Expanding the grain legume food production in Southern Sweden : qualitative insights from producers and representatives from the food industry
Abstract: The success of modern agriculture has so far primarily been assessed by productivity and economic returns, and not on nutritional value or on the ecosystem services provided besides food and fiber. Despite their high nutritional value, environmental benefits, and economic advantages for the farmer, legume crops are grown on less than 2 % of the arable land in Europe. Expanding the domestic grain legume production could bring a lot of benefits across different scales and levels within the food system, including yield enhancement of subsequent crops, a reduction in the use of agrochemicals and environmental impact caused by fossil fuels, and providing consumers with locally produced, legume-based foods containing good sources of protein and fiber, and several essential vitamins and minerals. This study is part of a larger multi-stakeholder project called “New legume foods” (NLF), a four-year project working on developing climate-smart and protein-rich food products containing domestic legumes. Agroecological principles and inductive theory were applied to explore the preconditions, and barriers to overcome, of expanding the domestic production of legumes for food in Southern Sweden. This was achieved through semi-structured interviews with farmers and key actors from the food industry. All the respondents were generally positive towards an increased, domestic grain legume cultivation, with an increase in volumes or varieties. Challenges that were identified in this study in terms of expanding the grain legume cultivation in southern Sweden included finding suitable varieties for cultivation outside of the current area of production, developing alternative weed and disease practices for grain legume cultivation, and solving the issue of high investment costs for special machinery needed for some grain legume varieties. The underlying motivations of the food industry to promote an expansion of grain legume production seemed to be mainly economical, recognizing the market opportunity and the potential added value of products associated with the ongoing trend of plant-based and locally produced food, and that consumers have become more aware of the nutritional aspects of grain legumes. For the farmers to succeed with the cultivation of a new crop the advisory services needs to be improved, and the farmers also requested the security and stability of knowing that they have a buyer at a fixed price. Based on what the farmers mentioned as motivations for incorporating grain legumes into their crop rotations, they have a high awareness of the potential benefits of growing grain legumes, but they were concerned about the profitability of the production in terms of low price of the produce. The farmers also seem to fail in realizing the economic values outside of the actual returns from the produce, such as reduced need for fertilizers and pesticides in the subsequent crops. Due to this, there seems to be a need to translate the extended services provided by grain legume crops to economic values, and incorporate in the economic calculations, both on a farm level but also in terms of price of the produce. In other words, the farmers need to be paid for the ecosystem services to the environment and society that they provide by including grain legumes in their cropping systems. From the perspectives of the processing industry the challenge of profitability was mainly the uncertainties in yields, volumes and quality of the grain legume produce. This challenge could be mitigated by storing parts of the produce for the following year as a buffer, although with increased costs of storage. This study has further illustrated the importance of collaboration and communication between different key actors in the food system, when developing a complex food system that promotes other services besides the provision of food and fiber. The insights from producers and key actors in the food industry presented in this study can hopefully contribute to the sustainable development of Swedish cropping systems and the expansion of the domestic grain legume production for food, and might also be used as guidelines when moving forward with the NLF project.
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