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Foreign presence in the Southwest French countryside. Contribution of recent initiatives to the social and economic diversification of rural areas

William Berthomière, Julie Fromentin, Camille Hochedez, Christophe Imbert, David Lessault, Pierre Pistre et Sarah Przybyl
Traduction de Maya Judd
Cet article est une traduction de :
Présences étrangères dans les campagnes du Sud-Ouest de la france. Contribution d’initiatives récentes à la diversification sociale et économique des espaces ruraux


Less studied and documented than in the cities, the presence of foreigners in the French countryside remains more discreet and often unknown today. However, new international migrations are crossing rural areas, thus adding to previous movements. In rural southwestern France, our statistical analysis, based on census data obtained from INSEE and available since 1968, reveal their spatial distribution and the process of social diversification at work. This process has led us to question contemporary rural dynamics through the prism of international migration. Whether the migrants encountered in the framework of the CAMIGRI program surveys act directly in the development of new economic and social initiatives, or contribute to their genesis and development, their presence and their point of settlement significantly interfere with the trajectory and the evolutions of certain characteristic of rural places. In the Vienne, the Dordogne and the Ariège, a cross-analysis of three recent initiatives provides food for thought on the emergence of innovative forms of rural entrepreneurship. These types of entrepreneurship have in common that they are situated in the field of arrival of foreigners in rural areas: either through a specific activity (agriculture), or through the creation of services that allow for integration, accompaniment, emergency or permanent welcome. Thus, the anchoring of foreigners, which is part of the current rural dynamics, can be seen as a real perspective of endogenous development and innovation that enhances rural resources by relying on local territorial configurations.
international migration, territorial anchorage, entrepreneurship, resource, rural

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1In France, research on international migration has mainly focused on urban areas. Although this makes the presence of foreigners in the countryside less visible, such migration nevertheless concerns many rural communities. Scientific studies have, in a segmented fashion, highlighted different forms of movement towards the countryside. A first group of studies has developed around the amenity migration of northern and western Europeans (mainly British, Germans, Belgians and Dutch), driven by very specific residential and territorial logics (cross-border mobility or search for particular living conditions) (Barou et al., 1995; Benson et al., 2009; Cognard, 2011; Woods, 2018). A second area of investigation regards the temporary migrations of agricultural workers (North Africans, Eastern and Southern Europeans) in a context of economic change in European agriculture and political incentives for the temporary use of foreign labour (resumption of labour agreements, mobility partnerships with non-EU countries since 2007, use of seconded personnel) (Morice et al., 2008; Mésini, 2013). Finally, more recently, research has focused on the roll out of the network of accommodation facilitates for exiles (asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection) and the consequent emergence of a new foreign presence in French rural communes (Bonerandi, 2008; Gourdeau, 2018; Proietti et al., 2019).

  • 1 The research programme ‘The French Countryside in International Migration Dynamics’ (Les campagnes (...)

2The diversification of geographical origins, migratory routes and forms of mobility today places certain rural areas at the intersection of several migratory fields and dynamics. Yet the relatively small number of studies combining quantitative data and fieldwork that seek to compare different modalities of socio-spatial integration across the French countryside, means that relatively little is known about these migrant populations. Within the framework of the CAMIGRI research programme,1 we revisit the study of southwest rural France through the lens of international migration. Our central hypothesis is based on the idea that international migrants have progressively become actors in the transformation of these rural territories and the diversification of their economies, especially since they are at the origin of, or are the object of, recent entrepreneurial initiatives. International migrations thus raise questions as to the capacity of rural societies to adapt to the settlement of foreign populations and, ultimately, the potential for innovation induced by this co-presence.

  • 2 ‘Very small enterprises’ is a term used in France for businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

