This country item is part of the Overview of Community Supported Agriculture in Europe, edited in 2016 by the European CSA Research group.
- Author: Jocelyn Parot is General Secretary of Urgenci, also co-author and editor of several books on CSA in Europe published by Urgenci (Kernel Editions): The European Handbook on CSA (2013); Les systèmes alimentaires alternatifs: études de cas (2015); Training in Alternative Food Distribution Systems (AFDS): Regional logistics (2015).
Native name: AMAP – Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne (Association for Maintaining Small Scale Family Farming, sometimes also literally translated as Peasant Agriculture).
It is generally agreed in France that CSA coincides with AMAP. AMAP stands for Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne (association for maintaining small-scale family farming). The original idea was to make it possible for smallholders to keep their business alive through strong support from consumers’ groups. Risk sharing is the key to the AMAP model. In the AMAP model the producer signs a written contract with each consumer for several months or one year.
The other way in which risk-sharing is practiced is the pre-payment system, enabled by the use of cheques; this guarantees the producer secure monthly payment by the consumers.
There is a national charter for CSAs in France. The first version was written in 2003 by the AMAP pioneers from AMAP Provence, the first regional network to be established in the country. AMAP is also considered as a trademark, registered at the National Institute of Intellectual Property, and the name can only be used if and when there is full compliance with the Charter. It belongs to the inter-regional AMAP network MIRAMAP now.
The Charter has just been revised over a long, two-year comprehensive consultative process that ended in December 2014. The mobilisation of members was very encouraging, and workshops took place basically throughout France. Twenty-seven local and regional AMAP networks participated by completing a general questionnaire that focussed on potential modifications. Furthermore, fifty-seven isolated AMAPs (that were not network members) replied in the first year of the process. There are important differences as to how representative these contributions actually were. On the other hand, some networks made a joint and very representative, contribution.
The official figures, even from such a short period as 2010–2013, demonstrate a steep decrease in the number of farms. Whereas the used arable land declined slowly (27,622,527ha in 2013, from 27,712,724ha in 2010), the number of farms fell dramatically during the same period: from 491,384 to 451,606. The average size of a farm in France in 2013 was 61ha, compared with 55ha only three years earlier. Contrary to Italy, Spain and some other European countries (Romania, Poland), even if the symbolism attached to agriculture is still strong in French society, there is no longer any traditional farming in France, at least not in the sense of subsistence or semi-subsistence family farming. Most of the farms are highly mechanised and growing in size, and only 3% of the total workforce are employed in agriculture. Only 28.9% of these jobs are held by women.
The share of organic agriculture has been growing on a regular basis since 2008, after an initial phase that lasted four or five years in the mid-2000s. In 2014, around 5.6% of farms were certified organic, and about 7% of the jobs in the agricultural sector were provided by organic farms and companies. These ratios should be compared with the 4.14% of the land that has already been converted to organic.
Obviously, the organic sector seems to be focusing on smaller farms and to be more labour intensive than the conventional farms. Even more importantly, the public procurement system purchases of organic produce rose by 11% from 2013 to 2014, which is a sign that the general trend of growth of organic consumption (around +10% each year) is also reflected in schools and public administration consumption.
Another striking detail in the landscape of French agriculture is the close relationship between culture and politics. On the one hand, the term terroir, for example, highlights the existence of artisan food cultures connected to a particular territory, characterised by unique soil composition and climatic conditions. The notion of terroir is thought to play a central role in the worldwide success of French top-end products, including wines and cheese.
On the other hand, agriculture in France also has an assertive political dimension. This is no surprise, since France is often considered as the political nation par excellence, where everything has political connotations. Thus, these two French passions, food and politics, have regularly met in an explosive combination. This was the case, in summer 2015, when the price paid to industrial pig farmers slumped so much that many of them faced bankruptcy. However, apart from protests, often led by conventional farmers, there has been a growing and perhaps more constructive agriculture paysanne movement since the 1990s.
