About this Project

As global awareness of environmental crisis and resource constraints heightens, pressures for the development of sustainable agro-industrial practices are intensifying. But what do we mean by “sustainable”? A key feature of sustainability is that it is a relational phenomenon involving multiple parties or stakeholders, frequently in ways that cross farm and industry boundaries and link public and private players. In order to be effectively sustainable, in other words, individual firm, farm, or associational efforts must be connected to larger coordinated relations among players in communities, value chains, and political jurisdictions. Inevitably, the term “sustainability” has very varied content and different meanings in different relational arrangements. Moreover, in any given context, the meaning of sustainability can be highly contested. Regulations pertaining to sustainability are subject to political battles involving normative and technical disagreement. Seen in this way, sustainability is less a level or stable point to be reached and more a multivalent process involving continuous reimagination, optimization, and learning. It is therefore crucial to understand what kinds of practices and governance arrangements facilitate learning and change in the interconnected agricultural social and political economy, and what kinds of practices and arrangements do not. This project will examine efforts to create “sustainable” agricultural practices in three major dairy-producing countries: the United States, Germany, and New Zealand. The focus will be on how those who pursue sustainability strategies understand sustainability and give it meaning, and what accounts for variation and difference in the way in which they enact their strategies.

Photo: © Martin Belan

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