3In focusing on the land, housing, economic and social opportunities present in our study areas, we seek to highlight how the reception of foreigners and the activities of the latter contribute to emergent forms of rural entrepreneurship. ‘Entrepreneurship’ as it is used here refers to ‘people who design, produce and generate value through the creation or expansion of economic activity’ (Ahmad and Seymour, 2008, cited in Deller et al., 2019, p. 33). In this vein, several studies have considered the role of ‘neo-rurals’, and the creation or transfer of very small enterprises (TPE - Très petite entreprise)2 (Rieutort and Lenain, 2012; Saleilles, 2007; Saleilles and Sergot, 2013). Others have studied the development of rural entrepreneurship linked to international amenity migration, in relatively traditional fields (tourism, shops and restaurants, construction-related activities, cf. Carson et al., 2018; Eimermann and Karlsson, 2018; Deller et al., 2019; Stockdale, 2006; Stone and Stubbs, 2007). A focus here on the foreign presence more generally allows us to enrich the notion of rural entrepreneurship through study of initiatives that go beyond the economic sphere and are integrated into broader life projects. The recent initiatives observed are based on the enactment of new values (due to the profile of the neo-rural entrepreneurs, who are better trained and experienced) and specific management practices (cooperative strategy, importance of word-of-mouth, intersection of social and professional networks, cf. Saleilles, 2007).

  • 3 In reference to the title of a travelling show in France by an Ariege neo-farmer recounting the exp (...)

4The diversity of migrations (lifestyle migrations, ‘farmers-wanderers’,3 pre-retirement migrations, etc.) in the territories under study thus invites reflection on the specificity of rural entrepreneurship linked to the foreign presence. In particular, we surmise that this would have the effect of generating forms of entrepreneurial initiatives characterised by their inclusion in a form of civic economy. Based on solidarity, their objective would be to generate value and positive externalities, not only financial, but also social, benefiting the whole of society (Boncler and Hlady Rispal, 2004). This type of entrepreneurship would produce both goods and connections. New forms of enterprise thus created would be characterised by an intertwining of economic opportunities and civic engagement modalities. We aim to show that the foreign presence, through the entrepreneurial dynamics it generates, thus constitutes a resource for the development of projects in rural areas and forms part of more global rural dynamics.

  • 4 The general framework of the global hypothesis can be explored through statistical data, which at t (...)

5In connecting a statistical analysis, conducted at the national level, with field observations carried out in three local areas (in the departments of Vienne, Dordogne and Ariège), we show the diversity of rural dynamics nourished by the foreign presence. Our case-study methodological perspective, where a local area is the place of expression of ‘external forces’ (Burawoy, 2003; Small, 2009) is particularly suited to the theory that the new forms of entrepreneurship at work in the French countryside are connected to globalized processes (globalized countrysides, Woods, 2018).4 We thus begin with a statistical examination of international migration in French rural areas, assessing the hypothesis of a growing diversification of the foreign presence. Through the Secure Data Access Centre (Centre d'Accès Sécurisé aux Données - CASD), census information made available by INSEE allows us to study in detail the foreign populations residing in rural France since 1968. Coupled with our field research, the variety of change observed in the three study areas reveals the limits of characterising rural areas solely in terms of demographic or economic decline. Through the lens of rural entrepreneurship, we enrich this picture by observing initiatives based on agriculture experiences and solidarity dynamics.

6In light of the great diversity of rural areas observed in southwest France, and the degree of geographical detail of the quantitative and qualitative data analysed here, we adopt a descriptive approach. We begin by highlighting the importance of rural contexts and localised opportunities (housing, land, economic, social). The second part of the article is then devoted to discussing the genesis and evolution of the entrepreneurial initiatives that have been developed within our three study areas. On the basis of these described initiatives, the trajectory of the places studied then guides the analysis of the spatial settlement processes of foreign populations in relation to the social and economic dynamics of the rural world. This perspective, together with the possibility of comparing initiatives, allows us to go beyond the analysis of ‘cases’ or ‘illustrations’ and to develop, at the intersection of initiatives and the rich processes they reveal, more general reflections on the rural dynamics of change.

1. Limited numbers but growing diversification

  • 5 Other statistical sources are used to study specific dimensions of the foreign presence. For exampl (...)
  • 6 This work benefited from government funding managed by the Agence nationale de la Recherche within (...)
  • 7 There are, however, some limitations in terms of measuring the foreign presence using the census. I (...)
  • 8 The law limits the publication of results on nationalities to geographical areas with at least 5,00 (...)

7Statistical data make it possible to discern the foreign presence, both in terms of volume and diversity of profiles (geographic origin, socio-demographic characteristics, etc.). The population census is one of the primary sources used in the quantitative analyses conducted within the CAMIGRI research 5for at least four reasons. First, it offers a significant time span of data, allowing to count and analyse in detail the foreign population in France since the 1960s-1970s.6 Second, it is exhaustive, in the sense that it has continued to count all the inhabitants of communes with less than 10,000 inhabitants once every five years; the other communes being sample surveyed since 2004.7 Third, it allows for detailed spatial analyses within the limits of the legal and methodological rules of use.8 Finally, it is uniquely transversal among public statistics in recording the diversity of inhabitants of foreign nationalities: British or other citizenship (cf. census of ordinary households), asylum seekers in reception centres (cf. census of communities), etc.

