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Anthropological Research on Solidarity Economy in Croatia: the case of CSA.

In 2013 I became familiar with community-supported agriculture (CSA), thanks to my friend who started to grow vegetables near Zagreb. When she explained to me how she planned to sell these vegetables, her explanation about CSA triggered both my private and professional interest in topics related to food sovereignty, food systems and food citizenship. Soon I learned that these practices were important building blocks of a wider agenda: a globally expanding grassroots movement striving to create a change – solidarity economy (often encompassed by un umbrella term - social and solidary economy, abbreviation SSE).  If you are not satisfied with the way things function today (climate change, pollution, poverty and inequality caused by the extractive capitalism) it is easy to fall in love with the idea of trying to create a kind of a new world – a kind of ecotopia -  by making changes on a micro level. However small these changes might appear, it may turn out that it is not easy to make the change from consumers to prosumers.

Solidarity Economy

The 2008 crisis caused a somewhat more intensive encounter among theoretical reflections about this transformation, and the COVID-19 pandemic showed quite clearly the importance of food sovereignty. Practices concerned with the necessity for change, which existed earlier, gained momentum, and they began to network on various levels. From 2007 onwards in the USA, a Solidarity Economy Platform was set up, resulting in further networking and a global expansion in numerous initiatives and movements from below. Scholars noted differences at the level of state-inclusion in such initiatives, across different parts of the world (Kawano et al 2009). Precisely because of its sheer numbers and the diversity of forms in which it appears, the solidarity economy has different names in different parts of the world - e.g. the good, alternative, green or human economy (Puđak, Majetić & Šimleša 2015), or simply the ‘other’ (Spanish otra) economy (Cattani, Coraggio & Laville 2009).  Solidarity economy initiatives often encompass the somewhat wider concept of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) (Laville 2010, Dash 2014, Šimleša et al 2016). This is often perceived as a kind of “third sector” in the economy, directed towards sustainability in general, and correcting negative capitalist practices (Evers & Laville 2004, Laville 2010, Fonteneau et al, 2011).


My interdisciplinary team of researchers was lucky enough to get funding from the Croatian Science Foundation for the research project “Solidarity economy in Croatia: anthropological perspective” (SOLIDARan). Research on the solidarity economy is not only important in the Croatian context, but also at the global level, especially because the topic represents an important link between the complex field of scholarly research (attempts to transform the dominant economic system via various social innovations) and the social and economic influence that the researched phenomenon itself effectuates.

As every complex term, solidarity economy is difficult to define, but researchers of the SOLIDARan project presume that a set of disparate initiatives and movements are focused on creating and practicing “alternative ways of living, producing and consuming” (Bauhard 2014). This includes practices such as communal living, community kitchens, Open Source initiatives, workers' cooperatives, urban gardening, community-supported agriculture, eco-villages, ethical financing, alternative currencies, LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems), fair trade initiatives and numerous others. With this project we try to gain in-depth insights on attitudes, values and experiences of people involved in SE practices.  This enables us to scrutinize classical anthropological terms such as  solidarity, reciprocity and community in the contemporary, transformative moment. Diverse initiatives that appeared on the Croatian territory in the past decade have become the core case studies of the project, including a female beer brewery cooperative Brlog (Zadar), Vestigium – a community centre providing food provisioning amongst others (Zagreb), various cooperatives from rural areas as well as cooperatives aimed at achieving integration of vulnerable groups at work (Gračac, Osijek, Zagreb, Čakovec), CSA groups in Croatia (Zagreb area, Osijek, Istria), and common-pool resources such as Gajna pastoral community (Oprisavci). The results of this research project, together with contributions of scholars involved in researching related topics (such as Cristina Grasseni and Peter Simonič who acted as invited lecturers) have been presented at the “Practicing Solidarity for the Future” conference that was held in Zagreb, 14-16 September 2023). The complete conference proceedings will be available by the end of 2023 in an edited volume open access on https://solidaran.inantro.hr/.

