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Collective action for territorial quality differentiation of cheese in mountain areas: Case studies of the Campos de Cima da Serra in Brazil and the Province of Trento in Italy

Abstract : Globalization leads to development inequalities between the so-called favorable and marginal rural areas. On a generic market, the latter can hardly compete with favorable rural areas because they are generally less endowed with production factors, located far from the markets and often have poorly developed infrastructures and unfavorable natural conditions for production-oriented agriculture. To avoid price competition some marginal rural areas demonstrate capacity to redefine their development paths through endogenous development. This model relies on local resources to offer specific products and services. The present research focuses on cheese agrifood systems in mountain rural areas. Due to the strong symbolic dimension of such systems on the one hand, and the central role of collective organization on the other hand, the territorial approach developed in French-speaking literature seems valuable for the research. In particular, the concept of Localized Agrifood Systems (LAS) appears to be interesting. LAS corresponds to agrifood systems anchored in specific territories, defined as socially constructed, culturally marketed, and institutionally regulated spaces. They rely on territorial quality differentiation of food products, as an alternative to standardized production. This process mobilizes both material attributes related to intrinsic qualities of the product and symbolic attributes linked to the geographical origin. Territorial governance, which means coordination among heterogeneous local actors, ensures the process of differentiation and the construction of cheese reputation. At the same time, this process requires a specific demand related to a higher willingness to pay from consumers. These are the conditions needed to enable a process of territorial development, as it should result in a higher price and a fairer profit distribution and, therefore, in higher incomes and satisfaction of the local needs. In addition, territorial development considers further social, cultural and environmental dimensions. The differentiation process relies on the creativity of the local actors and offers a potential for self-organization, which depends on the ability of these actors to cooperate and to act collectively. The general aim of this research is to analyze how actors in mountain cheese LAS act collectively for the territorial quality differentiation of the cheese. It encompasses three specific objectives described as follows: i) to analyze the territorial governance structures and the collective strategies implemented to differentiate mountain cheese, ii) to analyze relational processes within a collective organization to understand what is decisive in achieving collective action, iii) to link producers’ representations of identity and the feeling of belonging to territory to their degree of involvement in collective action. The framework of Common Pool Resources (CPRs), territorial proximity and territoriality are employed and connected in this thesis to grasp the relationships between collective action and territory in LAS. First, the CPR framework is used to investigate the normative and multilevel institutional dimensions of collective action, and therefore the governance structures. In fact, this framework allows considering the capacity of self-organization of the local actors through the design of localized institutional arrangements and the establishment of shared norms. At the same time, it also includes the role of governments in potentially supporting localized collective action. Second, the territorial proximity approach is used to integrate the geographical and organized relationships into the analysis. Lastly, the territoriality approach considers the role of identity and feeling of belonging in collective action. This thesis applies both qualitative (e.g. semi-structured interviews, in-depth interviews with key actors, “farm biographies”) and quantitative (e.g. social network analysis, statistics) methods. This research is conducted in two different case studies. The first study area is located in the Campos de Cima da Serra in southern Brazil, where the Serrano cheese is produced. It is a traditional raw milk cheese; however, it is an informal production due to new consumers’ preferences for young instead of matured cheese and difficulties of compliance with hygiene standards. Moreover, production is still poorly organized and the first forms of collective action recently emerged in the 2000s. The second study area is located in the province of Trento, in the Italian Alps. Cheese production is strongly organized by the producers, who are grouped in dairy cooperatives which process milk into different typical cheeses. The cooperatives are associated to a consortium that organizes the cheese production at the province level. Results show that a mixed form of governance, i.e. including local public and private actors, as found in the province of Trento, seems crucial for the success of collective action for cheese differentiation. Whereas a top-down model, i.e. with a predominance of public actors in the coordination, as found in the Campos de Cima da Serra, leads to a low participation of producers in collective action. In order to enhance cheese reputation, the local actors concerned must create exclusion mechanisms by designing their own rules, which include sanction mechanisms, and by defining a pertinent geographical area of production. Most of the time, these rules correspond to specifications in geographical indications. Nonetheless, the success of local collective action also depends on governments and on the implementation of public policies that aim at supporting and valorizing the production. In addition, agritourism plays an important role in differentiation. Regarding the relational structure within collective organizations, the success of collective action relies on a high degree of organizational trust and reciprocity, which are conditioned by geographic and organized proximity. Indeed, geographical proximity, facilitated by village grouping, professional meetings and cultural events, allows increasing face to face interactions and therefore trust. However, the mountain environment can exacerbate isolation, leading to less participation in collective action. The presence of transport and communication infrastructures is therefore necessary to reduce isolation. Moreover, the absence of hierarchy regarding the socioeconomic status among producers, the presence of prestige-based leaders, as well as the resolution of conflicts through the definition of rules seem important for collective action achievement. Finally, producers’ representations of identity reflect their participation in collective action. It therefore seems important to stimulate discussion between the different producers, in order to create common representations conducive to collective action, where the feeling of belonging may be an important element to provide higher commitment. This thesis aimed at deepening the knowledge of territory-based collective action in mountain cheese LAS. It intended to improve scientific knowledge, but also professional practices and public action in favor of the development of marginal rural areas. Future directions would consist in deepening and developing research. The first research avenue involves emphasizing the analysis of the complexity between territory and collective action, which includes the ideal (i.e. identity, representations) and political (i.e. hierarchy and conflicts) dimensions, as well as the link between collective action dynamics and territorial development outcomes. The second research avenue focuses on the implementation of participatory approaches to support the local actors in the design, implementation and evaluation of their projects.
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Submitted on : Thursday, April 15, 2021 - 9:58:50 AM
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Carine Pachoud. Collective action for territorial quality differentiation of cheese in mountain areas: Case studies of the Campos de Cima da Serra in Brazil and the Province of Trento in Italy. Geography. Université d'Innsbruck, 2020. English. ⟨tel-03085188v2⟩

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