  • 9 The statistical processing carried out within the framework of the CAMIGRI program is based on a sp (...)

8Summary statistics drawn from this source thus paint a numerical picture of the trends underway at several geographical levels, as well as contribute to the general debate on the foreign co-presence. The current presence of foreigners must necessarily be contextualised within the recent history of migration to France, particularly towards its rural areas—16.6 million inhabitants and 26% of the French mainland population9—, and the uneven geographical distribution of the latter at the national scale (Figure 1). Although the number of people of foreign nationality has been growing since the early 2000s, it only represents around 3% of the population of rural areas in the 2015 census (compared with 6.5% for mainland France as a whole), which is roughly the same proportion as in the 1960s and 1970s (Figure 2). At that time, international migratory inflows were primarily directed towards eastern and especially north-eastern France, that is the urban peripheries and industrial areas that provided jobs (Noiriel 1992; Hubscher 2005). Today, there remains a slight over-representation of foreign populations in the East, due to the combined effect of cross-border relations (Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, etc.), metropolitan dynamics in eastern Paris and the Lyon region, and residential settlings in the Mediterranean hinterland (Figure 1).

  • 10 The Pays Loudunais Community of Communes (communauté de communes) includes 45 communes and 7 associ (...)
  • 11 The northern part of the department of Dordogne, in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, is called the (...)
  • 12 Ariège is a department in southwestern France, in the Occitanie region, in the heart of the Pyrenee (...)

9Western France, meanwhile, initially had a smaller foreign presence, even with the settlement of Spanish political refugees in the South from the 1930s to the 1970s, and of Portuguese workers in the 1960s and 1970s. However, more recently, the number of foreigners settling in the South has increased significantly. In fact, since the late 1990s, the growth in the number of foreigners living in rural areas has been most marked in western France (Figure 2), and particularly in the southwest. This observation partly explains the choice of our three main study areas—Loudunais,10 Périgord Vert,11 Ariège Pyrenees12—meant to better understand the reality and diversity of the recent foreign presence on a local scale (cf. part 2).

Figure 1. Distribution of foreign nationals in the rural areas of mainland France

Figure 1. Distribution of foreign nationals in the rural areas of mainland France

Figure 2. Change over time in the weight of foreign nationals in rural metropolitan France

Figure 2. Change over time in the weight of foreign nationals in rural metropolitan France

10In the west of France, the foreign presence in rural areas is also characterised by a great diversity of geographical origins (Figure 3). Northern and Western Europeans—especially the British—are now the most numerous (Barou, Prado, 1995; Benson, 2011), though there are many Southern Europeans as well, mainly due to their long history of settlement. These dominant groups have, however, remained stable or have grown only slightly in number since the 2000s, while other groups (Eastern Europeans, French-speaking Africans, Asians, etc.) have seen (stronger) growth and have thus largely contributed to the increase in foreign settlement in Western France over the past two decades (Figure 2).

11There are many reasons that foreigners decide to remain, with retirement or staying on after leaving the workforce but some of them. These latter motives mainly concern Northern and Western Europeans (Figure 3). Beyond such individuals, most of the inhabitants of foreign nationality in Western France are today employed (40.8% of those aged 15 and over) and come from across Europe, the Maghreb, francophone Africa or the Near and Middle East. Thus, the issue of migration in French rural areas, and especially in the West of the country, is particularly relevant in terms of employment, economic and entrepreneurial activities related to the settlement of foreigners, and their diversification.

Figure 3. Foreigners by nationality groups in Western France

Figure 3. Foreigners by nationality groups in Western France

Made by Pierre Pistre; Designed by Julie Fromentin and Pierre Pistre. CAMIGRI research, 2021.

