(TATE) is expressed in the creation of consciousness and responsibility and in the fundamental change of the aims and instruments of agricultural education. Entrepreneurs with high levels of agricultural or non-agricultural education and experience have produced many of the novelties discussed in the empirical part of this research. They are entrepreneurs demonstrate a strong ability to develop new ideas and to use and integrate external information and formal knowledge in elaborating their own ideas. They are entrepreneurs who continuously experiment and do not look for ready recipes when seeking technical assistance or scientific support. Instead they look for methods and instruments that can assist them in analysing, in a rational-scientific way, the results of their own experiments and those of other farmers.
This opens the way to a new research agenda; one which is interdisciplinary in nature and aims at the ambitious redesign of life-long agricultural education and training, in order to respond to the needs of these new entrepreneurs. As a result the role of scientific research, education, and technical extension have to be reconceptualised and their instruments and methodologies have to be redesigned in a participatory way, which facilitates knowledge generation through continuous feed-backs between the world of science and the world of production. Because sustainability has become a new objective and entrepreneurs are expected to accept their own economic, social and ecological responsibility, such educational changes are essential. As long as organisational power remains located outside the farm, as it was during the dominant regime, acceptance of this responsibility is impossible. Under the dominant regime the locus of power was the TATE. Science was part of TATE and as such enforced a specific allocation and use of resources within the farm (Benvenuti 1975, 1994; Benvenuti and Antonello 1988) without accepting the farmers'own risk and responsibility.
The many stories of entrepreneurship recounted in this thesis highlight the importance of two elements that are essential in redesigning relations between science and farm:
· The emerging capacity of agricultural entrepreneurs to relate to science in terms of language and cultural repertoire;
· The seeds of transition that already exist in the world of research and extension. The discovery of novelties and creation of protected spaces for their consolidation and development often takes place due to the collaboration with researchers and extension agents (Wiskerke and van der Ploeg 2004).
Accepting and building on these changes will allow us to respond today to what Bauman identifies as the need'to pass from a global solution for local problems to local solutions for global problems