Transition of food systems


December 4th 2020

Coexistence of Cooperative models as Structural answer to Lock-Ins in Diversification Pathways : The Case of the Walloon Dairy Sector

Drawing on the presence of various dairy cooperative models active in long value chains in the Walloon Region, the paper considers how their complementarity supports trajectories of diversification of dairy productions and invites to consider cooperative models in terms of coexistence


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Drawing on an analysis of the Walloon dairy sector, this paper aims at bringing novel insights on the coexistence issue in agrifood transition studies. Whereas most studies explore the coexistence of farm models, our study focuses on value chains, in particular on cooperatives. In the Walloon Region, new dairy cooperatives emerged, as substitute or as complement to the incumbent vertically integrated dairy cooperatives. This paper focuses on the coexistence of dairy cooperative models as enabler of transition toward product diversification. Dairy cooperatives are hybrid actors: economic agents on the market on the one hand, structure of collective agency on the other hand. Williamson’s
framework of New Institutional Economics acknowledges that the allocation of resources by cooperatives depends on governance processes and on the wider institutional context in which the cooperatives evolve. Within the broader frame of the Multi- Level Perspective, this approach allows to consider the socio-technical coherence in which the cooperatives evolve, the effects of this coherence on their pathways of
development, and the complementarity of the cooperative models. This qualitative analysis builds on semi-directed interviews with actors of the Walloon dairy sector. The results outline distinctions between the new cooperative models and mainstream dairy cooperatives in market approach, definition of milk quality, distribution of added value, governance, and interactions with partners. Both models evolve within a distinct socio-technical coherence, holding, in the case of the mainstream dairy cooperatives, lock-ins to diversification related to the relationship with the farmer-members and the milk they produce in the industrial vertically integrated model. The new cooperative models circumvent these lock-ins through de-integration and externalization of initiatives,
remuneration, and risk. They allow specific groups of actors—still related or unrelated to the mainstream dairy cooperative—to explore new market pathways in accordance with their potential, and to mutually agree on criteria qualifying milk. This research draws the picture of a possible reconfiguration of the dairy landscape toward a more diversified
ecosystem of actors and invites to consider structures of governance in collective action as a cornerstone issue, because of their significant role in terms of enablement, coexistence, and complementarity throughout the transition process.