Source: Insee, 1975, 1999, 2008, 2015 population censuses (main processing)

12The degree of diversification is even more palpable at the local level, taking the areas under study as an example (Figure 4). A few European nationalities—primarily British, Portuguese, Dutch and Belgian—make up the bulk of the foreign presence, which at the 2015 census represented between 1.8% (Loudunais) and 6.7% (Périgord Vert) of the total population. Relatively new, however, is the significant increase in nationalities of different geographical origin starting in the 1990-2000s, even if few in actual number. For example, in the Ariège Pyrenees study area, a maximum of 84 foreign nationalities were recorded in the census of 2015, though around 80% of these nationalities had fewer than 10 individuals. Europeans remain the most numerous, but the African, Asian and American continents are increasingly represented.

Figure 4. Nationalities in the areas under study

Figure 4. Nationalities in the areas under study

13The diversification of nationalities in our study areas echoes similar trends observed recently in countries of the Global North (Woods, 2018; McAreavey 2017)—a result of a variety of mobility flows including amenity migration, return migration of former emigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Of no less importance, there is also the international circulation of migrant workers, which has become a key element of the neoliberal rural economy. This diversification of origins has contributed to the emergence of a scholarly literature, especially Anglo-American, which has taken up notions typically applied to urban spaces, such as the ‘global countryside’ and 'cosmopolitanism'. Wood (2018), for example, assesses two case studies in Ireland: Gort, which saw the settling of more than 1,000 Brazilians in a total population estimated at 3,000 inhabitants in the late 2000s; and Ballyhaunis, the most diverse town in the country with 42 nationalities in a population of 2,300 inhabitants.

14Beyond semantic debates, the statistical observations of French rural areas, and in particular the southwest of the country, thus raise questions about both the expression of local forms of co-presence and the ways in which rural societies and territories take on, adapt to or contend with this new reality.

2. Three entrepreneurial initiatives involving the foreign presence

15In each of the three study areas, an entrepreneurial initiative was chosen with the aim of understanding the specificity of rural forms of entrepreneurship in relation to new foreign arrivals. These initiatives can each be described with different horticultural metaphors— marcottage in Dordogne, grafting in Vienne and rhizome in Ariège—allowing to both highlight the various methods of development and diffusion of the respective entrepreneurial initiatives and to evaluate their degree of anchorage in the territory. Each of these analysed initiatives has been regularly monitored since 2016 using a methodology based on site surveys, biographical interviews with the actors and their networks, and direct and repeated observation in situ. In addition, the use of SIRENE data13 on the relevant economic domains in each study area allows us to contextualize these initiatives within larger territorial dynamics (for which statistical portraits have also been elaborated14) and to evaluate their degree of singularity with respect to a given sector or agricultural area.

Figure 5. Change over time in the creation of legal units (SIRENE) in key sectors at the national level and in the study areas

Figure 5. Change over time in the creation of legal units (SIRENE) in key sectors at the national level and in the study areas

16Figure 5 shows that from 1994 to 2009, the patterns of the three economic activities analysed here are, in the respective study areas, fairly consistent with the general trends observed in low-density rural areas in metropolitan France. Apart from the development of the market gardening sector, which has been particularly strong in the Périgord Vert since 2015, it is not possible to attribute the foreign presence in the sectors studied to a greater weight in the area concerned. For market gardening, the recent trend indicates that there are many opportunities to set up such businesses in the Périgord Vert. For dairy farming, the crisis experienced at the national level could also offer professional prospects, with an economic model less sensitive to international prices. For tourist accommodation, the fluctuations observed in this competitive sector, which suffers from the seasonality of its activity in rural areas, suggest the existence of certain reconfigurations. Finally, the relative dynamism of the artistic sector in the Ariège Pyrenees seems to indicate a greater openness to mobility in this area, even if a certain number of artistic activities are characterised by forms of itinerancy.

2.1. The settling by marcottage of foreign neo-farmers in the Périgord Vert

2.1.1. A sparsely populated area, between the reception of mainly northern European migrants and agricultural transformations

17A landscape of forest and agriculture (mixed farming, cattle breeding) characterise the Périgord Vert, together with a low density (about 25 inhabitants/km²) and ageing population due to a strong natural deficit. However, since the 1990s, this area’s migratory balance has become positive; the effect of an increased residential attractiveness (if somewhat delayed compared to the rest of the Dordogne department). The new inhabitants mostly come from the same larger region, though around 10% arrive from abroad, such that 6.7% of the population was of foreign nationality at the 2015 census.

