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The multifunctionality of mountain farming: Social constructions and local negotiations behind an ap

Barnaud C., Couix N.

Journal of Rural Studies, 73 (2020), 34-45.

The multifunctionality of agriculture is often understood as a normative political notion aimed at fostering the sustainable development of rural areas. Considering it as a locally, socially-constructed concept, the objective of this paper is to analyse how the idea of agricultural multifunctionality was appropriated, re-constructed and negotiated in local arenas dedicated to land-use management. Conceptually, we adopt a political ecology approach which uses a constructivist and relational approach to the concept of ‘ecosystem services’. Drawing on a case study in the French Pyrénées mountains, we analyse the diversity of discourses on the roles of livestock farming held by local stakeholders and unpack the ways that these different discourses interact with each other in the local action arenas. We show that a coalition of interests led to the emergence of a dominant and apparent consensus around the need to support livestock farming to maintain open landscapes. We also show that behind this apparent consensus, there are in fact tensions between people who want to maintain livestock farming for different reasons, with some having more instrumental visions than others. Finally, we demonstrate that the dominant consensus has generated a local taboo, hiding an unvoiced pro-rewilding perspective which considers that farmland abandonment could be an opportunity in terms of biodiversity. Incorporating the two concepts of ecosystem services and agricultural multifunctionality, this study allows us to discuss their respective heuristic values and policy implications.

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