Between aspirations and reality: Making farming, food systems and rural areas more resilient, sustainable and equitable

K Knickel, M. Redman, I. Darnhofer, A. Ashkenazy, T. Calvão Chebach, Sandra Šumane, Talis Tisenkopfs, R. Zemeckis, V. Atkociuniene, M Rivera, A Strauss, L. S. Kristensen, S de Schiller, M. E. Koopmans, E. Rogge

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102 Citations (Scopus)
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This paper explores the connections between farm modernisation, rural development and the resilience of agricultural and rural systems. The paper starts by ascertaining why agricultural and food systems need to change systemically. Evidence from case studies in fourteen countries is used to explore the possibilities for, and drivers and limitations of systemic change in four thematic areas: the resilience of farms and rural areas; prosperity and well-being; knowledge and innovation, and; the governance of agriculture and rural areas. In each area, we identify a major mismatch between visions and strategies on the one hand, and market developments, policy measures and outcomes on the other. The first theme is of growing concern as there has been an observable decrease in the social-ecological resilience of farms and of rural communities in recent decades. The second theme emerges as important as the concentration of production in some regions or some farms is directly linked to the marginalisation of others. The third theme illustrates that local farmer-driven innovations can teach us much, especially since farmers focus on efficiently using the resources available to them, including their location-specific experiential knowledge. Through the final theme we show that informal networks can balance different interests and approaches, which is essential for integrated rural development strategies and projects. Our findings in these four thematic areas have implications for the strategic frameworks and policy of the EU (and beyond) and future research agendas. We explicitly draw these out. The 14 case studies show that practitioners, grassroots initiatives and pilot programmes are already generating a wealth of experiences and knowledge that could be fruitfully used to inform higher-level policy development. The paper concludes that systemic change requires more critical reflection of conventional wisdom and approaches, and openness to ideas and practices that are outside the mainstream.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Agriculture
  • Governance
  • Innovation
  • Policy
  • Resilience
  • Rural
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Sustainability
  • Transformation


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