CSA in Croatia

In particular, CSA groups in Croatia have so far developed in two directions (Orlić 2019). A CSA in Istria was founded by the first Istrian certified ecological producer. Therefore, in Istria, producers have been equal members of the group and they have to be certified organic or in the process of conversion. Since 2015, Istrian CSA groups have been named Solidary ecological groups (SEG) because they wanted to differentiate themselves from groups operating in other areas of Croatia (mainly the Primorje region and Central Croatia). They also have organized, with the help of local administration a sort of pop up market (SET) where producers have been selling their organic products to non-group members at a different price.  The other type of CSA, named Groups of solidary exchange (GSR) started operating in 2012 based on the example of Italian Gruppi d'aquisto solidale (GAS), whose routine(s) and meanings for wider society was elaborated by Cristina Grasseni (2013). Therefore, these groups did not insist on farmers being certified organic. Members of these groups displayed distrust to the state administration and private companies involved in the certification process, and focused their group on the creation of mutual trust, transparency and solidarity. These groups have been successful, although some of them have experienced ups and downs, depending on ever-changing group dynamics. However, they have been a good bottom-up model for public policy initiatives that started to be implemented in Croatia, mainly thanks to the European Green Deal. In relation to food, this has mainly been focused on Short Supply Chains (SSC), however in Croatia the emphasised benefits of organized provisioning within the SSC has not been so much on the organic production of food, as much as on provisioning of locally produced food. CSA in Croatia – both GSR and SEG - can be analysed as bottom–up predecessors of SSC, which are yet to be implemented on a wider scale - so far only one – AGRISHORT SSC has been organized based on a top-down model (Bagarić 2021).


Bagarić, Petar. 2021. Kratki lanci opskrbe i projektno financiranje na primjeru Međimurje. In: Analiza institucionalne podrške prilikom osnivanja dvaju tipova kratkih lanaca opskrbe (model osnivanja odozdo i odozgo). Nataša Bokan, ed.; Zagreb: Agronomski fakultet Sveučilišta u Zagrebu.

Bauhard, Christine. 2014. „Solutions to the crisis? The Green New Deal, Degrowth, and the Solidarity Economy: Alternatives to the capitalist growth economy from an ecofeminist economics perspective“.  Ecological Economics 102: 60–68

Cattani Antonio David, Coraggio José Luis,  Laville Jean-Louis. 2009.  Diccionario de la otra economía, Altamira

Dash, Anup. 2014. Toward an Epistemological Foundation for Social and Solidarity Economy. UNRISD Occasional Paper 3 (accessed 30 November 2017)

Evers, Adalbert & Jean-Louis Laville, 2004. "Defining the third sector in Europe," IN The Third Sector in Europe, Edward Elgar Publishing.

Fonteneau, Bénédicte, Nancy Neamtan, Fredrick Wanyama, Leandro Pereira Morais, Mathieu de Poorter, Carlo Borzaga, Giulia Galera, Tom Fox, Nathaneal Ojong.2011. “Social and Solidarity Economy: Our common road towards Decent Work, International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization

Grasseni, Cristina. 2013. Beyond Alternative Food Networks: Italy’s Solidarity Purchase Groups.London: Bloomsbury.

Kawano, Emily, Thomas Neal Masterson i/and Jonathan Teller-Elsberg. 2009. “Introduction”. In Solidarity Economy I. Building Alternatives for People and Planets / E. Kawano, T. N. Masterson, J. Teller-Elsberg, (eds.). Amherst: Centres for Popular Economics, 1-7.

Laville, Jean-Louis. 2010. The solidarity economy: A plural theoretical framework, economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG), Cologne, Vol. 11, (3) 25-32.

Orlić, Olga. 2019. Antropologija solidarnosti u Hrvatskoj: poljoprivreda potpomognuta zajednicom, Hrvatsko etnološko društvo,

Puđak, Jelena, Majetić, Filip, Šimleša, Dražen. 2016. „Potencijal za solidarnu ekonomiju u Splitu – kvalitativno istraživanje“. Sociologija i prostor  54/2 (205): 149-168.

Urban gardens in the city of Pula: Photo: Mirna Jernej Pulić

Banner: Solidary ecological market in Pula (SET) and SEG:
Photo: Nenad Kuftić

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