18In this sparsely populated area, the classic historical figure of the foreigner is that of the Briton (around 60% of foreigners), mainly retired (Figure 3), and more generally that of the Northern European (Figure 4), settled in a primary residence or second home. A corollary of this influx since the early 1980s has been the upgrading of old rural heritage buildings, a revitalisation of the service sector and shops or even forms of real estate speculation, all indications of an ongoing process of rural gentrification (Richard et al., 2014). Attracted by a better quality of life and a pleasant landscape, this foreign presence forms part of amenity migrations (Benson, 2011; Benson and O'Reilly, 2009). The effects on local economic development are debated, oscillating between those who see the growth of a genuine service economy and a particular cultural and associative dynamic, and those who instead observe a social microcosm that limits integration and functioning, based on (foreign) community networks that are sometimes extra-local and thus of little benefit to the host territory (Eimermann, 2017).

  • 15 The lifestyle farmer is a neo-farmer who goes into agriculture to fulfil a life project. Migration (...)

19We contribute to this debate in looking at the arrival of a more recent figure in rural areas: the foreign ‘lifestyle farmer’,15 who practises alternative, sustainable or even civic forms of agriculture. These are foremost entrepreneurs, for whom the process of creating a business (typically under the legal status of ‘self-employed’ (auto-entrepreneur)) is seen as a way to reconcile professional life, income generation and personal aspirations in terms of quality of life. This group of individuals closely resembles that of the neo-farmers. Specifically, they can be defined as 'individuals who are new to farming, whether this is seen as food or cash crops' (Dolci et al., 2019, p. 63), motivated by a desire to ‘get back to the land'. A feature specific to foreign neo-farmers is that the international migration prior to settlement as much causes a biographical break as reflects it. It also magnifies the disruptions of the individual's social network, which effects the creation and management of the agricultural business (Saleilles, 2007). Certainly, the investment in agricultural work on the part of foreigners is quantitatively less ‘visible’ than other areas of activity directly linked to local resources and amenities that are favoured by lifestyle entrepreneurs, such as tourism (Carson et al., 2018), catering, retail (Eimermann and Karlsson, 2018) or crafts. Nevertheless, it has important implications for local landscapes and economies. A process of agricultural decline has characterised the Périgord Vert since the 1990s (decrease in the number of operations and land devoted to agriculture), offering aspiring farmers land opportunities—even if the main agricultural focus of foreign neo-farmers, market gardening, does not align with the traditional local orientation, principally livestock farming.

2.1.2. Foreign neo-farmers, reflection of international forms of urban-rural relations and of rural entrepreneurship

  • 16 These remarks are based on fieldwork conducted between 2018 and 2020, including interviews with 15 (...)
  • 17 Human capital is understood here as the knowledge and skills possessed by an individual (Stockdale, (...)

20In the Périgord Vert, the Northern Europeans who go into agriculture (mostly of British, Belgian and Dutch origin) do so mainly in market gardening and, to a lesser extent, in dairy farming.16 Their motives, like their profiles, reflect new kinds of urban-rural relations, inscribed in transnational networks that induce the circulation of the human capital17 necessary to start up the business. The motives driving foreign neo-farmers intersect with those of amenity migrants, broadly speaking. Specifically, they tend to be rather young couples or families mainly from highly urbanised regions, working a job they did not like or no longer found satisfying. Farming represents a solution for professional conversion that gives meaning to their work, even in the absence of a family background in this domain or any agricultural know-how. Moreover, the creation of an agricultural business forms part of a project to improve one’s quality of life, where settling in the countryside, and more specifically in agriculture, constitutes the cornerstone (Saleilles, 2007).

21Reasons for settling also reflect hybrid forms of urban-rural relations. On the one hand, going into agriculture is motivated by a rejection of urban life and high-density cities, associated with a feeling of meaninglessness in one's previous professional life. Farming, on the other hand, allows people to live the rural idyll (Halfacree, 2003), to take advantage of the amenities offered by low density places, and the 'French way of life'. Professional and personal life in the city is clearly viewed negatively, while life in the countryside tends to be glorified. Though, the noticeable opposition between urban and rural in discourse is much less clear in practice. The skills and networks mobilised to conduct the agricultural activity often rely on human capital accumulated during the previous urban professional life in the country of origin. Abilities in management, communication, marketing or ICTs prove very useful in building the farm project in terms of production and marketing, and help counterbalance the lack of technical agricultural knowledge. To quote a Belgian market gardener, who also works as a consultant for an American company, ‘you don't move from one world to another, you are multi-world’. In other words, career conversions never quite consist of a clean break from one's previous professional life.

