Identifying the farming models underlying Flemish beef farmers’ practices from an agroecological perspective with archetypal analysis

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Agroecology is increasingly recognized as a valuable perspective to face the sustainability challenges of
contemporary foods systems. Yet case-comparisons based on a holistic assessment of actual farmer practices have
been lacking. In this paper, we seek to identify the different farming models underlying the sets of practices of
Flemish beef farmers (Belgium). For this, we rely on 37 accounts of a diverse group of Flemish beef farmers. Their
practices were gathered through semi-structured interviews. These practices were categorized along 36 Pathways
of Action to pursue 13 agroecological principles, identified in research published earlier. To compare how and to
what extent each farmer is pursuing these principles, we turned this qualitative information into sets of indicator
scores. With Archetypal Analysis, we identified three farming models underlying their diverse pursuits of agroecological
principles: one farming model represents seven conventional farmers who name a bare minimum of
practices contributing to agroecology, and two models representing farmers that do integrate elements of agroecology.
Conceptually, the second farming model, which represents nine direct selling farmers, eight of them
organic, corresponds with a low-input, low-capital, but knowledge intensive model, embedded within alternative
commercial and social networks, which actively seeks to become independent from regime institutions. The third
farming model represents five mostly whole-selling conventional beef farmers that find advantages within the
mainstream market environment. It overlaps with a number of practices related to the techno-productive
dimension of agroecology with the second model, as far as these maintain or increase productivity, and are
compatible with the expectations of value-chain actors. These results provide an empirical basis for concepts
such as “peasant farming” and “sustainable intensification” to understand the diverging translation of agroecological
principles into practice. However, the remaining half of the farmers is found in the continuum between
these models, indicating that these models are combinable in practice to some extent, and that not all
farmers go as far as the most emblematic instances of these models. While a more systematic assessment of the
presence of means of agroecology at each studied case is still lacking, our study may well have laid the foundation
for such an assessment tool. Moreover, our study already demonstrates that such assessments have the
potential to empirically ground theorizations of different farming models and connect them with existing
farmers’ sets of practices.
TijdschriftAgricultural Systems
Aantal pagina's10
StatusGepubliceerd - 2021


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