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Organic farming and rural transformations in the European Union: A political economy approach

Charalampos Konstantinidis, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation investigates the impact of organic farming for achieving the environmental and social objectives of sustainability in Europe over the past 20 years. Organic farming is considered the poster child of rural development in Europe, often seen as a model of the integration of small-scale production with environmental considerations. Since this model runs counter to the logic of developing capitalist structures in agriculture, I revisit the Marxian predictions regarding the "agrarian question". Furthermore, I trace the discursive changes in support of small-scale production in the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and assess whether small farms have improved their situation under the revised CAP. ^ Subsequently, I use statistical analysis in order to assess the socio-economic and the environmental consequences of the rise in organic farming. Contrary to what is often assumed, organic farms in Europe display larger average sizes and lower rates of labor intensity than their conventional counterparts, casting doubts on the efficacy of organic farms to allow family farmers to remain in the countryside as high-value producers. I argue that this development should be viewed as further evidence of the "conventionalization" of organic farming. In order to explain the process which led to such an outcome, I proceed to explain the different ways through which organic farms could overcome traditional problems which impeded the capitalist development of agriculture. Regarding the environmental implications, I evaluate the rise of organic farming by assessing its impact for different countries' overall pesticide and fertilizer intensity. My results are mixed, with higher organic shares being correlated with decreased application of fertilizer, but less significant results for pesticide intensity. ^ Finally, I present evidence from qualitative work conducted in 2010 in rural Greece which points to the absence of well-established networks among organic producers, and between them and other actors in the chain of distribution. Small producers who switch to organic methods appear unable to reap the benefits from the higher prices and the institutional support for organic farming. Hence, it is larger enterprises which dominate the organic sector. I also examine the role of certification agencies, as a prime recipient of surplus transfers, and question the safeguards of organic enterprises against recent developments in agricultural labor relations, which are highly exploitative of immigrant labor. ^

Subject Area

Environmental economics|Economics|Agricultural economics

Recommended Citation

Konstantinidis, Charalampos, "Organic farming and rural transformations in the European Union: A political economy approach" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3545954.