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Transition of food systems
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February 16th 2023

Stronger together, but how? Lessons from the Walloon dairy history on the strategic relevance of cooperative models

Oral presentation made at the ICA-CCR 2022 European Research Conference (linked to a published paper)

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Agri-food cooperatives evolved towards a diversity of cooperative models, understood as modes of horizontal and vertical coordination of the value chain. This historical investigation informs theory and practice on the strategic relevance of cooperative models for prospective pathways of value chain development. The paper draws on coordination models encountered in the trajectories of consolidation of Walloon dairy cooperatives over the last sixty years. A SWOT analysis based on historical accounts outlines the strengths and weaknesses of cooperative models on several dimensions underpinning their long-term strategic relevance: their cost-efficiency and strategic efficiency in a given market and institutional context, and their impact on commitment. The paper discusses the interplay of cooperative models and contextual factors, from social capital to regulatory frameworks, in the agri-food sector and beyond. The paper identifies cost-efficiency and strategic efficiency as outcomes emerging at the crossover of multiple dimensions. Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development framework (IAD) framework illustrates the contextual anchoring of these outcomes. The framework suggests avenues of collective mobilization and future research to manage cooperative models in sustainable value chain development and prevent demutualization. On this basis, the paper outlines the relevance of longitudinal and historically informed studies on cooperative development.

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