Building alternative agri-food networks: Certification, embeddedness and agri-environmental governance
Higgins, V and Dibden, J and Cocklin, C, Building alternative agri-food networks: Certification, embeddedness and agri-environmental governance, Journal of Rural Studies, 24, (1) pp. 15-27. ISSN 0743-0167 (2008) [Refereed Article]
This paper examines the role of certification in alternative agri-food networks (AAFNs), which are in the process of building markets for their produce outside conventional supply chains. Drawing upon recent writing on ‘embeddedness’, we argue that certification provides an important focus for exploring the relationship and tensions between horizontal and vertical dimensions of embedding processes, and thereby understanding the complexities of agri-environmental governance. Through a case study of a group of beef farmers in south-eastern Australia, we investigate how one type of process-based certification—Environmental Management Systems (EMSs)—was used as the basis for constructing an AAFN and selling a premium environmentally certified product. The case study shows that environmental certification had mixed results for this AAFN. For instance, while it represented a useful means of building consumer trust, considerable time and effort was required by producers to target and build a market for the certified product. Producers initially had little to gain financially from a third-party-certified EMS. However, despite the current lack of broad consumer demand for non-organic environmentally certified products, the farmers we interviewed did not reject the EMS process entirely—they used it to realise a range of non-monetary personal and community benefits. We conclude that certification can be a useful strategy for those AAFNs in the process of expanding beyond direct marketing. Nevertheless, the lack of consumer understanding and demand means that certification may be adapted and combined with other producer strategies to meet personal and societal expectations regarding land stewardship.
alternative food networks, standards, governance, Australia