This country item is part of the Overview of Community Supported Agriculture in Europe, edited in 2016 by the European CSA Research group.
- Author: Daniel López García is a member of Ecologistas en Acción. He is a research assistant for alternative food networks and participatory action-research at Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla) and the coordinator of a post-graduate programme for Local Agroecological Development at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-IGOP). Daniel is an organic cherry grower and food sovereignty activist. He was co-founder of the first CSA in Spain, Bajo el Asfalto está la Huerta in Madrid in the year 2000.
Ecologistas en Acción is a national confederation of about 300 local, grassroots groups who work to develop the social ecology paradigm, with a total of about 30,000 members. In the “Agroecology, Food Sovereignty and Rural World” field, the local groups are deeply involved in the development of local alternative food networks. At national level, several activist documents have been published to develop short food supply chains and alternative food networks (AFN). Four national meetings were held (in 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015). The aim is to spread, encourage, link and coordinate such networks. These national meetings provide a unique – albeit periodic – meeting space for such initiatives. Ecologistas en Acción attended the Nyéléni-Europe meeting (Krems, 2011) as well as two Urgenci-Europe meetings (Milan, 2012; France, 2014).
- Native name
The CSA-like form (defined as: box-scheme; one farm for many consumers; pre-payment; risk-sharing tools or systems; consumers involved in farm works; etc.) has been called many names in Spain: Cooperativa Unitaria (a unitary cooperative, for example Bajo el Asfalto está la Huerta in Madrid); Cooperativa Agroecológica (agroecological cooperative, for example Hortigas in Granada or Surco a Surco in Toledo); or Agricultura de Responsabilidad Compartida (shared responsibility farming, for example ARCo-COAG in Nekasarea). There are a few projects that use foreign terms, such as CSA (CSA-Zarazalejo in Madrid) or AMAP (La Montañita in Burgos; PACA in Catalunya).
CSA in Spain for the purpose of this study, is defined by having:
- A long-term agreement (of at least one year) between farmers and consumers
- Shares as the only form of food delivery
- Risk-sharing mechanisms such as stable fees that are independent of the amount of food received by consumers, or pre-payment of fees at the beginning of the season
- A commitment by consumers to be involved alongside the farmers in distribution, administration and decision-making about food production and the economics of the project.
Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe and the European Union (500,000km²), and the fourth largest country in Europe. On a population basis, Spain is the sixth largest in Europe and the fifth in the European Union (46 million inhabitants). Per capita GDP is about €22,000, 93% of EU-28 average.
Although population density is quite low (92 people/km²), about 80% of people live in cities, and rural territories represent 80% of land. Only about 4% of the active population works in the agricultural sector, which represents about 2.5% of GDP (especially fruit and vegetables, wine, olive oil, and other)1. Family expenditure on food has severely decreased its relative weight from 50% in 1950 to 14% in 20142. The average price for produce received by farmers represents about 20–25% of the final prices that vary from 5% for oranges to 50% for some meat3.
Spain is the country in EU with most organic certified land (2.8Mha in 2014, representing 5% of total agricultural land) and ranks sixth in the world, but only has 32,000 certified farms (noticeably less than Italy, which has less certified organic land), with 3% of all farms. But the annual per capita consumption of organic food is below €10 which represents less than 1% of total food sales. Short food supply chains are expected (in Government data) to deliver from 35% to 50% of total organic food final sales on the internal market, but this figure is expected to grow significantly for fresh fruit and vegetables4. About 80% of Spanish organic food is exported to the EU and USA, mainly raw fruit and vegetables, oil and wine (often bottled in other countries). In 2012 about €350,000 of organic food was imported, mostly processed foods5.
Since the 1990s, the most widespread kind of short food supply chains (SFSC) have been food co-ops, bringing together consumers and farmers within the scope of alternative and solidarity economy. Since the beginning of this century, the model of little consumer groups has become the most common, with between 550 and 850 groups, and involving more than 50,000 consumers. It usually consists of single groups of 10–25 families who contact different farmers or people who deliver various produce ordered direct or collectively. It is usually based on volunteer, non-professional, self-organised work. These consumer groups show different levels and sorts of commitment between consumers and farmers, and, in some cases, come close to CSA schemes. In the last five years, during the so-called crisis, this model of little consumer groups has been shown to be reaching its limits and we can observe a trend in the growth of the number of consumers involved in each group. The professionalisation of some tasks in the order management of ordering, and the creation of local networks for coordinated ordering and delivery is important. At the same time, big food co-ops (over 200 hundred family-members) are growing and strengthening; and other SFSC are developing and becoming more common and stable in the form of small, non-specialised shops, regular farmers’ markets (between 150 and 200) or public procurement.
History and characteristics of CSA
How did CSA develop? Dynamics?
