Community-supported agriculture in Croatia – Grupe solidarne razmjene (GSR) and Solidarne ekološke grupe (SET)
Author: Olga Orlić, Institute for Anthropological Research
Case study type: Local initiatives
Keywords: community-supported agriculture, solidarity economy, grassroots’ initiative, alternative food network
The community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement has been developed variously (and often simultaneously) in different parts of the world. It appeared under the name of Teikei (meaning collaboration, cooperation) in 1971 in Japan and in 1978 under the name of Jardins de Cocagne in Switzerland. After that the initiative “moved” to USA where the initiative got the most accurate naming: Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). Different naming the same initiative (that is not necessarily limited to food exclusively) is present all over the world: Agriculture Soutenue par la Communauté (ASC) in the Quebec region of Canada, Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne (AMAP) in France, GAS (Gruppo d’Acquisto Solidale) in Italy and Groupe d’Achat Solidaire in Belgium. Also, although they are all based on a similar principle, each case has its own special features.
The initiative was transferred to Croatia in 2009, with the help of enthusiastic “gasisti” (members of the GAS from Italy), who organized a visit of enthusiasts from Croatia, who then transferred the initiative into Croatia. In Croatia the initiative became familiar under the name of Groups of Solidary Exchange (Grupe solidarne razmjene (GSR)) and developed in two rather different directions. One was in Istria where the development of the community-supported agriculture was linked with the NGO Istrian Ecological Product (IEP). This meant that all the farmers included in the CSA in Istria had to be members of IEP, which meant that they had to have a certificate of ecological production. This was not the case in other parts of Croatia, where CSA were organized. In these cases the emphasis was put on a trust between farmers and consumers and mistrust into the process of certification (as a possibly corruptive one). Therefore, in these cases groups are strongly opposed to the certification and any kind of a state control.
However, the Istrian case showed it was possible to provide internal control of producers, mainly because of ecological farmers, that in the Istrian cases were also members of the group and were willing to perform a control (quantity of products must correspond to the land a farmer has in possession) in order to protect their own, certified, status. The result is exposing the fraud, if and when it appears. They consider it to be important feature of their organizing principle and therefore decided to change their name into Solidarity ecological groups (SET) in order to differentiate from Groups of solidary exchange (GSR). They continued with their regular activities (delivering food to group members on a weekly basis, without a middleman), and they have become strong enough to lobby at the city administration to allow them to organize a farmers' market 2 hours per week (for example in Pula, on Tuesdays, from 16-18, in Šijana) where they sell their products, though for non-members at higher prices. This markets spread into other cities in Istria. In this way, the producers are able to sell more of their products, and at the same time they try to attract people to become SET members, that would allow them to buy at lower prices. The city administration provides incentives for farmers who want to turn to the ecological production (under 3-years monitoring period). In these cases, SET group members would also perform internal monitoring, buying simultaneously from these farmers their products, but not allowing them to sell at farmers' markets.
The group does not have any specific digital platform, they operate online, use social network as well (such as Facebook). The existence of the regular farmers' market on the weekly basis (in Istria) enables individuals familiar with the time schedule of the market to appear and buy product without previous orders (and the farmers always bring some extra quantities!)
The collaborative aspect of this case study has been stressed since beginnings of the initiative (in Japan 1971, the name of the movement is teikei (meaning collaboration). It is about collaboration between producers and consumers in a production/consumption circle. In conventional consumption circle very often both producers and consumers are tricked. Producers get the minimal earnings, while the middleman gets the most. Farmers are then also interested in maximizing the profit, without thinking about the consequences. The conventional agriculture does not take care about the environment and is recognized as one of the major polluters. Also, consumers do not know how the food is produced and at the same time they want to eat healthy. The market for ecological products has been growing in past years, but prices are also higher. In this practice collaboration is exercised by mutual commitment of both sides (farmers are committed to producing ecological food without frauds, while consumers are committed to be regular buyers of this products, regardless of the seasonality of the products). In return for ensured market, the farmer has more time to devote to farming processes, and can offer lower prices. In some cases consumer pre-finance the farmer for planting or buying some special equipment, (therefore he does not have to borrow money). In the case of SET, if a consumer loses his/her job, s/he can work at the farm and in that way “earn” the food. Transparency from both sides (regardless of problems) leads to mutual trust and enhances solidarity.
