The importance of the solidarity economy for the development of organic farming in Europe, past and present

Carrot harvest at the Kattendorferhof farm in Germany. Photo: Martin Egbert


Organic farming is widely recognized as a promising way of greening our currently unsustainable food systems. Nonetheless, it is still falling far short of its potential in terms of its share in overall production. Its combination with the solidarity economy has come to be regarded as one possible strategy to foster the emergence of a new, sustainable path of development in the food sector. Agricultural initiatives based on the solidarity economy – community-supported farming, for example – strive to establish a circular economy, direct partnerships between producers and consumers, and fair, cost-covering prices; and they prefer organic production methods. By taking this alternative approach to production and consumption, they seek to transform current food systems and make them more sustainable.


This research project aims for a better understanding of the connection between organic farming and the solidarity economy. Focusing on Switzerland and its neighbouring countries France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, it analyses the potential role of their combination as a new, forward-looking model. To what extent can agricultural initiatives based on the solidarity economy help to promote the growth of organic farming? And, conversely, to what extent can organic farming foster the development of new economic models based on cooperation and partnership? Based on the research findings, the project will develop and put up for discussion a set of political, economic, social, and financial measures for promoting organic initiatives based on the solidarity economy.

Onion harvest at the Valli Unite cooperative in Italy. Photo: Cooperativa Valli Unite

Networking platform

The project has a strong transdisciplinary component. By creating a transnational networking platform, it aims at integrating in an interactive way the expertise of practitioners, policymakers, and researchers concerned with the solidarity economy and organic farming. At the same time, the networking platform is intended to strengthen dialogue and the exchange of experience across national, linguistic, and cultural borders, enabling proactive knowledge transfer between the organic farming and the solidarity agriculture communities. A total of 28 institutions and actors are participating in the networking platform and in three workshops taking place at different stages throughout the project.

Funding: Stiftung Mercator Schweiz

Project duration: 1.1.2016 – 31.12.2018

Project webpage (in German)
Project webpage (in French)
Project webpage (in Italian)

A kick-off workshop on 30 June 2016 marked the launch of the project’s transnational networking platform. The event brought together 35 practitioners, politicians, and researchers from Switzerland and its neighbouring countries at an organic farm near Bern. The aims of this first meeting were to get to know each other, to jointly identify opportunities and risks of the solidarity economy and organic farming, and to discuss the potential need for adapting the previously developed research questions. The links below will take you to the workshop videos (mostly in French and German) and the workshop report (in German).

Link to project videos

Workshop-Bericht (Deutsch) (PDF, 1.4 MB)

Rapport d'atelier (Français) (PDF, 1.4 MB)

Rapporto (Italiano) (PDF, 1.4 MB)


Research team

Centre for Development and Environment:

  • Prof. Dr Stephan Rist (project management)
  • Bettina Scharrer, lic. phil. hist. (project coordinator)
  • Sibylle Berger (research assistant)

Archives of Rural History:

  • Dr. Peter Moser
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