December 21st 2017

Working and employment conditions in market gardening: which agroecological transition?

Do agroecology and organic farming offer better working conditions than conventional agriculture?


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Several scientists, social movements and politicians are promoting agroecology as a major way to develop quality working conditions for producers and their agricultural workers. However, empirical studies on the subject are rare and, among them, some are very sceptical on this point. This gap between a strong normative ideal and a poorly studied empirical reality has created a debate about the capacity of agroecology to participate in the development of sustainable agriculture.

The thesis sheds light on this debate by analysing the working conditions of producers and the conditions of employment of their workers in the production of vegetables for the fresh market in the Walloon Region (Belgium), ranging from market gardening on small surfaces to the production of vegetables in field crops, both in agroecological, organic and conventional agriculture.

First, an operational definition of agroecology, including its socio-economic dimensions, is proposed, as well as an analysis grid of the working conditions of producers and the employment of their farm workers. Then, these managers are confronted with the reality on the ground.

The results show that there is a plurality of forms of agroecology. Not all of them have the same degree of long-term viability, while they offer producers and their workers contrasting working and employment conditions. This thesis demonstrates the value of an interdisciplinary approach within a comparative, comprehensive and systemic epistemology to explore the issues of work in agriculture and to overcome the divide between normative and empirical approaches.


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