Social innovations in agriculture and local food markets


Aija Zobena, Dr. Soc., Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Latvia

Rasa Melnikiene, dr., Lithuanian Institute of Agrarian Economics, Lithuania

Anna Berlina, Nordregio (The Nordic Centre for Spatial Development), Sweden

Robert Home, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Switzerland

Bernadette Oehen, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Switzerland



Objective of the working group is to discuss organisational and social innovations in agriculture and local food markets. Based on workshop participants’ experience, we will use Speed dating & Research Match-Making methodologies to identify (and generate) common interest and possible collaborations on social innovations and local food markets in the future. This WG is based on project “Formation of local food markets” funded by the Swedish Institute and headed by Nordregio.

In recent decades rural regions in the EU are facing new challenges to their social and economic development. The current situation of outmigration from many rural areas, combined with a lack of young people, demands new solutions that would help to ensure successful development of rural regions. Meanwhile, concerns about food safety and the environment have led to an increase in demand for locally grown fresh food in recent years in the EU. An important means of enabling the social and economic sustainability of rural regions is by finding innovative ways to support the local social capital and to strengthen urban-rural linkages. Social Innovations in agriculture and local food markets can take a wide variety of forms. Many local innovations concentrate on creating or strengthening personal relationships between producers and consumers, which can result in transitions in the consumers’ perception of local food and farming. A frequent further focus of local social innovations is to shorten food supply chains and thereby gain consumers trust in terms of quality, social and economic sustainability locally.

Social innovations refer to the fields of strategic management, innovation, and organisational development (Schmidpeter 2013), and can be defined as “new ideas (products, services, and models) to meet social needs and create new social relationships and collaborations” (European Commission 2013). Jaeger-Erben et al. (2015) distinguished five different types of social innovations referring to sustainability: (1) Do-It-Together, (2) Strategic Consumption, (3) Sharing Communities, (4) Do-It-Yourself, and (5) Utility-enhancing Consumption. Common to local social innovations are a limited geographical or social network in which collaborative forces are easier to develop and sustain than in the global marketplace.

Research topics could include (but are not limited to) gaining an understanding the main topics and goals of social innovations related to sustainable production and consumption of local food; exploring the mechanisms, strengths and weaknesses of local food market initiatives; assessing the contribution of social innovations and/or local food markets to a sustainable and resilient economy; and exploring the potential of local social innovations to scale up and spread. Examples of local social innovations include participatory guarantee systems, community supported agriculture, ecovillages, and local food markets.


Work at this WG will be set in 3 sessions:

1st session is devoted to short presentations by each participant to show their interests and experiences.

2nd session is devoted for setting up 5-6 working groups of participants with similar interest (on research topic, project proposals, etc.) to discuss their cross-cutting points for collaboration.

3rd session is devoted for common discussion and exchange of results of previous session to generate potential research interaction in the future.


Jaeger-Erben, M., Rückert-John, J. & Schäfer, M. 2015. Sustainable consumption through social innovation: a typology of innovations for sustainable consumption practices. Journal of Cleaner Production, 108, pp.784–798.

Schmidpeter, R. 2013. Social Innovation: A New Concept for a Sustainable Future? In Social Innovation. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 1–9.