2.1.3. Marcottage, a way of rooting foreigners by agriculture in the Périgord Vert

22We use the metaphor of marcottage to illustrate one of the modalities of rural entrepreneurship linked to the foreign presence. In agriculture, marcottage, or air layering, refers to a method of propagation that induces a shoot or branch to take root while it is still attached to the parent plant (as opposed to enclosed in a pot or other container). This technique aptly captures the spatial diffusion of foreign neo-farms through two types of agricultural establishment networks that develop as offshoots of ‘root’ farms. Notably, these networks differ according to the agricultural orientation and nationalities concerned (Figure 6).

Figure 6 - From dairy farming to market gardening: the establishment networks of foreign neo-farmers in the Périgord Vert

Figure 6 - From dairy farming to market gardening: the establishment networks of foreign neo-farmers in the Périgord Vert

23The first type of observed network is based on a general dynamic of market gardening establishments, in which foreign neo-farmers are involved. In this configuration, the project implementers buy a plot of land and entirely create their system. Most of these projects consist of the creation of new farms (and not takeovers) in an area historically oriented towards livestock farming, where market gardening was very rare until the 2000s. The preferred method of accessing land—the purchase of a property on terrain previously used for agricultural purposes—manifests the migrants' ‘professional rupture’ and the strong link between their professional and life projects. This method of acquisition also explains why market gardening is practised on small farms (maximum of 2 or 3 hectares, sometimes supplemented by greenhouses), which are often ill-suited to this type of cultivation (acidic granitic soils, steeply sloping land, with consequent difficulties with irrigation and exposure to the wind). The projects usually adopt an alternative agricultural model, with diversified systems, combining vegetable and fruit crops and small livestock (goats, chickens), in the mode of organic production, permaculture or market gardening on living soil. These choices are made in an effort to achieve a life project oriented towards a return to the land, with the objective of self-sufficiency. The practice of organic farming furthermore fulfils the need to satisfy qualitative aspects of a sought-after lifestyle in the context of amenity migration.

24Foreign lifestyle farmers are bearers of innovation in the agricultural sector, and in this way become actors in territorial development. Beyond modern farming techniques tied to the ‘greening’ of practices, foreign neo-farmers are building an alternative and diversified farming model compared to the departmental agricultural profile. Oriented towards the local, they have been in particular inventive in creating novel marketing approaches (crate and basket systems, producer groups, use of social networks). The farm is seen as a place of life for the foreigners but also for the inhabitants of the area who have occasion to visit during various events. For example, a farm in the municipality of Nontron, run by a Franco-English couple, directly sells plants and small fruits (raw or processed) produced on the farm. In addition, they regularly host cultural events, art festivals, farmers' markets, market gardening and horticulture courses, etc. This example illustrates the diversification of these small farms around tourism and cultural activities. Foreign neo-farming also reflects the desire of these entrepreneurs to anchor themselves locally and to 'reterritorialise' their business (Rieutort and Lenain, 2012). The innovations introduced into local agricultural systems also originate from external experiences and intuitions: neo-farmers in general see business opportunities not perceived by the autochthonous population (Anderson, 2000). These observations align with the vision of neo-rural enterprises as ‘discrete innovations’ (Albaladejo, 2003) due to their professional and spatial marginality and institutional discretion (e.g. low recourse to subsidies).

  • 18 The names and locations cited in this article have been changed to ensure the anonymity of the resp (...)

