The role of cooperation for sustainability innovations in the agriculture and food sector

Martina Schäfer, Bettina König


The necessary transitions in the agriculture and food sector require ‘second order’ innovations, which often are the result of collaborative networks between heterogeneous partners. The paper is based on the analysis of cooperation in two different German case studies: One case deals with the development of a sustained value chain for ethical poultry production while the other case aims at the combination of different niche innovations for cultural landscape conservation. The empirical analysis is based on the categories ‘goals of the innovation and motives of cooperation’, ‘actors and their resources’, ‘distribution of costs and benefits’, ‘cooperation structure and management’. It comprises guided interviews with central actors of the co-operative networks and participative observation as part of a transdisciplinary research process. The comparison reveals similar and different challenges for establishing the two types of innovation, which can partly be explained by the different character of the niche-regime interactions in the two cases. Both face the challenge that partnerships have to be built up, which allow compensation of the added societal values. The establishment of ethical poultry production is confronted with competitive disadvantages of niche products on the market due to challenging the paradigm of specialization and cost efficiency on different levels of the value chain (divergent or oppositional niche-regime interaction). The case of cultural landscape preservation, which has characteristics of an emergent niche-regime interaction, is confronted with different perspectives on the aspired qualities of the landscape by the heterogeneous actors involved (agriculture, nature protection, tourism and ad-ministration). Both cases show a high degree of complexity, which affords professional cooperation management, which is able to adapt to changing circumstances. Drawing on the concept of “failures”, originating from the innovation system and transition approach, helps to get a better understanding of potentials and limits of cooperation in sustainable innovation processes..


Sustainability innovations, cooperation management, ethical poultry production, organic value chains, cultural landscape conservation, marginal wetlands, niche-regime interaction, system failures.


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