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Cesagen · Research

Facilitating Alternative Agro-food Networks: Stakeholders Perspectives on Research Needs (FAAN)

Katerina Psarikidou and Bronislaw Szerszynski

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FAAN (see www.faanweb.eu) was a collaborative investigation into ‘alternative agro-food networks’ (AAFNs) in the European Union, carried out by academic institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs) in five EU member states. In the project, AAFNs were defined loosely to include any effort to appropriate local, traditional and new knowledges in promoting alternative forms of agriculture; to encourage shorter food chains; to emphasise quality rather than quantity, and local distinctiveness rather than homogenised varieties; to bring producers and consumers in new and closer relationships; and/or to strengthen ecological, social and economic sustainability.

From Lancaster, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Katerina Psarikidou were both members of the UK FAAN team, which also included Les Levidow from the Open University and Helen Wallace and Becky Price at GeneWatch UK. Katerina worked as a researcher for GeneWatch UK, being responsible for conducting most of the fieldwork and some of the UK Policy Analysis. Bron worked closely with Katerina as her PhD supervisor, but also worked on the UK study more widely and advised the project as part of the FAAN Advisory Group.


  • To analyse how current policies (on the European, national and regional levels) facilitate or impede the development of AAFNs, and how policy frameworks could better facilitate them
  • To identify further research needs relevant for AAFNs and thus to inform future research agendas
  • To analyse how AAFNs link types of innovation – organisational, cultural, economic and technological – as a basis to broaden EU research policies on the ‘knowledge-based bio- economy’
  • To explore the potential of collaborative research that involves civil society organisations as active research partners


For our UK case studies we researched AAFNs in the urban conurbation of Greater Manchester and the rural county of Cumbria. For WP3 of the project we did an initial assessment of 57 projects or businesses in the northwest of England and carried out 22 semi-structured interviews. WP4 involved holding one Scenario Analysis Workshop with AFFN stakeholders in each of the two localities. Each workshop considered the future of AAFNs, and the policies which will shape this at the regional, national and European levels. We used four contrasting scenarios to initiate discussion and problematisation by the stakeholders of the future development of agriculture.


  • AAFNs can provide their own alternative vision of a sustainable agro-food system based a combination of economic, environmental and socio-cultural benefits, which move beyond profit motives and increasing productivity.
  • Diverse EC policy frameworks seem to have various features that could both hinder and facilitate present and future sustainability of alternative agro-food networks (e.g. Leader, Hygiene regulations, trading rules, public procurement, territorial branding).
  • These policies should be re-framed in a way to respond to local needs and thus support alternative routes for productivity beyond the technological treadmill of production and the potential corporate interests behind it.
  • Social co-operation and trust, consumers’ support and recognition, community engagement are important instruments for the present and future success of the networks.
  • Sustainable innovation in AAFNs lies in the appropriation and re-combination of practitioners’ diverse knowledges and skills (lay and expert, traditional and modern, tacit and explicit) towards the construction of an alternative knowledge-based agro-food economic system re-embedded in wider social relations.

For the wider FAAN Project key findings, see the FAAN Report ‘Local Food Systems in Europe’, available here.


Psarikidou, K. and Szerszynski, B. (forthcoming) Growing the Social: alternative agro-food networks and social sustainability in the urban ethical foodscape. Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy

Levidow, L. and Psarikidou, K. (2011) Making Local Food Sustainable in Manchester. In Andre Viljoen and Hans Wisekerke (Eds.) Planning for Sustainable Food Systems. Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Levidow, L. and Psarikidou, K. (2011) Food Relocalisation for Environmental Sustainability in Cumbria. Sustainability, 3(4), 692-719

Levidow, L., Price, B. Psarikidou, K., Szerszynski, B. and Wallace, H. (2010) Urban Agriculture as Community Engagement. Urban Agriculture Magazine, no. 24:43-45

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