In 2000, the first CSA in the metropolitan area of Madrid was created (Bajo el Asfalto está la Huerta), by occupying a plot of public abandoned agricultural land. This model spread in the region of Madrid and to other cities, and, in 2005, there was a meeting in Madrid of 14 initiatives of CSA-like food co-ops. Since then, new initiatives inspired by French AMAPs have appeared (e.g.: La Montañita, Burgos, 2012; PACA, Catalunya, 2013). In the Basque Country, the farmers’ union EHNE-Bizkaia set up the Nekasarea farmers’ and consumers’ network in 2006. It currently includes more than 30 farmers and 90 groups of consumers, under a CSA-like scheme. In the neighbouring province, Gipuzkoa, another network (BasHerri Sarea) was developed in 2012, inspired by the pioneer CSA project Uztaro Kolektiboa (Beizama, 2004), but there are only a few CSA schemes within this network.
93% of the CSA contacted were created after 2005, and 62% after 2010, so we can consider such experiences to be a growing movement, but quite new and therefore not stabilised in Spain.
What is understood by CSA?
The most common features of CSA recognised in answers to the Census on the CSA definition are: direct partnership (96%); production in agroecological ways (96%); aiming at providing quality food (93%); formal or informal agreement (89%); shared risks (86%); and long-term agreement (78%).
Within this study, a CSA is defined by the long-term agreement (at least one year) between farmers and consumers; shares as the only way of food delivery; risk-sharing tools such as stable fees independent of the amount of food received by consumers with pre-payment at the beginning of the season; and consumer’s commitment to distribution, administration and decision-making about food production and the economy of the project alongside the farmers.
This is the strongest definition regarding consumers’ involvement, and has also been taken from many debates between CSA projects during the last fifteen years. It is linked to assemblies, self-organised groups, with a deep political view of agroecology and food sovereignty.
During the first European Census of CSA, 75 CSAs feeding about 7,000 people (on average, 100 people fed by each CSA) were identified. The average land size is 1.1ha of vegetables and fruit, and 150m²/consumer.
Most of the farms are rented (40%) or owned (26%) by the farmers. Only 12% are rented (10%) or partly rented (2%) by CSA; and in three cases land belonged to a private party.
Type of produce and distribution method
The most common types of food included in CSAs are vegetables (96%), bread (67%), and fruit (52%). 98% deliver through collective collection points, and in 26% of the CSA it is possible to pick up the produce at the farm; this is the only possibility for vegetables in one case.
Labour and income
Only 38% of farmers make 100% of their income from the CSA, and the average figure is 79%. Most make some complementary income through another distribution channel (54% of the farmers).
Are there different types of CSA?
There are many different models, which we could summarise in four general types:
- Producer-led CSA
This type is promoted by a single farmer or, sometimes, a group of farmers who organise consumer groups to deliver their produce. Land is usually owned or rented by farmers, as are farming tools and machinery. They set up mechanisms for risk-sharing, such as stable fees independent of the amount of food delivered (no prices for food), pre-payment, and long-term buying commitment. Consumers’ commitment is limited to financial support and economic risk-sharing; consumer participation in decision-making, delivery, or farm work is usually low. There are about 15 projects of this type, one is quite big and includes about 1,200 consumers.
- Producer-network-led CSA
There are two networks that could be considered as part of this model, both in the Basque Country. What differentiates this model from the producer-led one is that shared-risk systems exist not only between consumers to farmers but also between associated farmers. Farmers exchange produce to provide consumers with a full supply of food, and usually support each other in order to complete the shares when crops decrease on any farm; this is a collective risk management tool. There are about 50 projects that fall into this model, linking two different networks in the Basque Country and another project in Andalusia.
- Joint consumer- and farmer-led CSA (Cooperativas Unitarias)
This is the model with the strongest commitment between farmers and consumers, and for some projects it is the only real CSA model. It includes about 15 projects. It usually consists of groups of people who manage the land where a farmer or group of farmers produce – usually vegetables – for the CSA, usually as employees of the CSA. Each consumer pays a regular fee, independent of food production; tools, machines and land rental are joint responsibilities and collective property. Consumers show a high level of commitment, including decision-making in assemblies, administration, delivery support, and farm work are shared (and sometimes compulsory).
- Consumer-led CSA
Under this model, consumers establish a long-term agreement with a farm or group of farms to buy their food and support the farm when crops decrease or when the farm needs financial support. The land is rented or owned by the farmer, as well as the tools and machinery. The commitment of consumers is reduced to buying shares or minimum ordering, occasional financial support, and attending open days. Only three projects under this model answered the European Census survey (and therefore they consider themselves a CSA), since many projects don’t consider this type to be a CSA. More than a hundred such groups can be found in Spain.
Most of the CSAs are informal groups with no legal status or recognition. Few of them have registered as associations to be able to legally employ the farm workers and to prevent possible legal issues linked to health and sanitation regulations or financial administration. In two cases (3% of the sample) there are legal cooperatives where both farmers and consumers are members. Only 6% of the CSAs have formal agreements between consumers and farmers.
