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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-06062022-205909

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
Thesis title
Farmers’ participation in collective initiatives towards innovation and development
Academic discipline
Course of study
tutor Prof. Brunori, Gianluca
  • co-creation
  • farmers’ participation
  • innovation
  • interaction
Graduation session start date
Agriculture is a complex sector that operates in a world with asymmetric development, unsustainable use of natural resources, and persistent rural and urban poverty. This study is focused on how farmers participate in innovation activities which are considered key tools for the sustainable development of the sector. Since innovation is on the pillars to provide healthy, safe, and nutritious food for a growing population, it is vital to ensure food security, economic development, and reduce poverty. In developed and developing countries, there are governmental efforts through public policies that encourage producers’, and all the actors in the supply chains, to participate in innovative initiatives. Farmers’ involvement and capacity to innovate depends on their skills, motivations, location, past experiences, etc., which also influence to meet the main challenges of the sector such as inequalities, social exclusion, food waste, climate change, growing demand, and digitalization.
For getting stable and prosperous societies, cooperation and networking of stakeholders across the different sectors, countries and regions should be strengthen. Nevertheless, it requires well-planned strategies through joint actions and innovative pathways. However, not all farmers are willing to participate in innovative initiatives. For an inclusive and sustainable agriculture transformation, innovative initiatives and farmers participation are required to support on farm production and household livelihoods. Innovations in general have the potential to benefit farmers but ensuring their appropriateness for each context remains a challenge. As farmers are heterogeneous and dynamic, each of them has their own set of problems and opportunities. Their lack of collective action and failures in coordination introduces risks that are barriers for achieving innovation.
Every country has governmental policies to support the competitive development of the agricultural sector, some of them prioritize the inclusion of small farms targeting their needs. The aim of the policies is to provide a scheme where farmers get best prepared to take advantage of the existing opportunities and focus on their knowledge, experiences, and network to pursue common objectives for the sector. Although these policies are taken advantage of by many farmers, the objective is to include others who are not yet aware of the benefits they offer, get to those farmers in the surrounding rural areas, targeting the marginalized and rural youth. The scope is to create enabling environments for the development of a co-creative and interactive sector and strengthening the synergy between farmers and other stakeholders for the development and transformation of the agri-food system. Some nations follow a top-down approach, where the activities are defined by the government and the participation of local actors is limited. Other nations follow a bottom-up approach where the key player is the farmer, who in conjunction with other stakeholders develop a network of interests, identify issues, and propose solutions for them.
The primary goal of this thesis is to enhance the understanding of farmers’ participation in collective initiatives towards innovation in developed and developing countries using the collective action framework. This study centers on farmers’ bottom-up innovative initiatives towards development. It explores farmers participation and their contribution in different innovative projects. The aim is to analyse their role within the process and how they organize and interact with different actors to reach a common goal, how they learn from other and exchange ideas and knowledge to achieve innovation.
Throughout history, farmers have relied on innovation to overcome hunger and protect their food supplies. Achieving a sustainable future is a shared aim that has brought together diverse stakeholders to create solutions and unlock the agriculture full potential. The purpose is to make the best use of various types of knowledge in an interactive manner, involving key players to achieve project's goals, share implementation experiences, and communicate the results widely. In Italy, farmers were active and critical players in the inspiration and implementation phases of Farmers Lab project. However, motivation, communication, interaction, commitment, trust, and networks are fundamental elements that should be considered and triggered throughout all the different stages of a project so that farmers participation allows to learn from each other, learn with each other, co-create, and innovate. The key is to define common interests, challenges, and clear goals to maintain a social belonging to the group and ensure its future. If this dynamic is not well understood from the start, there is always the possibility to adjust goals, approaches, rules, or procedures.
On the other hand, in Ecuador, although the collective action of native communities’ work, the existing associative legal framework and the international certifications are insufficient to include small producers in the cocoa chain and foster innovation. The creation of new forms of participatory territorial certification, support to the economic organisations that emerge from indigenous communities, and the adaptation of the legal framework for the recognition of associations appear to be necessary to meet the challenge of offering a competitive cocoa. The main difficulties that the associative process faces to generate economic organisations, is the current regulatory framework, which does not favor the process of collective action, since the social and productive characteristics of the Amazonian reality are not considered in the dynamics to be developed.
The interactive innovation processes in the agricultural and rural fields, require the participation of farmers to achieve positive results with a successful impact on society. An efficient and true innovation process promotes interaction between a diverse set of agents who exchange, produce, and use knowledge. At the same time, their involvement and actual capacity to contribute to innovation depends on their skills, time availability, motivations, past experiences, etc, all elements which are not evenly distributed among actors. This entails the risk for innovation processes of widening, rather than reducing, inequalities. Since innovation requires different actors, including farmers, to identify their problems and find common solutions, this process calls for the active inclusion of those stakeholders otherwise excluded from the innovative dynamics. Nonetheless, not all stakeholders are willing or able to be included as there is a combination of individual and territorial factors that are likely to hinder their participation, such as lack of physical infrastructure, financing, entrepreneurial capabilities, connections to other production chains, etc.
Complex issues require multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral collective strategies that reinforce cooperation among multiple actors and organisations, representing diverse sectoral and societal interests in an inclusive, and dynamic configuration. If other/new actors are not considered, the risk is that knowledge stagnates, do not reach the intended beneficiaries, and hampers a smooth transition towards a more sustainable agriculture. For all these reasons, collective action through its multiple strategies is a fundamental tool for the different actors to organize themselves and obtain tangible innovative objectives in favor of a fair and sustainable agriculture.