Initiative is sustained by enthusiasm and volunteering efforts of many individuals. However, the business model proved to be successful, since the farmers were able to live of their work. The initiative (possible due to a change of the Public Procurement Law in Croatia in 2017 made possible a future more intensive collaboration between farmers (co-operatives) and a competitiveness on more regional or national level). This issue has to be followed in the future, to see what will be the results of the change.
CSA has a positive impact on environment, especially because of farmers that are now much more interested in ecological farming. It has a positive impact on economy as well, enabling farmers to live from their work. The impacts of eating ecologically produced food are also assumable, though this requires a longitudinal research to be carried out.
Key aspect of this research is directed on the collaborative i.e. solidarity aspect of the activity – i.e. the transformative power such grassroots initiatives have, not only on individual’s, but on society in general. Key themes include solidarity, collaboration, community-supported agriculture, ecological farming, group dynamics (problems within the group and the methods of resolving it), economic and environmental impact, food culture, and food sovereignty.
The main research questions are:
- What is the motivation of actors of solidary/collaborative economy?
- What are the problems that CSA actors face?
- How the groups did overcame the problems. Why some groups have failed, while others have not? What makes one group more successful than other?
- What is necessary to make solidarity/collaborative economy more widespread? (if actors consider it is worth spreading).
- What is the immediate impact actors can feel due to participation in one such a movement?
- Examining the role of ecologically and locally produced food in everyday life of CSA actors.
The research that has been undertaken since 2013 until today, mostly in Zagreb (including surroundings) and Istria (Pula, Rovinj, Novigrad). The methods used were mainly classical anthropological qualitative methods such as ethnographic observation, participant-observation, semi-structured interviews with various actors (farmers, consumers, organizers (admins), non-ecological farmers (in order to see what would be their incentive to turn to ecological farming) and some state officials.
I have been following the group dynamics from 2013 until now, with different intensity. Results show how the same initiative develops differently in different contexts and how individuals and their worldviews influence the development. Group dynamics show how often the success or failure depend on several “stronger” individuals and how when their life circumstances change, the initiative can take totally different direction. The PR done for the initiative is extremely important because it makes the authorities keener to finance and support such grassroots initiatives.
This local initiative makes a significant contribution to efforts on reversing certain environmental trends, in boosting solidarity economy and in the struggle for food sovereignty.
For full details, see:
Orlić, Olga. 2018. “Could this be the end of the world as we know it?” Community-Supported Agriculture in Croatia and the Building of Ecotopia. Utopian Encounters: Anthropologies of Empirical Utopias / Maskens, Maite ; Blanes, Ruy (eds.). Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien: Peter Lang, 123-147.
Orlić, Olga; Bokan, Nataša. 2017. Prakse održivosti: tko radi ono o čemu mi maštamo?. Koga (p)održava održivi razvoj? Prinosi promišljanju održivosti ruralnih područja u Hrvatskoj. Bušljeta Tonković, Anita; Holjevac, Željko; Brlić, Ivan; Šimunić, Nikola (eds.). Gospić: Institut društvenih znanosti Ivo Pilar, Područni centar Gospić, 109-129.
Orlić, Olga.2015. Grupe solidarne razmjene kao pokret za postizanje prehrambenog suvereniteta. Vrtovi našega grada: Studije i zapisi o praksama urbanog vrtlarenja. Rubić, Tihana; Gulin Zrnić, Valentina (eds.).Zagreb: Institut za etnologiju i folkloristiku, Hrvatsko etnološko društvo, Parkticipacija, 231-240.
Orlić, Olga. 2014. Grupe solidarne razmjene - počeci ekonomije solidarnosti u Hrvatskoj. Etnološka tribina, 44(37), 72-88. Doi:10.15378/1848-9540.2014.37.02 https://hrcak.srce.hr/index.php?show=clanak&id_clanak_jezik=193025