Labour and income
The most common situation is that farmers are independent workers, as single farmers (59%), farm-families (29%) or a group of farmers (7%). Only 8% of CSAs have full-time workers or part-time workers (3%) employed by the CSA; and, in 3 cases, farm work is mandatory for consumers.
Interaction with public bodies
CSAs in Spain do not usually have direct links with public bodies. The most common situation is that of single projects whose main political activities take place through social movements but without aiming to impact policy or lobbying. 21% of CSAs are linked to local CSA or Food sovereignty networks in some way.
The Nekasarea network (45 CSAs in Bizkaia province) is the only network member of Urgenci, and, together with another project in Castilla y León, they are the only CSA network that are part of a national network (ARCo-Agricultura de Responsabilidad Compartida, linked to the farmers’ union COAG). Only these CSA networks are involved in interaction with public bodies, exclusively through the farmers’ unions to whom they are linked.
Involvement of the eaters
The main involvement of consumers in CSAs is in exchanging recipes (91%); buying shares and decision-making about farming management (90%); attending open days (87%); and investing money (76%). Only in a few cases do consumers get involved in farm work or administration tasks (29%), and packaging (17%).
71% of CSAs produce organically but are not certified, and 28% are certified. Only one CSA produces food without using organic farming practices. Some of the CSAs are involved in local Participatory Guarantee Systems, especially those defined as producer-network-led CSAs.
Most of the CSAs go beyond organic certification in their farming practices, e.g. using local seeds and varieties, committing to seasonal and local food, or producing their own inputs through local resources like plant-based extracts. Crop diversity needed to grow food yearlong leads to a very diversified design of the farms, and sometimes includes livestock (especially poultry) mixed with vegetable farming.
Most Spanish CSAs are involved in the food sovereignty movement, and are active stakeholders in promoting food sovereignty at local level. Most of the projects are involved in local, environmental and social struggles, and support the creation of new CSAs and the spread of agroecology. Many of them are also involved in local seed networks and try to recover traditional ecological knowledge in the territory where the farm is situated either formally or informally. They can be considered a powerful tool to sustain the first steps of young, urban people who want to link with the countryside and agroecology, and perhaps support them to become farmers. But nowadays, apart from the Basque Country, political activity is weak. It would however appear to be growing in some areas, such as Valencia and Barcelona, as a result of recent electoral changes.
The CSA movement in Spain has developed in the last fifteen years in different ways, depending on the different territories and organisational contexts in the farming sector. On the one hand, CSAs in the Basque Country have been promoted by local farmers’ unions: they are visible, coordinated and politically active. After ten years, the development and maturity of the network shows a trend to localise the networks and to launch local processes of food sovereignty, and to strengthen the professionalisation of farmers. On the other hand, in the rest of Spain, we find many little, scattered and isolated CSAs (except around Madrid, where ten groups have some informal coordination) that frequently face highly precarious situations, and trouble in maintaining their activity.
In both contexts, CSAs are mainly linked to an urban population, in relation to both farmers – who are often new to farming – and consumers, and it is difficult to bring professional, conventional farmers into such schemes. The lack of knowledge, appropriate land and other farming resources for the new entrant farmers is often highly challenging, and carries a high risk of insufficient production for consumers. The process of professionalisation of these new farmers is bringing new challenges to the movement, as political aims can get set aside when the farmers are faced by need of technical and marketing concerns. This leads to a reconfiguration of the CSA idea, based on the need to ensure economic viability for both farmers and consumers, and to simplify the internal and external coordination structures and work of the CSA.
In 2005, the CSA model was proportionately strong in in terms of the general development of SFSC in Spain. Since then, the important development of SFSC in Spain has not been based on CSA (excluding the Basque Country) but on simpler, less committed models of consumer groups. Compared with neighbouring countries such as France, reflection is needed on why the CSA movement is growing so slowly in Spain, especially in the context of growing political awareness and the strong development of alternative, cooperative and solidarity economy projects throughout the country. Perhaps reflection needs to be carried out on the most appropriate models of internal organisation of CSAs. Or possibly the lack of public support for such projects (and, in many cases, the outright rejection of requesting public support) is hindering the movement. Perhaps more needs to be done to communicate the project and values of CSAs. Thus, the European Charter could be an interesting tool for stimulating the movement.
In any case, CSAs still exist and are growing in Spain, and the process of reflection that comes with the maturity of the projects is now beginning. May this census be a powerful tool for achieving this!
- 1 Instituto Nacional de Estadística. http://www.ine.es
- 2 Eurostat. http://europa.eu/publications/statistics/index_es.htm
- 3 COAG-UCE (2014) Indice de Precios en Origen y Destino. http://www.coag.org/index.php?s=html&n=de17fe1e436f03b43409ecceeaa6fa75
- 4 MAGRAMA (2012).
- 5 MAGRAMA (2014).
Here are some links to experiences in Spain which could be understood as CSA (2014):
Back in 2010, a international seminar on short supply chain for organic farming was held in Cordoba with many “CSA” actors.