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How can organic farming contribute to sustainable production and consumption patterns?

Research project CP/19 (Research action CP)

Persons :

Description :


Following the various crises that ‘conventional’ livestock farming systems have gone through, consumers, who are increasingly distrustful and worried, are turning to alternative systems, especially organic farming. The public authorities have set in their federal sustainable development plan a target of converting 10% of the country’s usable agricultural area to organic farming by 2010. However, the sustainability of this production system remains to be validated, for while in some areas it seems to offer truly novel responses, its strong growth is a true challenge for the stability of various elements. The trust in organic farming is not safe from crises, its regulation and the organisation of the marketing of its products are subject to the pressure of a demand that exceeds the Belgian supply; and finally, the current scheme of technical supervision appears to be poorly suited to its needs.

Project description


The project’s overall objective is to define the sustainability of organic agriculture based on three two-part dimensions that must be confronted with each other and balanced, namely:

- economic sustainability: competitive position and potential for development;
- environmental sustainability: reproduction of resources and balance of specific externalities; and
- social sustainability: innovative abilities and social/territorial externalities.
These dimensions must be evaluated, matched up with effective sets of references, and backed up by policy instruments.

This makes it possible to define the research’s specific aims:

- To establish technical references for the two major stakes linked to the organic ranching and fattening of cattle, namely, rations and health. That entails making use of/improving the positive externalities of organic cattle ranching schemes (nitrogen balance, biodiversity) and analysing their environmental and social costs;
- To study and test the organisational forms that permit negotiations between marketing requirements and the dimensions of sustainability and to reinforce the guarantees that the various production and processing networks appear to give consumers;
- To analyse consumer demand and the most suitable communication tools and to initiate a participatory and experimental approach to negotiation.


The originality of this project lies in the fact that it allows for the interdependence of these three specific aims whilst trying to develop at the same time and in a coordinated fashion various types of sets of references and tools through intervention-research (Sébillotte, 2000; Hatchuel, 1999). The main hypothesis is the validity of a knowledge co-generation model through the interactions of all the stakeholders and that can be represented in the research process in different ways.

This research also aspires to explore and validate an intervention-research model that might be transposed to other areas. The idea is to validate the usefulness of establishing connections amongst consumption, production, and communication in the research itself. This is thus a multidisciplinary approach that strives to coordinate the work of engineers, sociologists, and economists on the one hand, but also that of the farmers, processors, and distributors on the other hand, by the reciprocal influences of the research concepts, priorities and tools, rather than by their simple juxtaposition. The approach belongs to an original epistemology (Hatchuel, 1999) that is centred on transformation rather than mere observation so as to give priority to reflexivity, and that is based less on established values than on the restatement (or regeneration) of values.

Interaction between the different partners

Given the number and heterogeneousness of the requirements placed on agriculture, we can no longer treat the economic and environmental aspects, nor the constraints of supply and demand, separately. A consistent system of sets of references for each network’s (internal and external) coordination is vital if we want to ensure the networks’ long-term viability just as much as their environmental conformity. The project will take care to connect the various sets of references, i.e., technical and organisational feasibility and consumer demand. For those reasons, the different research teams will work in strong interaction along the all phases of the project. The economic input will be modulated in function of the hierarchy of research questions.

Link with international programmes

INRA UREQUA, Le Mans (B. Sylvander) Research and organic farming
INRA SAD, Avignon (B. Hubert) Intervention research.
INRA Colmar (Girardin), Référentiels techniques

Expected results

The project will produce sets of references in terms of production systems, organisational models, and the construction of the demand. The sets of references’ feasibility will be validated in the networks (sector subsystems) that we test. Sustainability will be validated from the economic, social, and environmental standpoints. In addition, the research will determine to what extent the general organisation and negotiating schemes that exist in the organic farming networks can be transformed into new forms of collectives that can allow better organisation regarding the various dimensions of sustainable development.



