KU Leuven, ILVO, Rikolto, Odissee Hogeschool and the Fachhochschule Südwestfalen bundle their forces in the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Business Models for Sustainable Farming. With this initiative, they also provide output that is highly relevant in the framework of several ongoing European projects: Newbie, COCOREADO and RUSTICA. The development of the course started in January 2021, with the support of KU Leuven Global Minds. Hindered by the Covid-19 crisis, the course team was not able to meet so far. On the 8th of September, finally, representatives from all the involved institutes met in Leuven.
Strengthening the position of the farmer has been recognized as one of the key factors for the transition towards more sustainable food systems. Educational material on Business Models for Sustainable Farming is needed to support farmers in strengthening their position in the food chain. This holds for all farmers, in the North as well as in the South.
The attention on business models in the farming sector has dramatically increased over the last decade. At the base of this tendency, we find the noteworthy position of the farmer as well as societal issues such as climate change.
Looking at the position of the farmer, we can observe that farmers are most often price takers. Worldwide, prices are being set by large operators, both upstream and downstream in the food chain. Simultaneously, there is a growing consumer demand for high-quality food and a raising concern about how food is produced. Consumers increasingly search for food that is not only nutritious, but also produced in an environmentally friendly and fair way.
This brings us to the issue of climate change. While agriculture is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. there is an overall consensus that farming needs to become more sustainable. While economic and environmental sustainability do not always go hand in hand, it leaves no doubt that sustainable farming implies an economically viable business model for the farm.
The European Commission recognizes the need for the development of sustainable business models and encourages actions to enhance the position of the farmer in Europe. The notion of Agricultural Knowledge Innovation Systems (AKIS) characterizes the European context in which farmers take their decisions and share their expertise. The AKIS concept was also the cornerstone to develop agricultural innovation policies and particularly the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI). Strategic decisions related to innovations have a big impact on the farm and are therefore typically related to the start-up of a new farm or the succession of farm to the next generation.
The European Commission has financed several European projects under its Horizon 2020 Program to strengthen the position of the European farmer. KU Leuven is partner is several of these past and ongoing projects.
However, the outcomes of such projects are often dispersed and although joint events are encouraged, time and means are the limiting factor to bundle forces. In this context, several valuable opportunity are missed out. Moreover, most of the consortia focusing on the business models for sustainable farming are exclusively European teams. Yet, we notice that the longer the more, stakeholders in the Global South are interested to join for the events of our projects. Indeed, the issue of the weak position of the farmer is not unique for Europe. In this sense, the involvement of Rikolto as an international partner in the course team is a real added value.
The course team is still working hard on the MOOC modules. The MOOC will cover several topics, ranging from the components of a modern farming business to situation analysis and strategy development. Students will have the opportunity to develop entrepreneurial and managerial skills. At the same time, they will learn about sustainable value propositions and business model configurations. The MOOC will not only introduce theoretical frameworks to analyze and improve the success of a business model, but will also provide interesting examples from all over the world. By mid-November, the promotion campaign will be launched. From January 2022 onwards, students can enroll for this Massive Open Online Course on Business Models for Sustainable Farming.