Number of CSAs
There are over 2,000 AMAP groups (an increase from 1,334 in 2011) according to the newest census conducted in 2015 by the Inter-regional Movement. The first AMAP/CSA was established in 2001. Since 2010, an Inter-regional Movement of AMAPs, composed of the regional AMAP networks, covers most of the national territory. It is the result of a long process, led by the three main regional networks, including the first one that was established in the Provence region.
In 2011, the ADEME, the National Sustainable Development and Energy Agency conducted a national poll that showed that up to 6% of the national population have been involved in an AMAP/CSA at some point. This means there are up to 4 million Frenchmen and women who have had some experience of an AMAP/CSA in the last twelve years. A still-unreleased census conducted in 2015 by Miramap estimates the number of existing AMAP/CSA at 2,000+. This would represent around 320,000 “mangeurs” (eaters) or “consom‘acteurs” (conscious consumers) and approximately 3,500 farms. The increase since the previous census organised by Miramap in 2011 – that identified 1,335 CSA groups – is quite significant.
There are other models that could qualify under the term CSA according to the European standards, like the 120 social inclusion gardens called “Jardins de Cocagne”. The first Jardins de Cocagne were established in 1991, ten years before the AMAPs, and now include 4,000 socially challenged workers, 20,000 member families or 80,000 eaters. Thus, the total number of CSAs would be around 3,620 farms and 400,000 eaters in France in 2015.
History and characteristics of CSA
The first AMAP was born from a meeting between a group of “eater-activists” and a farmer from nearby Toulon, a few kilometres from the Mediterranean, who had seen a CSA pick-up while visiting family in New York. Together, they decided to launch a similar initiative and were very successful in spreading the word. The context of the original partnership should be underlined: the farmer shared the idea with an Attac group in a period when Malbouffe, the French word for Junk Food, was a top issue for almost all French citizens. This campaign culminated when José Bové and several activists dismantled a McDonald’s in the South of France in 1999. That was less than two years before the first AMAP distributions took place, on May 10th, 2001.
The birth of the AMAP movement, and its exponential growth during the years 2001–2008, should be understood as the confluence of two movements: the agriculture paysanne (peasant agriculture) movement on the farmers’ side, and the critical consumption movement on the consumers’ side.
Agriculture paysanne, the concept referred to in AMAP, literally translates into peasant agriculture. As in English, the word “paysan” used to be extremely pejorative, a synonym for someone dirty, ill-mannered, uneducated… But in the 1990s, a movement of small-scale family farmers decided to use it to qualify the type of agriculture they practiced: environmentally friendly agriculture, that also respected local culture, landscapes and of the social conditions of all farm workers. In fact the key element of the concept of agriculture paysanne is the farmers’ independence within the food production and distribution chain. Instead of being just one link in the chain, specialised in just one type of production (monoculture), the paysan is someone who has control over his production from the seeds to sales.
Since 1998, when the term agriculture paysanne was registered as a trademark, it has been widely used in France by the alternative farmers’ union called Confédération Paysanne. It has travelled, and similar concepts have been developed in other countries in the framework of La Via Campesina, the international federation of family farmers’ unions by all the actors of the Food Sovereignty Movement. Food Sovereignty, the “right of people to decide how the food they consume is produced and distributed”, combines very well with the objective of regaining autonomy in a context of food and agricultural crisis.
Both the concept of Food Sovereignty, as defined above, and agriculture paysanne underline the need to question the relationship between farmers and society. Paysan comes from pays (country), in this case the area where the farmer is from, and the territory of his activity.
The second strand in the creation of the first AMAP is the responsible consumption movement. Attac members played an important role in providing a core group of activists for the first AMAP groups. Attac was founded in 1998 in France as a movement advocating for the implementation of a Tobin tax on financial transactions, and quickly became a major anti-capitalist organisation. Within a couple of years, its membership figures became even bigger than some of the smaller political parties. Led by intellectuals and academics, it was also a radical critique of consumerism and called for actions by “consom’acteurs” (conscious consumers), by boycotting and choosing ethical products. Attac members gave the first AMAP groups their activist structure and fibre and a voice that was heard in the media. Attac cannot however claim the exclusive paternity of AMAP. There were effectively many more reasons driving consumers towards the first AMAP pick-up points. I will point out the two most visible reasons. One of them was the awareness that farming was going through dramatically hard times in France, with the number of farms reduced from around one million in the 1980s to fewer than 600,000 in the early 2000s. Another significant reason was, as in any country where the movement grew strong, the distrust of agri-business following the Mad Cow Disease and several other food safety issues. The environmentalist component of the movement should also be taken into account.