25The second entrepreneurial network, by ‘marcottage’, is made up of Dutch individuals who have gone into dairy farming (Figure 6), a more conventional agricultural activity in the Périgord Vert, even if beef cattle rearing has traditionally been dominant. The establishment logic differs from that of the first network, in that it mostly consists of farm takeovers. The modalities are also older and much more typical, both in terms of financing (recourse to bank loans, PAC subsidies), and set up (economic structures in the form of collective farming groupings [groupement Agricole d’exploitation en commun’- GAECs]; or limited liability companies - SARLs). The Dutch are drawn by the attractive land prices and the opportunities for acquisition due to the departure of many farmers who put their property up for sale. These farms are well integrated into the dairy sector and tend to be rather large (e.g. 180 ha for Robert and Zoé's18 ‘branch’ farm, 300 ha for the Nesot's ‘root’ farm; see below), with important quotas. They operate with Dutch networks for production and labour recruitment. Historically, this network revolves around the Nesot farm (Figure 6), located in a neighbouring commune of the Haute-Vienne department, which produces Gouda cheese and sells directly from the farm and at markets in the area. After selling their farm in the Netherlands in the 1990s, the Nesots settled in the Périgord. After the death of their father, the children took over the establishment: they grew up in France but studied agriculture in the Netherlands. The farm has trained a considerable number of Dutch farm workers who have gone on to start their own businesses in France, through recruitment advertisements in Dutch agricultural newspapers. Robert (organic dairy farmer) as well as Nicolas and Béatrice (goat cheese farmers) were all employed on the Nesot farm before setting up their own establishments, similarly in livestock farming. The anchoring dynamic of these farms is, however, less strong than that observed among the market gardeners: for the Dutch dairy farmers, the farm is first and foremost a professional production tool, situated in a sparsely populated rural area and chosen also for its landscape qualities.

26Despite differences in agricultural orientation, structure and institutional environment, the trajectories of Northern European migrant establishments in agriculture illustrate, as seen through the above examples, the development of a rural entrepreneurship by marcottage. The diffusion of farms begins with a few pioneer farms, or ‘root farms’, which play a central role in the training of neo-farmers. They then branch out into multiple farms through community or professional agricultural networks. The result is a process of anchoring foreigners to the area, through farming activity. In turn, they contribute to local agricultural dynamics, developing a new sector, maintaining another, and investing in a network of services in this sparsely populated rural area.

2.1.4. A process of marcottage that is part of territorial agricultural dynamics

27Finally, the settlement of foreign neo-farmers occurs within the more general agricultural dynamics at work in Dordogne, and more particularly in the Périgord Vert: an increase in the number of market garden farms, and a decline in dairy cattle farms. In fact, the settlement of foreigners is part of a true explosion in the market gardening sector in this territory. No less than 65 market garden farms were created in the Périgord Vert during the 2010 decade (compared to 21 in the 2000s), with a peak in the year 2019 (13 creations). This dynamic is in part explained by the low cost of land, which attracts those deterred by rising prices in southern Dordogne. ‘For less than 100,000€, you can buy a house and 2 or 3 hectares, and that allows you to set up a market garden’, says a French farmer from Jumilhac. A tradition of markets where new farmers can directly sell their products also favours these arrivals. The mechanisms are quite similar for the dairy sector. The decline in cattle farms frees up production tools at much more attractive prices than in the Netherlands, allowing to set up an establishment.

28The foreign presence in agriculture is also part of another underlying trend, namely a renewal of the agro-sociological makeup up French territories, particularly those that are sparsely populated. In fact, 62% of the farming project initiators welcomed in 2018 in the Dordogne were of non-agricultural origin—known in French administrative jargon as ‘outside the family setting’; hors cadre familiaux [HCF], i.e. that is, they established their farms without any family connection. Thus, many do not have agricultural training, but have pursued a higher education in other (sometimes related) fields, and are of greater means. This atypical profile in the agricultural sector has, however, increasingly become the norm, particularly when it comes to market gardening. Indeed, it is an activity that requires less initial investment, helping to explain why it has especially been adopted by HCFs.

29Finally, foreigners also form part of another departmental trend, namely a strong development of organic farming. According to AgroBio Périgord, in 2019 one out of two installations was involved in organic farming. Though, almost all the foreign neo-farmers have set up organic establishments.

30These trends are also supported by agricultural and para-agricultural organisations, through two types of action. The first consists of specific training for new HCF farmers who need technical support. For example, the Maison des Paysans and AgroBio Périgord, or the organic and business establishment division of the Dordogne Chamber of Agriculture, offer set-up and technical training courses, based on a network of farmer-instructors. The second concerns support for the creation of new market outlets. One example, supported by AgroBio Périgord and the Regional Nature Park (PNR) Périgord-Limousin, is the establishment of a platform of organic producers to locally supply mass catering (MangerBioPérigord), as part of the structuring of Local Food Projects (Projets Alimentaires de Territoire - PATs). These tools are seen as a necessity in the face of the risk of saturation of direct sales channels, mentioned by various producers. The business establishment dynamic has in fact created a certain amount of competition between organic market gardeners, leading some to diversify their outlets or to turn to places outside the region (Bordeaux, Limoges, Angoulême, Brive) for selling a part of their production.

