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Workshop 4: Collaboration rather than competition between diversification value chains in Europe

Barbara Koole, from the University of Amsterdam, NL (DiverIMPACTS), and Kevin Morel from the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium (DiverIMPACTS), ran a workshop on collaboration rather than competition between diversification value chains in Europe at the European Conference on Crop Diversification in Budapest in September 2019.

The objectives for the workshop were: 

  • Discussing possibilities and strategies to foster collaboration and encourage sharing rather than competition between actors in diversification value chains in Europe (especially between small and big players)
  • Exploring the position of scientists when facing issues of competition in collaborative research settings
  • Exploring concrete possibilities to develop a European Network to exchange information for diversification value chain development (especially post-harvest management, processing, marketing, business models and setting prices). The crop diversification cluster is a good start but could be expanded,

The workshop started with three participants who shared stories from their experience with competitive dynamics in working with multi-stakeholder approaches: Luca Colombo (FIRAB/DiverIMPACTS), Martha Vasconcelos (Universidade Católica Portuguesa, CBQF Laboratório Associado, Escola Superior de Biotecnologia, Porto, Portugal/TRUE), John Grin (University of Amsterdam/DiverIMPACTS). Although each of their stories involved science and stakeholder interactions, they demonstrated how competitive dynamics and related questions take place on different levels of the value chain: from farmers, to supermarkets and institutions such as water management boards.

After the three introductory stories, the floor was opened to contributions from other participants. The group reflections focused first on strategies to promote collaboration rather than competition, while also guarding the interests of stakeholders that participate in research projects. Important points that were raised focused on engaging in in-depth conversation with actors to increase mutual understanding of motivations and interests, and identifying shared goals within a group. Following this, risks related to competition were discussed. One of the focuses was the (lobbying) power of big industrial players and how these can co-opt innovations by smaller actors.  


Some of the conclusions and most significant ideas were:

  • Imposing collaboration in a top-down manner is impossible; rather, collaboration is constituted through qualitative links to inherent motivations of stakeholders. This means that a starting point for collaboration is researching the motivations and beliefs of stakeholders and co-designing solutions from there.
  • Definition of a common objective is key in collaboration
  • Risks exist of innovations being co-opted, or even stolen. A direction to prevent this is by increasing links to communities.  
  • Food should be seen as a commons, not as a commodity
  • Online and offline communication by networks could both play a role in promoting collaboration amongst crop diversification value chains
  • Setting plays a very crucial role in willingness to share, for example the difference between one-on-one and group conversations. In doing multi-stakeholder research projects, it is important to be aware of this.
  • The scholars who shared during this workshop were all engaged in research where they are involved in the networks they (partially) study, which increases the relevance of being aware of competitive dynamics in those networks.

Further information