Agricultural Ethics and Multifunctionality: some paradoxes within the sustainable development rhetoric, by Daniela Perrotti

This contribution’s major challenge is to provide a comparative analysis between the historical emergence of two complementary, and sometimes antithetic, concepts which have characterised the last decade socio-political debate on rural development issues: on the one hand the introduction of multifunctional approach in agriculture (Hervieu, 2001), according to the way this concept has been defined for the first time at European level with the 1999 reform of Common Agricultural Policy, and, on the other hand, the polysemic notion of “agricultural ethics” (Chrispeels, 2003) as it has been developed by a certain number of 2000s scientific essays in both agronomy and environmental disciplinary fields. The final goal of this comparative reflexion is to underline the way in which the political rhetoric supporting a sustainable development of the contemporary rural society has often created a paradoxical way of considering the ethic issues inherent to agricultural production, both under the producer’s and the consumer’s point of view. We specifically refer to an increasing widespread consequence of the diffusion of the multifunctional approach within the developed western countries, such as the energy crop production, which have been progressively supplying a part of food production, as for example in some traditional South or Central-European rural regions (e.g. Apulia and Tuscany regions in Italy, Region Centre and Beauce Valley in France).

In fact, since the coming into force of the 1999 Common Agricultural Policy, the large diffusion of woody or dedicated energy crops (especially Willow, Poplar or Miscanthus for biomass production) has been strongly supported by political powers as a new important form of multifunctional declination of agricultural production, as well as an effective alternative to the agricultural crisis affecting most European countries since the end of last century (Hervieu, 2001).

In these countries, the financial help provided by regional or central institutions has progressively produced an important change of the landscape structures and functions within the contemporary rural context, as well as an important form of competitiveness between food and non-food productions (Schöbel, Dittrich, 2010). Even if presented by political powers as an interesting alternative to fossil sources- and thus as a green and local solution to ensure a secure energy supply, as well as an energy efficient perspective for the agricultural sectors – and specifically conceived to respond to European Commission’s Energy Strategy to 2020 (COM (2007) 1), the energetic crops production still represents an important ethic challenge of the contemporary evolution of the rural world.

In our hypothesis, the relevant socio-economic impacts of its diffusion within the contemporary rural landscape impose a radical revision of the notion of agricultural ethics. In our contribution the evaluation of the new meaning of an ethical approach to the agriculture landscape construction (Zimdahl, 2006) will be developed by a critical analysis of to the meaning of sustainable development itself – in the light of the complex interaction of its three socio-economical, cultural and ecological dimensions (Brundtland Report, 1987) – as well as trough an actualised reflexion on the competiveness established between the sociological concepts of social and ecological inequality (Flipo, 2009).

Ausubel J.H. (1996) “The Liberation of the Environment: Technological Development and Global Environmental Change”. Daedalus Vol.125, No.3, Summer 1996, pp. 1-17
Brennan T. (2000) “Energetics”, id. (eds.), Exhausting Modernity: Grounds for a New Economy, New York: Routledge, pp. 41-54
Chrispeels M.J. 2003, Agricultural ethics in a changing world, Rockville: American Society of Plant Physiologists
Dessai S.(1998) “A critic of the EU burden sharing agreement” .Change, No.47,May-June1998,pp.13-16
Dozier J., Marsh W. (1981) « Energy Processes on the Earth’s Surface », id. (eds.), Landscape: An Introduction to Physical Geography, Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing, pp.1-20
European Commission (2007) Communication from the Commission to the European Council and the European Parliament, “Energy for a Changing World. An energy policy for Europe” January 2007- COM(2007) 1
Flipo F. (2009) “Les inégalités écologiques et sociales : l’apport des théories de la justice”, Mouvements, n°60, pp. 59-76
Flipo F. & Gaudillière J.-P. (2009), “Inégalités écologiques, croissance “verte” et utopies techniques”, Mouvements, n°60, pp. 78-91
Gohsn R. (2009) “Energy as Spatial Project. Landscapes of Energy”. New Geographies Journal n.2 pp.7-10
Hervieu b. (2002). “La multifonctionnalité de l’agriculture : genèse et fondements d’une nouvelle approche conceptuelle de l’activité agricole”, Agricultures : cahiers d’études et de recherches francophones, n°6, v.11, pp.415-419
Illich I., (1974) Energy and Equity, London. Calder and Boyars Ltd., pp. 1-29
Nadai A., van der Horst D. (2010). “Landscape of Energy”. Landscape Research. Special Issue, Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2010
Odum H.T. (1974) Energy, Ecology, Economics. Mother Earth News, May 1974, pp.1-10
Schöbel S., Dittrich A. (2010). “Renewable Energies – Landscape of reconciliation?” Topos – Sustainability, No 70, March 2010, pp.56-61
Zimdahl R. L. (2006), Agriculture’s ethical horizon, Oxford. Elsevier

Daniela Perrotti, Laboratoire de Recherche, FR

Harvard Citation Guide: Perrotti, D. (2012) Agricultural Ethics and Multifunctionality: some paradoxes within the sustainable development rhetoric, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s