Summer school

Food Value Chain Research: Understanding Inter-Organizational Relationships - 1.5 ECTS

The Globalisation of food chains and evolving consumer and stakeholder requirements concerning the safety and quality of food and sustainability of its production processes is forcing farmers and businesses to look for ways to link up with other companies in the chain as well as with actors such as governments, NGOs and consumer organizations. To understand inter-organizational relationships across these food chains, going beyond the dyad, is a new multi-disciplinary area of research encompassing organizational, sustainability and quality perspectives. This autumn school will give students insights in the different theories in this area and learn them how to apply these, in an integrated way, to their own research project.

Organised by Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)

Mon 30 March 2020 until Fri 3 April 2020

Duration Registration deadline: Monday 16 March 2020
Venue Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Hollandseweg 1
6706 KN Wageningen


Food value chains
Understanding inter-organizational relationships in food value chains starts with acknowledging that these chains are made up of business organisations that seek to bring food products from producers to final consumers. Studying and explaining relations in food value chains requires an economic-organisational perspective. The key organisations are the firms producing and handling the food products, but many other organisations influence the behaviour of these firms and thus the performance of the chain. This course aims to make PhD students understand how inter-organisational relationships in food value chains affect value added, food quality and safety, sustainability, fairness and inclusiveness of these value chains.

Food quality and sustainability
Food products, compared to non-food products, have a number of characteristics that makes managing food value chains challenging. First, food is perishable. This has implications for quality control in transport, storage, and packaging. Second, food has a direct link with human health. This has implications for food safety guarantees provided or requested by the companies involved, but also for the nutritional composition of the product. Third, food production and distribution has a relatively large impact on sustainability (i.e., water use, energy use, waste, pesticide use). This has implications for the boundary conditions for food production and distribution, and thereby for the societal debate on the strictness for these conditions.

Coordination and collaboration
The increasing demands of consumers and other stakeholders for food quality and sustainability leads to more complexity, more uncertainty and more interdependence in food value chains. Dealing with complexity, uncertainty and interdependencies requires coordination among the companies in the chain. This coordination can be obtained by different formal and informal coordination mechanisms. Inter-organisational relationships reflect the coordination mechanisms used.

Within food value chains we make a distinction between horizontal and vertical collaboration. The latter implies that companies having a seller-buyer relationship agree upon making joint decisions as to delivery conditions, packaging, quality control, information exchange, payment schemes and innovation. Horizontal collaboration is most common among agricultural producers, within cooperatives and other types of producer organizations (POs). By collaborating in cooperatives and POs, farmers can increase their bargaining power, benefit from economies of scale, share information, share risks and reduce transaction costs.

Organizational and institutional environment
While the course focusses on the food value chain and the actors and activities in the chain, it will also pay attention to the organizational and institutional environment surrounding the chain. The organizational environment consists of public and private organizations that directly interact with the companies in the chain, such as financial service providers and consultants. But also NGOs may provide managerial or technical support to the value chain actors.

The institutional environment consists of formal and informal institutions that enable, direct and constrain the decisions of value chain actors. Examples are formal regulations, quality standards, state support programs, but also societal norms and values about how food should (not) be produced or what type of food should (not) be consumed. While the state in general is part of the institutional environment, as it sets rules and regulations, specific state agencies may be part of the organizational environment for instance when they provide technical assistance or when state trading companies are involved.

Target group
The target group for this course are PhD students with an interest in inter-company relationships in value chains. Beyond students in business economics and management this course on food value chain analysis is also of interest for other students in the social sciences. Thus, also students from development economics, agricultural economics, resource economics, environmental policy, sociology and other social sciences can learn from this course. Finally, also PhD students from the technical sciences, having some basic understanding of management or economics, can participate and thereby enhance their knowledge of how social, environmental and economic aspects of food production and distribution is strongly influenced by interrelated strategies of companies.

Learning outcomes

Participants will gain insights in theories and methods to be used in research on inter-organisational relationships in agribusiness and food value chains. At the end of the course, the student is able to:

  • Understand the main theoretical insights in the organisation of food value chains, particularly related to food quality management and sustainability;
  • Understand the main theoretical insights explaining horizontal and vertical collaboration in food value chains;
  • Understand the methods / methodological challenges in research on food chains;
  • Apply the theoretical and methodological insights in their own research projects;
  • Analyse real life cases of food value chain organisation.

Theories to be discussed include Transaction Cost Economics, Principal Agent / Contract Theory, Social Network Theory, Collective Action Theory, Food Quality Management Theory, and new insights in Circular Economy thinking.

Application to your own research project

The PhD projects of the participants will be used as cases for the research design sessions. Students will apply the concepts they learn in the morning sessions in their own research projects in the afternoons. This will lead to in-depth knowledge of these concepts and insight in possibilities and limitations of applying theories and methods in own research.


Session 1 2017-10-30 9:00-17:00
Session 2 2017-10-31 9:00-17:00
Session 3 2017-11-1 9:00-17:00
Session 4 2017-11-2 9:00-17:00
Session 5 2017-11-3 9:00-17:00


Morning Afternoon Lecturers
Monday • Introduction Value Chain Research • Research design • Food Quality Management Jos Bijman, Pieternel Luning, Jacques Trienekens
Tuesday • Horizontal relationships in food value chains • Producer organisations and cooperatives • Cases research design • Presentation and discussion Jos Bijman
Wednesday • Vertical relationships in food value chains • Governance of Global value chains • Cases research design • Presentation and discussion Jacques Trienekens
Thursday • Excursion • Discussion • Cases research design • Presentation and discussion Jos Bijman, Jacques Trienekens
Friday • Food value chains and the circular economy • Cases research design • Presentation and discussion Stefano Pascucci, Jos Bijman, Jacques Trienekens

Teaching methods

The course consists of lectures, tutorials, case work, an excursion and discussion sessions. Lectures are planned for the mornings, case work and discussion for the afternoons. Students are expected to read the course documents before the lectures.


Participants should send a short summary of their PhD research (ongoing or planned) to the course coordinators Jos Bijman and Jacques Trienekens ( two weeks before start of the course!

Target group and min/max number of participants

This course is intended for PhD and advanced research master students; 10 min/15 max participants

Assumed prior knowledge

Basic knowledge of economics and business sciences

Course fee 

a) All other PhD candidates b) Postdocs and staff of the above mentioned Graduate Schools € 340
All others € 500

Fee includes coffee/tea, course materials, one joint dinner on Monday, drinks on Friday, excursion.  

NB: for some courses, PhD candidates from other WUR graduate schools with a TSP are also entitled to a reduced fee. Please consult your Education/PhD Programme Coordinator for more information

Cancellation conditions:

The participants can cancel their registration free of charge 1 month before the course starts. A cancellation fee of 100% applies if a participant cancels his/her registration less than 1 month prior to the start of the course.

The organisers have the right to cancel the course no later than one month before the planned course start date in the case that the number of registrations does not reach the minimum.

The participants will be notified of any changes at their e-mail addresses.