The Beauty of the Commons? Consumers participation in Food Community Networks

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Abstract

Why are consumers increasingly joining farmers to co-produce and transact sustainable foods world-wide? May these networks be a new tool to promote sustainable practices? As stated by Sandler (2010): “Longitudinal collective action environmental problems are likely to be effectively addressed only by an enormous number of individuals each making a nearly insignificant contribution to resolving them”. Consumers-farmers networks may serve this scope by inducing individual actors to change their preferences towards sustainable products. However participation in these networks is still not well understood. On one hand new institutional economics explains consumers joining farmers in creating a network as a choice of the “most cost-economizing” governance structure to carry out a transaction where credence attributes are involved (i.e. sustainable-produced foodstuff). Thus a credence food is transacted through a consumers-farmers network if this governance structure can ensure the minimization of the transaction costs. However the way different (transactional) contexts can influence the change of consumers perceptions and preferences for credence foods is still not completely addressed. On the other hand behavioral economics underlines the role of social and psychological motivations such as altruism and fairness, to describe this type of decision making process. Still a clear link between transaction costs, motivations and the choice context to describe consumers participation in these networks is not completely understood and analysed. In this paper we use both new institutional and behavioural economics arguments to conceptualize the consumers participation in this new type of governance structures, which we have defined as food community network (FCN). More specifically we have investigated an Italian fast-spreading type of FCN named Solidarity Purchase Group . GAS are associations of consumers whose behavior is characterized by a strong philosophical and ethical agreement in which the territorial, economic and social ties between the individuals involved in it, tend to evolve into networks of participative economy. The present study, which is part of a wider study financed by the Sicilian Regional Authority, analyses the GAS presence in Sicily (a region in Southern Italy), where 32 active GAS are present, representing an estimated number of 1,200 families. Although this phenomenon is still marginal and limited to recent years, it can be particularly interesting because of its rapid proliferation. Attention to this type of participative consumerism is warranted for two reasons: firstly, because of its progressive expansion into rural areas, far from the main cities where the phenomenon originated, and secondly, because of its potential impact on the sustainability of food production in this region. To evaluate the potential impact of this phenomenon in Sicily a sample of involved consumers has been interviewed. This sample included some 200 individuals (those in the household in charge of buying) belonging to the main GAS operating in Sicily. This group represents 946 consumers. More specifically a survey was developed to investigate consumers participation in this GAS. In the questionnaire three main issues have been investigated: transaction costs, motivations and social preferences (i.e. altruism and trust), and choice context features as driving factors of consumers participation. Moreover we controlled for i) attitudes towards environmental protection and nature, industrial food production, technological progress, animal welfare,
Lingua originaleEnglish
Numero di pagine0
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2012

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