Contributed by Febecoop agence conseil Wallonie asbl
Terre-en-vue (which you could translate as “Land-in-sight”) is a group (a movement) composed of 3 structures: a non-profit organization, a foundation (that will be created soon) and a cooperative. Those structures are tools used to achieve the following objective: allowing young (new) farmers to gain access to lands, when they agree to use it in a respectful way. The cooperative is the “financial” tool that allows the gathering of investors (shares bought or given in return of a contribution in kind) to buy pieces of land.
Terre-en-vue is active in the rural part of Belgium. In Belgium, it has become hard to make a living while being a “traditional” farmer (they are generally too small when negotiating with big distributors), so farms have become bigger and bigger, getting to industrial levels (those enterprises are willing to pay expensive prices to get more fields and so there is a speculative process, new comers have a hard time to find fields they can afford).
Structure and membership
There are two sides to the business. Terre-en-vue is a cooperative, a model chosen for two main reasons: the project is aligned with the ICA principles and it allows the gathering of investors. However, there is also a non-profit organization and there will be a foundation in the near future. The cooperative alone would not be sufficient. Members constitute consumers, producers and other people interested in advancing the goals of the project (ecological farming and ease of access to land).
Currently, the 3 employees of the non-profit are part of the cooperative as well. The only criterion is to share the values of the cooperative (and globally the movement).
Members are identified in various ways, but generally, a farmer who would like to buy a field or land will try to find people interested in the approach; those people will then buy shares in the cooperative. Thus, if the farmer already has consumers, they can become members of the cooperative. The reverse is also true; people can become consumers having bought shares.
No dividends have been distributed so far but this is the aspiration, in order to match the rate of inflation at least.
The cooperative was formed in 2012 whilst the non-profit in 2011. In terms of business planning and development support, Among the first people involved, some already had some experience in the field of social economy (job in Credal which gives advice to social entrepreneurs as well as credit) and were able to provide help.
When looking at capital support, the non- profit organization which employs 3 people is financed through subventions.
It is a social enterprise following these 3 principles:
- Ecological farming (being respectful to the environment, buying and selling produce as close to source as possible)
- Collective propriety (lands should belong to the cooperative which can try to maximize the returns for the society, not to individuals who would generally only try to get personally richer whatever the consequences).
- Food sovereignity
To launch the project, nearly 3 full-time people worked for free for months before they could get subventions. Once the project was sufficiently developed, they were able to gain access to subventions and subsidies.
Another problem encountered was the fact that some people tend to sell for the highest price (to industrial farms, for example), but some others who want to make sure the land that they sell will be well used are willing to sell it to Terre-en-vue. A solution was to develop a network of “ambassadors” to display the values of Terre-en-vue (ambassadors get some training and are volunteers).
Finally, three legal strucutres were created as a A single company could not handle the whole activity (for fiscal reasons in the case of donations, for access to subventions, etc), which is time-consuming.
Vin de Liège
Vin de Liège cooperative, established in a region historically associated with wine, was created on 21st December 2010. Vin de Liège is a vineyard and intends to produce 100,000 bottles of organic wine per year. In a few years it anticipates producing white, rosé, red and sparkling wine. There are also strong interactions with co-operators (visits to the vineyard, help with harvesting, workshops, blog and social media to keep them updated).
At the origin of the project, Vin de Liège was a non-profit company (La Bourrache) whose main activity was the training of unemployed people in the field of horticulture (care of private gardens, production of organic vegetables, etc.). These people, who were already active in the social economy, explored the opportunity of creating a wine made in Liège while keeping their alternative vision of the economy. The cooperative was thus a logical choice. It is now a legally incorporated as a cooperative.
Currently, the membership of 1180 is made up of workers and producers. A lot of people found the project interesting because it promotes Liege. Strong communications have been used to reach a wide audience (they created a ‘buzz’). No wine is currently commercially available so it is too early to talk about consumers (but it is very likely that some of the cooperative members will be consumers in the future). As a cooperator, one can participate in decision-making, volunteer and learn, get early access to the wines that will be produced, get regular information among other benefits.
To become a member, one must support the aim of the project and be a worker seeking membership after the first year. The project is still in the initiation phase; dividends are not expected before 2020. They will have to be voted by the General Meeting (composed of cooperators). As the cooperative has a “label” from the National Council for Cooperation, dividends will be limited to the interest rate fixed by the King of Belgium in execution of the law of 1955 regarding de National Council for Cooperation (currently 6%).
Business planning and development support was provided by experts from co-operative associations and through the Implu’Cera grant provided to study the feasibility of the project, taking 1,5 years between project conception and incorporation.
Vin de Liège is both a commercial enterprise and a social enterprise. As a social enterprise it seeks to maximize environmental and social benefits; promote Belgian wine production, quality agriculture and agritourism as well as train (unemployed) people so they can find their place in the society among other objectives outline in the Best Practices document.
To provide assurance to prospective cooperative members, a subsidy from the government was granted (if the capital required had not been met, they would have been reimbursed thanks to the subsidy). The subsidy allowed the recruitment of cooperative members to begin while other financial partners were involved as lenders to kick-start the activities (such as plantation). Another barrier, like on most markets, was the international competition. This was tackled by emphasizing the local and socially responsible way of making the product to attract customers. Finally, regulatory requirements of the food industry, labelling and legal matters surrounding the brand name were tackled by a board of directors.