What is understood by CSA?
CSA is almost always understood as an English translation of AMAP. AMAP is a local, solidarity-based partnership between a producer and a group of consumers. AMAP is indeed an association (and not a business) that supports the relationship between a consumer group and a local producer. These two parts, the producer and each consumer, are linked through a written contract-based direct-sales system. The idea is to make sure the farmer can rely on a guaranteed income that will continue to provide a decent living for that farmer for the next year at the very least.
Are there different types of CSA?
AMAP is the most widespread model, but there are other models that could be considered as CSA. For example, the 100 Jardins de Cocaigne (Cocaigne Gardens) – social inclusion gardens – have been functioning with a membership and commitment system since 1991, ten years before AMAPs were created. We have however decided to focus only on the AMAP model, because this movement is the most visible and has been able to disseminate most successfully.
Legal setup and interaction with public bodies
In March 2012, AMAPs surprisingly came into the political limelight: they were the object of a parliamentary question raised by two members of the opposition. In military language, these questions would be called “friendly fire”. On 13th March, deputy Gille explained to his peers that the proclaimed governmental support for short-supply chains was not effectively being implemented through appropriate legislation; on 20th March, another deputy, Jack Lang, took up the topic in a similar way. The purpose of these interventions was mainly to push for tax exemption for AMAPs.
The driving forces behind these initiatives are difficult to map. But it is possible to imagine that the parliamentarians had been invited to act in this way by short-supply chain middlemen claiming to function as AMAPs, although not strictly following the AMAP Charter. An AMAP as an association, supports the relationship between a consumers’ group and a local producer but there are no middlemen: it is a direct relationship between the producer and each consumer. No cash transits through the AMAP, which is purely a support structure. AMAPs per se are therefore not liable to tax.
The Government responded very promptly, on 17th April. The answer includes a reminder of the association’s fiscal regime. It is then followed by a general definition:
“The Associations pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne (AMAP) have been designed to create a direct link between a producer and groups of consumers, who commit themselves to buying the farmers’ production at a fair price allowing the producer to cover his/her production costs, and to generate an income, while remaining accessible to consumers”.
But the most surprising and thus interesting part was the following: “An AMAP that guarantees a professional the sale of his/her production through connecting the members to the producer (even without commission), contributes to the economic development of the farm. The AMAP’s activity is thus considered to be profitable and should be liable to sales’ tax.”
This exchange in the parliament created a controversy: are AMAP “business as usual” or associative not-for-profit structures run by self-organised citizens with the objective of serving the general interest? The national AMAP network, Miramap, reacted with a press release that stressed the notion of general interest and claimed to be a social movement.
The major commitment as a social movement is reflected in a set of everyday practices of those involved in an AMAP (“faire de l’amap” as the AMAP members themselves often say). When we compile CSA kits and internal organisational CSA documents in France, the following tasks have been commonly identified as the key aspects of collectively running an AMAP or a CSA: pick-up point management (cleaning, opening, etc.); diversification of products available and farms involved; communication, especially between the consumers and the farm; member recruitment; collection of contracts and cheques; event planning.
Communication is important at two separate levels. Firstly, it is the work of a Farm Group that is in charge of following and understanding the evolution of the farm, updating the group and supporting the farmer (if and as needed) in explaining his/her own farm dynamics to the consumers, through regular farm visits for example. But communication is also about enhancing the fun of being a CSA member, through recipe-sharing, short newsletters, websites/blogs. These communication efforts are targeted both at current and potential members, thus contributing to member recruitment.
