The SSE: an approach and a vision to consolidate the agro-ecological and food transition

December 2020

Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso (FDNC)

For the Daniel & Nina Carasso Foundation, achieving Sustainable Food implies multi-functional and territorialized, agro-ecological and regenerative, diversified and inclusive, circular and low-energy, democratic, transparent and solidarity-based food systems. By analysing the intersections at work between SSE and Sustainable Food, and the needs identified to support the deployment of initiatives, the foundation wishes to contribute to facilitating the change of scale of the solutions known today, and to inscribe in the economic field the values of the citizen transition for which it has been acting for 10 years.

To download : 2020_etude_ess_ad.pdf (8.3 MiB)

What are Sustainable Food project leaders looking for and what do they find by exploring this sector? And conversely, what do SSE actors bring to the table when they get involved in Sustainable Food projects?

The SSE « toolbox »: three main functions identified

The economic dimension

The « quest » for an economic model aims to ensure the sustainability of the initiatives carried out, in a world where public subsidies are being reduced. This search may also be motivated by the desire for autonomy on the part of the women and men involved in the project (and this aspect is particularly strong in projects for integration through economic activity), as well as the desire to reappropriate the various functions in the food chain. The SSE approach, based in particular on the recognition of different resources, their hybridization, limited or no profitability, cost sharing, etc., thus offers the possibility of thinking about « different economic models ». The project leaders are also inspired by experiments conducted in the SSE field, such as the support of a local currency to widen the circle of beneficiaries or the interlocking of different legal statuses to combine hybridisation of resources, taxation, and articulation between general interest missions and commercial activities. It should be noted that beyond the SSE, the actors are interested in the different approaches that make it possible to design a different and sustainable economy, such as the circular, collaborative and functional economies… The transversal approach This is one of the common points between the SSE, which is transversal by nature, and the Sustainable Food approach, which aims to reinvent a diversified and multi-use agriculture. According to the Daniel & Nina Carasso Foundation, Sustainable Food is democratic, supportive and agroecological. The approach is necessarily global because the ecological, economic, social and nutritional impacts of food, from production to consumption, are interdependent. The SSE is thus capable of instilling more transversal, partnership-based and collective ways of working, such as the PTCE - Pôle Territoriaux de Coopération Economique.


The need to set up collective governance is very important in Sustainable Food projects:

The experience and statutes experimented with by the SSE (SCIC, SCOP, CAE - Coopérative d’Activité et d’Emploi, etc.) are therefore clearly sought after: they emphasise cooperation and solidarity rather than competition between individuals, and aim for a form of governance that is inclusive of employees and, by extension, of stakeholders, and geared towards democratic decision-making, with the famous principle of 1 human = 1 vote. And several actors interviewed emphasised that despite a cooperative tradition in the agricultural world, the issues of inter-actor cooperation and mutualisation have yet to be explored.

The two main « political » functions of the SSE

Thinking / doing differently

The different historical roots of the SSE have sought to build alternatives to the dominant system of the time: the social economy has its roots in the 19th century workers’ movement and its resistance to the productivist logic of the industrial revolution - the solidarity economy brings together organisations whose primary objective is social utility and was born in the 1970s to respond to the new needs of the population, particularly those affected by unemployment and social exclusion. (extracts from the SSE Labo website)

but also to rethink certain notions, such as access to land (ownership versus use) or the status of farmers (self-employed versus salaried).

The role of a safeguard that allows values to be maintained

The project leaders interviewed explain that they are trying to reconcile/articulate different tensions between activism and structuring, accessibility, sustainability and project economics. They thus find in the SSE a specific way of undertaking, oriented towards projects of social utility above all. The economy is placed in its context, i.e. as a means to serve society, not as an end in itself. Other older and more highly developed actors refer to the SSE’s role as a safeguard, its foundations thus allowing it to preserve its founding values:

Two examples to illustrate

Les jardins Nourriciers (Drôme, Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes region)

The Jardins Nourriciers association is the result of a citizen’s initiative by a few inhabitants of the Die region, in the Drôme, and is first and foremost the expression of a commitment:

The association has therefore developed an exchange system allowing both monetary and non-monetary transactions (in points), and the provision of land, equipment, plans and natural preparations between members. This system was designed to guarantee flexibility, pragmatism and accounting rigour, and to allow members to be suppliers, workers and customers according to their needs, means and availability. In this area, the debate is no longer about agro-ecological techniques but about the creation and development of activities (for example, by employing farmers) via the construction of a collective food production tool that creates bridges between farmers and citizens.

Le Début des Haricots (Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire region)

The SCIC aims to promote sustainable food in the Nantes agglomeration and seeks to develop, thanks to an economically viable model based on solidarity, various projects related to food, in the broadest sense of the term: from the earth to the plate. In particular, it deploys a meeting place, called Grande Barge, which hosts a cooperative bar, restaurant and grocery shop. It also organises the distribution of organic and local products from its network of producers through MicroMarkets aiming at accessibility and solidarity between members through the implementation of a reasonable margin and a solidarity fee on each basket.

The initiative comes from an associative structure of urban ecology activists, the SSE having enabled them to develop a business model, seeking to reconcile the economic model with their initial values around sustainable development: ecology, accessibility, governance, link to the territory, transparency, proximity, etc.


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