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22 Jun 2015

Research: Microeconomic Degrowth, Community Supported Agriculture

Economic growth is the cornerstone of mainstream macroeconomics. In the face of economic crises and unemployment, growth has long been the only acceptable solution. Yet many issues have started to challenge this dominant economic model. As a result, researchers have begun to investigate a new solution based on the concept of degrowth. The goal : to transition from sustainable development towards a model built around sustainable and equitable reduction («degrowth»).

This article by Roxana Bobulescu, Nhu Tuyen Le et Claudio Vitari is the subject of the 15th GEM LAB Executive Summaries; and is part of the Chair Mindfulness, Well-Being at Work and Economic Peace's research activities.

The sustainability of continuous growth has been called into question by environmental factors such as diminishing natural resources and climate change. In addition, emerging economies are straining our economic system as they strive to increase their production and consumption to match Western living standards. In response, certain scholars have proposed a «socially sustainable economic degrowth» (SSED) perspective that calls for a more holistic model

An end to expansion ?

From the article

Microeconomic degrowth : The case of Community Supported Agriculture
Ecological Economics 112 (2015) 110 - 115
Marjolijn Bloemmen, Roxana Bobulescu, Nhu Tuyen Le, Claudio Vitari, 2015

SSED scholars propose a transition towards a system in which expansion is no longer a necessity. Instead of preaching the primacy of efficiency and maximization, this view embraces a holistic understanding of human beings. The traditional homo economicus view of an individual, portrays humans to be individualistic, egoistic, competitive and bent on maximizing profits. On the other hand, the degrowth vision is based on a more inclusive view human motivations such as empathy, obligation and freedomcreativity. At the heart of this perspective is the simple idea that happiness and welfare are not only obtained from material pursuits, a fact that opens the door to creating an alternative form of economics.

Pioneering a microeconomic degrowth model

While previous research on degrowth has discussed many aspects of this challenge, there is a lack of scholarly work on a microeconomic level. To fill this gap, the researchers carried out a case study of a self-harvest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Belgium. The study aims to serve as a starting point for the creation of an actual microeconomic degrowth model.

A holistic approach to farming

A CSA is a local economic model for agriculture and food distribution in which farmers and consumers share the benefits and risks. At the beginning of each season, the farmer presents the expected harvest yield and the association establishes the harvest share for each participant. Participants, who pay a fixed price for their harvest share, are then free to pick vegetables whenever suits them.

The CSA in Belgium allowed the researchers to establish characteristics that help define microeconomic actors from a holistic perspective. Their research highlighted that participants were nonprofit-seeking, and preferred quality over quantity and small scale production. In addition, the degrowth perspective allowed the researchers to look at social and natural characteristics as well. The participants' views were oriented towards encouraging community participation, conviviality and a responsibility towards nature.

A three-pronged approach

In contrast with a traditional capitalistic vision of monetary profit, the authors of the study proposed an analysis based on three previously mentioned spheres (economic, natural and social) and highlighted that «success» was based on achieving a balance between these spheres. These three spheres and their corresponding characteristics set the foundation for a new microeconomic model.

Key points

  • Economic crises, environmental changes and a lack of natural resources are putting important strain on the traditional economic growth model.
  • The degrowth perspective offers a holistic approach to creating a sustainable economic model.
  • Degrowth is based on the principle of replacing the profitoriented economic perspective with a focus on balancing economic, social and natural factors to achieve a higher quality of life.
Contacts
Mara Saviotti