Apart from this information channel, a well-functioning CSA also requires members to play an active part in regular events. Even if only an active minority of CSA subscribers, often called the Core Group (le noyau in French), take part on a regular basis, they are very important in differentiating CSA from non-CSA models and in feeding the process of collective decision-making and dynamics.
According to regional networks’ own accounts, approximately half of the AMAP producers in France have organic certification for all or part of their production. The fact is that the Charter (written in 2003, extensively revised in 2014) does prohibit the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers but does not require organic certification for AMAPs. Since the very beginning, (the idea of CSA was brought back from the US by a non-certified organic farmer, who nevertheless worked in accordance with organic principles), there has been a continuous and structured debate within the movement to define whether organic certification should be a prerequisite or not. The only consensual answer until now has been to avoid this requirement by emphasizing Participatory Guarantee Systems as an alternative to third-party certification. The rationale is that PGS is better suited to the specificities of the AMAP model, and can frame the improvement of practice on AMAP farms. For example, PGS also allows the consumer group practices to be scrutinised, as well as the working conditions on the farm (situation of farm workers), whereas organic certification only looks at the technicalities of agricultural practices.
The rewritten AMAP charter was adopted in December 2014 by an assembly of representatives from the whole of France. In this new text, a whole paragraph is devoted to agroecological practices. It states that “AMAP supports agriculture that is respectful of human beings, the environment and animals, and refers to the fundamental principles of organic agriculture.
In particular, it commits to a way of farming that:
- is sustainable, diversified and adapted to the territory, independent from agro-chemicals and from all attempts to privatise or patent living organisms (including GMOs)
- enhances plant and animal biodiversity;
- contributes to maintaining and developing farmers’ seeds.”
The Preamble explicitly refers to the loss of peasant agriculture know-how. As explained earlier, peasant agriculture (agriculture paysanne) is the pillar of the AMAP model and the key concept within the AMAP charter. Peasant agriculture is referred to in the preamble and then briefly defined through five fundamental principles. It
- Contributes to the sustainability and the installation of new farms
- Fosters autonomy in the way farms function
- Works towards territorial and solidarity-based dynamics
- Supports the economic sustainability of partner farms
- Includes the social conditions of farming activity.
The French CSA movement finds itself at the crossroads of several issues, including environmental and food-safety issues. This is also a reaction to a situation where large-scale agribusiness companies have dominated the food chains for so long. In a way, AMAPs are one more expression of a double French passion for food and politics.
But finding the right balance between both aspects can sometimes be challenging. In particular, since 2011, the Miramap leaders have been trying to reinforce the social movement dimension of AMAP groups. And although there is widespread knowledge of the socio-political dimension of AMAP commitment (not in the partisan but rather in a societal sense), there are also many cases of purely business-driven initiatives claiming to be AMAPs that have adopted the practice as social enterprises. For this reason, the AMAP networks have increasingly worked on communication and pedagogical tools, include Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) to reassert the call for social change originally delivered by AMAPs, and to make sure that everyday practice is more strongly oriented towards social change. This clarification effort is necessary if AMAPs intend to differentiate themselves from commercial initiatives and reassert themselves as a social movement.
Today, there are more than 1600 AMAP in France. However, if the figures collected in regions where AMAP are gathered in regional networks are reliable, it is clear that the ones we have from other regions where there is no organisation are probably fragmentary and maybe the number of groups are higher than estimated. This represents more than 50 000 families and nearly 200 000 customers.
Since 2003 the AMAP movement has based its practice on a Charter, elaborated by the AMAP network from South-Eastern France, Alliance Provence. This charter defines 18 principles relative to the commitment of both consumers and farmers. It is a framework each AMAP has to comply with. It has been revised by a MIRAMAP (Inter-Regional AMAP movement, national network officially set up in February 2010) working group; here is the new version of it !
Amap, the French CSA Model: Business as usual or Social Movement (Jocelyn Parot, 2014)
AMAP network in the Marseille area – France
AMAP network in the Toulouse area – France
AMAP network in the Lyon area – France
AMAP network in the Bordeaux area – France
AMAP network in the Paris area – France