For several years, the Laboratory GAIA of the Academy of Georgofili has promoted a research based upon a comparison between Tuscans and European experiences representing different rural governance pattern and organizational arrangements, thanks to the financial support of the Tuscany Region. The case of the cooperative Fermes de Figeac is one of those studied in the last year. It sheds a new light on how the cooperative pattern in France is changing, how the link between farms and rural community may result in, and how agricultural cooperation can fulfil the challenges the European rural policy have to face. The cooperative since 1985 offers provision and technical services to the farms in the cantons of Figeac, Lacapelle-Marival, Latronquière, Souscyrac, a rural region at the foot of the Massif Central, in the Midi-Pyrénées Region, south-west France. It comes from a history of marginality where agriculture has been the main activity for many time, and the most relevant agricultural activity is still ovine and bovine breeding. Nowadays, the area due its growth mostly to the well-known industrial cluster of aero industry, stemmed from the helicopter’s inventor at the early twentieth century. Moreover, tourist activity has been also emerging, as several cities and historical places are in the “Road of Saint James of Compostela”, one of the major Christian pilgrimage route. Hence, keeping a vital agricultural activity and achieve workforce has turned out to be more difficult in the last decades, so the cooperative has chosen its own mission: to be a cooperative for the territory and to engage itself for the local sustainable development. This is a hard statement as in France the code rural makes compulsory the ancrage territorial, that is, the choice of a bounded area where to operate. Fermes de Figeac, therefore, has widely differentiated the economic activities by adding to the original core business new investments for renewable energies, such as a photovoltaic park able to provide energy to the entire region, or the aeolic park. It has also promoted several initiatives to valorise the local production, following a simple systemic philosophy: if we meet our meat, we build our landscape! Besides, it has also provided a store and postal service for the population in the more remote areas. Anyway, the commitment for the local community has never been over the engagement for the adherent members. So that, the engagement for environmental sustainability has produced good results in quality of life and in enhancing cooperative income too. That has earned the respect both of the community for the gratuity of the action and of the adherent members for the new undertakings. By implementing the new cooperative pattern of Cooperative society of collective interest, additional source of financing have become possible. In the last years, it has gained three certification ISO 9001 for the quality of service, 14000 for the environment management and 26000 for the social responsibility and is still going on the same way.
The French agricultural cooperation seems to be standing at a crossroads between to change the classical cooperative pattern for surviving in a more competitive global market, or maintain the same pattern surrendering to lower performance pathways. In spite of that, the findings of the research have showed a new way. Deeply rooted in the traditional cooperative values, the case has adapted the “classical” cooperative patter to the new challenges that European agriculture and rural development have to face. That happened, however, without changing neither the cooperative method, neither the fundamental cooperative values. Besides, the cooperative Fermes de Figeac has demonstrated to be able to meet many aims currently pursued by the rural development policy.
(A paper with the same title has been presented at the 52nd SIDEA congress, 17-19September 2015”)
Daniela Toccaceli PhD - firstname.lastname@example.org