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RETHINK project

Rethinking the links between farm modernisation, rural development and resilience in a world of increasing demands and finite resources.

RETHINK is a Ruragri European project. It has explored differing trajectories of development and modernisation, in order to highlight opportunities for innovation, and to identify potential synergies between farm modernisation and sustainable rural development. RETHINK aimed to contribute to renewing our understanding of agricultural "modernisation", by focusing on the relationships between resilient farming, the resilience and prosperity of rural communities and knowledge and innovation.

Main objectives

The growing number of local agriculture initiatives and their diversity reflects the population's need to reconnect with basic values and their raising concern about sustainability. Alternative forms of (sub-) urban agriculture, such as direct selling, basket delivery services and community-supported agriculture (CSA) are developing. Are these initiatives specific, regarding "resilience" and "governance" issues ?

Fourteen substantial case studies, one in each country, have explored the connections between farm modernisation, rural development and the resilience of both, agricultural and rural systems.

The Swiss case study has compared 5 main channels within the milk supply chain in the agglomeration of Bern: the industrial channel, the PDO Emmentaler cheese channel, the regional dairies and cheese-making units, the organic industrial channel, and the channel comprising direct selling, basket delivering & Community supported agriculture (CSA) initiatives.


2 years (2014-2016)


176.000 fr. for the Swiss team financed by BLW (Ruragri programme).


Coordinator: Dr Karlheinz Knickel, Institute for Rural Development Research (IfLS), Frankfurt/M., Germany 14 partners (in EU countries + Switzerland, Turkey, Israel).


The RETHINK project set out to explore the future development of European agriculture at a time when it needs to respond to increasing scarcity and distributional issues (e.g. those related to natural resources and public finances), while facing deep uncertainty over future developments, especially those related to climate change and global markets.

The project interpreted resilience as the capacity of social, economic and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganising in ways that maintain the essential function(s), identity, and structure of rural areas and agriculture. The description can be applied to both rural and agricultural systems and the two are, depending on the agricultural systems and rural context, either strongly or weakly interconnected. This is why RETHINK focussed on interrelations. Other key notions, of adaptive resource management and adaptive governance, allow RETHINK to connect this concept with policy and implementation.

Main results

The Swiss case study highlighted that transformability and adaptability can occur in all channels, depending on the type of shock to be faced. Different regimes (large / small scale, long / short chains, specialized / polyvalent farms) are complementary and should not be opposed.

Some key recommendations

  • Carrying out a detailed analysis of the different channels in the dairy and vegetables supply-chains to identify strategic axes for each sub value chain. A "resilience-check" of each value chain, not only from a historical perspective, but forward-looking is recommended, to anticipate potential risks and be able to take proactive measures. Integrating the regional enterprises is key to take into account their point of views and support them in developing strategies strengthening their resilience. This process could be facilitated by a task force or a resilience-monitoring group at regional level.
  • There is in fact a need to restructure, simplify the  system of overlapping rules, requirements, policies to make it more efficient and coherent, manageable and tangible for producers and processors.
  • Increased attention on agricultural issues in spatial planning and thus a stronger coordination of the various sectoral policies (nature, agriculture, landscape management) is needed. This requires better cooperation between the sectors and at different levels. The region seems the most appropriated level to take account the local specificities and concerns for developing integrated regional strategies and development plans fostering new forms of agriculture and distribution channels.
  • The differentiation of products is becoming increasingly important in the Swiss agricultural policy. Unlike other Swiss cantons, the canton of Bern has no explicit strategy and clear positioning in the field of strengthening value chains and product differentiation. The national quality strategy of the Swiss agrifood sector should therefore be implemented on the cantonal level.

Person in charge

Sophie Réviron

Map of the milk supply chain - canton of Bern

Photo: in the agglomeration of Bern