Transition of food systems


August 18th 2020

Coexistence of cooperative models as structural answer to lock-ins in diversification pathways: the case of the Walloon dairy sector

This poster considers the coexistence of recently emerged new cooperative models alongside the historically developed mainstream dairy cooperatives as a way to circumvent locks-ins in diversification pathways of milk processing.


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The recent evolutions of the Walloon dairy landscape raises questions in terms of coexistence.  The last decade has seen new cooperative models emerge. Structurally, they differentiate themselves from the historical dairy cooperatives by moving away from vertically integrated logics. They aim to provide higher revenues to farmers through owning operations at various levels of the supply chain, a differentiated quality of milk and high added-value productions. Their members include not only farmers, but also milk processors and consumers.

 Our research aimed at better understanding which perspectives these new cooperative models shape for the sector as a whole and in terms of diversification of the dairy productions. (understood as the extension of the range of commodities produced). Based on a combination of the multi-level perspective and institutional approaches, we consider dairy cooperatives as an institution acting as a structure of collective agency within a specific socio-technical coherence. We studied qualitatively the justifications, governance practices, institutional rules, and sets of interactions of the mainstream dairy cooperatives and the new cooperative models to grasp pathways of coexistence and the complementarity of development models.

 Our results show that the current Walloon dairy landscape brings up lock-ins related to the diversification of the milk processing pathways. The lock-ins are internal to the mainstream dairy cooperatives (related to their governance structure) and relate to the organization patterns of the dairy value chain. The new cooperative models define innovative ways of distributing the added value along the value chain. They include relationships with the mainstream dairy cooperatives, but externalize from them part of the payment to the farmers, as well as the risks associated with the exploration of diversification pathways (in particular diversification pathways based on the development of value chains relying on a milk holding specific features, like geographical origin, modes of production, for example organic, GMO-free, grassland-based. These new organizational patterns allow a milk processing economy in -between the small-scale short food supply chains and the large-scale industrial milk processing. Our research suggests that a combination of cooperative forms acting at various levels of the value chain can be a key to a differentiated development of the dairy sector.