The FUL research team will focus on studying the organisational schemes that permit negotiation between distribution requirements,and aspects of sustainability as farm income, the ranchers’ socio-economic control over the situation, territorial dynamics, etc. Concerning the consumer references, the Ful team will study the communication tools and the consumer representation. Regardless of the type of distribution circuit, reciprocal learning is required if supply has to match demand. In this respect, the Ful team will initiate and evaluate such a learning trajectory. This calls for consultation and leading discussion groups in order to get the consumer more actively involved in the process and to check the validity of such a negotiating model.

The agronomist of the CRA-W will establish a set of technical references around two major stakes in breeding and fattening cattle organically, namely, diet and health. Defining the sets of references for cattle rations connects two types of relationship, the breeding-cropping relationships and the breeding-fattening relationship. The second aim is to make use of and/or improve the positive externalities of organic cattle breeding, i.e., nitrogen balance, biodiversity, and landscapes. What impacts do organic farming practices have on nitrogen balance? What impacts do the choice of production system, especially the fodder production choices, on the biodiversity ?
The economists of the RUG will analyse organic livestock farming's economic sustainability by studying the apportionment of the prices that consumers pay amongst the various members of each network and trying to understand the organisational justifications for this distribution of the profit margins. The analysis of the margins will be accompanied by an estimation of the transaction costs for each of the players


Marc Mormont, Fondation Universitaire Luxembourgeoise,
Av Longwy 185, B-6700 Arlon
Tel: +32 (0)63 23 08 68; Fax: +32 (0)63 23 08 18
e mail,

Didier Stilmant, Centre wallon de Recherches agronomiques, Section systèmes agricoles
Rue de Serpont 100, B-6800 Libramont
Tel: +32 (0)61 23 10 10,

Guido Van Huylenbroeck, Universiteit Gent, Unity of Agriculture economy
Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 59 26; Fax: +32 (0)9 264 62 46

Users Commitee

- Hugo Baert - Union Nationale Interprofessionnelle des Transformateurs et Distributeurs de Produits de l'Agriculture Biologique - Sint-Agatha-Rode
- Hubert Bedoret - Inter-Environnement Wallonie (IEW) - Namur
- Jan Claessens - Delhaize Groep nv - Zellik
- Bernard Convié - Centre Technique pour le Développement de l’Agriculture et de l’Horticulture Biologique (CEB) - Namur
- Marc Fichers - Nature et Progrès - Jambes
- Blaise Hommelen - Ecocert - Bruxelles
- Dominique Malmedy - Union Nationale des Agrobiologistes Belges (UNAB) - Tavier
- D. Peusens - Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap - Centrum Landbouwkundig Onderzoek - Departement Plantengenetica en -veredeling - Melle
- Michel Plaaschaert - Fédération Wallonne de l'Agriculture (FWA) - Mazee
- Philippe Ruelle - SPF Santé publique, Sécurité de la Chaîne alimentaire et Environnement - Services fédéraux pour les Affaires environnementales - Bruxelles
- André Schonbrodt - Union Professionnelle Vétérinaire (UPV) - Nivelles
- Yves Somvilles - Fédération Wallonne de l'Agriculture (FWA) - Gembloux
- Ann Theunissen - VLAM - Afdeling Land- en Tuinbouwvorming - Cel biologische landbouw - Brussel
- Marc Vandercammen - Centre de Recherche et d'Information des Organisations de Consommateurs (CRIOC-OIVO) - Bruxelles

Documentation :

How can organic farming contribute to the sustainable production and consumption patterns? : final report  Stassart, Pierre - Mormont, Marc - Jamar, Daniel ... et al  Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2006 (SP1660)
[To download]  [To order

Comment l'agriculture biologique contribue-t-elle aux modes de production et de consommation durables? : résumé    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2007 (SP1701)
[To download

Hoe kan biologische landbouw bijdragen aan duurzame productie- en consumptiepatronen? : samenvatting    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2007 (SP1702)
[To download

How can organic farming contribute to sustainable production and consumption patterns? : summary    Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2007 (SP1703)
[To download

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