The Convergence of Alternative Food Networks within “Rural Development” Initiatives: The Case of the New Rural Reconstruction Movement in China

2015, Local Environment DOI:10.1080/13549839.2015.1067190

Rural sociologists and geographers have conceptualised different rural development trajectories including “the agri-industrial model”, “the post-productivist model” and “the rural development model”. Alternative food networks (AFNs) are increasingly recognised as a “forerunner” and a critical component of the emerging “rural development model” in the West. Meanwhile, Marsden and Franklin [2013. Replacing neoliberalism: theoretical implications of the rise of local food movements. Local Environment, 18 (5), 636–641] pointed out that there is a “local trap” in the current conceptualisation of AFNs that overemphasises their local embeddedness and heterogeneity. This “local trap” marginalises AFNs and, therefore, hinders their potential for transforming the industrialised conventional food system. The convergence and scaling-up of fragmented AFNs have been recognised as important ways to address this marginalisation issue and thus have attracted considerable attention. However, current studies of the convergence of AFNs focus mainly on the role of food-centred organisations without recognising the role of the emerging “rural development” initiatives in the convergence of AFNs. Based on in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and analysis of secondary data, this paper uses the New Rural Reconstruction Movement (NRRM), an emerging alternative rural development movement in China, as an example to illustrate how the NRRM opens up a novel space for the convergence of AFNs. We argue that the interrelationship between AFNs and rural development is indeed reciprocal. The NRRM, following the “rural development” trajectory, functions as a hub for the convergence and scaling-up of various alternative food initiatives. Strategies for achieving convergence include constructing a “common ground” for these initiatives, establishing national alliances and organisations, sharing knowledge and exchanging personnel among them.

Zhenzhong Si & Steffanie Scott