Smallholder agriculture and global production networks – challenges for the Romanian peasantry in the globalized agri-food industry

This thesis deals with smallholder agriculture in the Romanian Carpathians and its development within ongoing globalization processes of the dairy sector. Within the thesis, there is a special focus set on changing regulation on regional, national and European level. Further it deals with the new en...

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Bibliographic Details
Main Author: Oppenkowski, Moritz von
Contributors: Hassler, Markus (Prof. Dr.) (Thesis advisor)
Format: Dissertation
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2019
Online Access:PDF Full Text
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Summary:This thesis deals with smallholder agriculture in the Romanian Carpathians and its development within ongoing globalization processes of the dairy sector. Within the thesis, there is a special focus set on changing regulation on regional, national and European level. Further it deals with the new entries of globally acting dairies, food retailers and intermediaries with the geographical and economic proximity of smallholders. The empirical sections (chapters 4-6) draw a conclusive picture of the socio-economic impacts of these processes and help to understand and evaluate their ecological consequences. The three articles are connected through the following common features: 1) All the articles deal with smallholder agriculture in the Romanian Carpathians 2) The analyses are made through the lenses of global production networks and global value chains 3) The importance of the concept of “embeddedness” in all socio-economic dimensions of economic activities of smallholders 4) The used methods are semi-structured expert interviews and interpretation of secondary statistical data 5) The importance of post-socialist structures in outlying, mountainous regions of Romania 6) The emphasis on informal, traditional structures in which smallholder agriculture is traditionally embedded The Romanian dairy sector is coined by subsistence and semi-subsistence agriculture. Through waves of consolidations in the retail and dairy sector, the price pressure within the dairy value chains was shifted toward raw milk producers. Through new European and national standards and regulations as well as through private standards, this price pressure is reinforced. Further, globally acting lead firms from the agri-food industry are entering the Romanian markets and strengthen that shift of price pressure. At the same time, smallholders, whose informal economic activities were formerly widely accepted, are now hindered to access their main distribution channels. Through new legislation since Romania’s accession to the EU, they can barely issue invoices or gain access to certain subsidy programs, as they are often no juridical persons. In section 4, the consequences of this disembedding of smallholders are addressed. Smallholders are pushed into informality within their traditional structures or need to become a part of new global value chains governed by globally acting lead firms which leaves the smallholders with very low bargaining power. The theoretical approaches of “Global Value Chains” and “Global Production Networks” build the framework for section 4. It shows that informal structures are crucial for existing smallholder structures and that these must be included into discussions on value chain issues. In section 5, short food supply chains as a distribution channel for smallholders are discussed. They are traditionally important for subsistence- and semi-subsistence farmers. Furthermore, they are acknowledged to be a part of sustainable rural development by institutions such as the UN and the EU, as they can contribute to a better distribution of food and global nutrition. While sustainable rural development is meant to be fostered by these institutions, the livelihood and reality of smallholders is still often marked through missing market access, low means of investment, high price pressure through globalized competition and lead firms, as well as limited access to subsidies. The approaches of short food supply chains and sustainable rural development are combined as a theoretical framework for this section. It is discussed that specific preconditions of smallholders in the Romanian Carpathians and the national interpretation of CAP subsidies leads to vanishing possibilities of access to short food supply chains for smallholders. Furthermore, it is argued that this leads to an accelerated rural exodus and to smallholders who do not have any relevance in bargaining power on how global value chains are governed and developed. Therefore, the complex, integrated farming systems which are no-to-low-input almost closed-circle farming systems are often replaced by specialized agricultural enterprises. Concluding, it is argued that this development contradicts the initial thoughts of sustainable rural development, from a social as well a from an ecological point of view. As shown in section 6, the Romanian sector of smallholder agriculture is marked by the rising average age of farmers. Many farmers stop their family business to work abroad for higher loans or to move into the growing Romanian cities. Others stop farming because they are to old. Often, a successor from inside the family cannot be found. This leads to many small patches of land, which are not worked and further to new structures of land ownership. In the outlying mountainous regions of the Carpathian Mountains, the pressure on land through the global agro-industry is not as intensive as in the Romanian lowlands which are hit by critical developments such as land grabbing. This leaves space for other developments than consolidation through food empires. The sixth section deals with push and pull factors for possible successors within family farms and with the fate of land, which is not overtaken by an intra-family successor. While the resource-based view serves as theoretical framework for understanding the question of farm succession, the fate of land is described using the concept of embeddedness from the discussion of global production networks. It is argued that societal and network embeddedness are at the same time decisive resources for the question of farm succession and the fate of land, which is no longer worked. Methodically, the thesis is based on around 25 semi-structured interviews, which were led and analysed in the sense of a grounded theory. Concluding it can be stated that recent political and economic developments have enormous impacts on the livelihood and economic situation of Romanian smallholders in the Carpathians. In the sense of sustainable rural development and the conservation of cultural and biologically diverse farming systems, which are highly efficient per used agricultural area, smallholder agriculture needs to be supported within the globalized agri-food production networks. This might be achieved through a fostering of cooperatives and collaboration, subsidy design and a re-connection of consumers and producers of food.
Physical Description:172 Pages