9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN12 Environment and Society

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Sustainable Agriculture Building I, Auditório 4

Food, feed or fuel - experiments on sustainable development alternatives at Finnish farms

The issue of renewable energy has been boosted due to depletion of oil resources and risks related to climate change. There are many alternative means to produce renewable energy. Yet, most of them have considerable impact on land-use and on allocation of natural resources. Particularly in rural areas the emerging ways of producing renewable energy imply changes in use of arable land, forestry and rural landscape. Simultaneously, at the global scale there is a high pressure on food prices as a consequence of increased fuel production on arable land.

Furthermore, the question of sustainable diet has been raised as an issue of ethical consumption. Part of the problem is the increasing consumption of meat which implies extending the agricultural area for cultivating feed. The decisions on future investments are difficult at the local level: should farms specialize in production of food, feed or fuel? Or would some combinations be most preferable in order to contribute to sustainable development?

In small Northern countries such as Finland - leaning traditionally on a family farm tradition - rural sustainability appears to be increasingly polarizing between large scale industrial agriculture and more regional smaller scale specialisations. Much of the traditional rural entrepreneurship seems to have vanished because the improved technological means and skills have led to specialisation and increase of efficiency. Nevertheless, farms in Finland have remained pluriactive as most farms continue with both agriculture and forestry.

This paper discusses current alternatives of specialisation from the perspective of multifunctionality, pluriactivity and rural sustainability. The empirical case study is focused on Central Finland and it examines, in particular, the local/regional context of farm activities. The analysis is founded on qualitative research strategy inspired by critical ethnography. The main empirical data includes parallel sets of interviews with local food producers and producers of renewable energy. The data has been collected within the framework of SUSMARU- project funded by the Academy of Finland in 2007-2009.