Self-reliance in agriculture – Food for discussion

Dirk Bergen

February 2010

‘Liveability’ and ‘self-reliance’ are concepts which seem to have become embedded lately in the language that is used when there is talk about agriculture. They are mentioned all the time, and often in the same context.

There are several reasons for this. On the one hand, these concepts are related to the pressure on agricultural prices, due to which it is not always clear to certain sectors whether they will be able to survive. On the other hand, these terms are also used when the agricultural policy of the future is discussed. Will farmers of the future be able to manage in a freer and hence less protected market? Will they be able to survive?

’Liveability’ and ‘self-reliance’ are therefore, without a doubt, concepts that will be an integral part of entrepreneurship in the future. With these reflections, this document wants to make a contribution to the discussion on the extent to which agricultural businesses need to be self-reliant. As this is, in part, a philosophical reflection, it leads to a point of view that could be challenged. This way, room is provided for a social debate.

First, an attempt is made at clarifying the concept of self-reliance, paying attention to agricultural businesses’ self-reliance without direct payments. Starting from this clarification, the question of how self-reliable agriculture could become in the future is dealt with. Finally, an analysis is made of the reasons which can, at least in the medium term, argue in favour of maintaining a basic support.

The reflection leads to the conclusion that agriculture must inevitably be liveable, but not necessarily self-reliant. Nevertheless, it does seem economically and socially healthy to try and gain more self-reliance than there is now. Some agricultural sectors and businesses have a bigger potential than others to take a significant step in this direction. Besides this, a better definition of the value of a number of public goods and services produced by agriculture is necessary in order to limit abuse of the word ‘support’. For goods and services such as landscape care, it is more correct to talk about compensation or payment for services rendered.

Original version:



Bergen D.(2009)
Zelfredzaamheid in de landbouw. Voer voor discussie
Departement Landbouw en Visserij, Brussel.


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