31This portrait of foreigner entrepreneurial initiatives in the field of agriculture in the Périgord Vert shows that international migration contributes to local development dynamics in sparsely populated areas. The establishment of foreigners in farming contributes to the maintenance of activities and landscapes, but also to the development of a social fabric, services and often innovative activities. While this first example highlights foreign entrepreneurs, the question of entrepreneurship through the lens of international migration also concerns the reception of foreign populations in difficulty.

2.2. The Côte d’Auray holiday village, story of an aborted graft

2.2.1 Renewed foreign presence: between pioneering and ephemeral figures

32According to census data, the rural Pays Loudunais Community of Communes (communauté de communes) has historically been characterised by a very minor foreign presence. In fact, today less than 2% of the population is of foreign nationality. It wasn’t until the settlement of populations from Southern Europe (Portugal, and Spain in particular), and then the arrival in the 1990s of the British, that the volumes and proportions of foreigners became more significant. The fairly recent presence of this latter group, attracted by the rural amenities and low cost of land and property in the Vienne department, marks the evolution of this area. Indeed, in several communes around the small town of Loudun, this presence has attenuated local demographic decline, helped to safeguard property assets, and has contributed to maintaining and developing certain economic activities and services, particularly in the field of tourism (Figure 5: accommodation and catering).

33This foreign establishment dynamic is thus tied to the characteristics of the area. The diversity of establishment opportunities is based, among other things, on a territorial trajectory that has made heritage tourism and leisure one of the main markers of its identity (Thareau, 2006). Some villages have thus experienced a revitalisation initiated by British nationals, who are involved in communal political life, entrepreneurship or an investment in local sociability. Statistical information attests to the prevalence of the British among the foreign population, and a closer look at the data shows their preference for the small isolated rural communes around the village of Loudun (Figure 4).

34Though, in conjunction with this phenomenon, at the national and local levels (Figures 3 and 4), the significant increase in foreigners from Eastern European countries—over-represented among the employed—and the new appearance of populations from non-francophone Africa has translated into a rapid diversification of foreign nationalities. The surveys carried out in our study area confirm the diversification of origins observed in the census data. We had occasion to see, within the observation perimeter of the Pays Loudunais, groups of migrants emerge that have hitherto been invisible in statistical processing. Given the temporary nature of their stay and the fact that their mobility makes them somewhat elusive, these migrants elucidate certain ‘grey areas’ (Le Marchand et al., 2014) of official statistics. In some of the cases observed, these circulations are accompanied by forms of establishment that contribute to the dynamics of spatial production and are intertwined with local economy issues. A retracing of the territorial trajectory of the Loudunais allows to identify the elements that have supported this diversification, in all its different forms.

35Situated along the fringes of the Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Nature Park (PNR), the Pays Loudunais has been experiencing a period of economic decline since the 1990s. Wedged between dynamic areas, with the Futuroscope theme park in Poitiers to the south and the attractive heritage of the banks of the Loire to the north, tourism seemed to be the preferred solution for revitalising this rural area in a context of territorial competition. The relatively recent establishment of the Le Bois aux Daims holiday park in Morton and the Moncontour Active Park (offering various water sport activities) were meant to attract a dwindling clientele while supporting job creation. Recruitment went beyond the local domain, in mobilising a foreign workforce. Though, in the mid-2010s, the investment in tourism began to show signs of weakness (Figure 5).

36Specialised agricultural activity has also channelled new international mobilities. Melon farms in the Loudunais, but also grape harvesting, orchard fruit picking and market gardening increasingly rely on foreign labour (DGT, 2017). These seasonal workers are hosted in various types of accommodation. In addition to the schemes devised by local authorities, such as the 'seasonal houses' (Maisons de la saisonnalité), alternative accommodation solutions have also emerged. Some farms house their workers directly on site, in tents or caravans. Private individuals have also made a part of their property or vacant spaces in their homes available.

  • 19 Unaccompanied minors are third-country nationals under the age of 18 who are on French soil in the (...)

37Our regular monitoring of the places of residence of seasonal agricultural workers and our repeated interviews with accommodation providers reveal that housing solutions have gradually adapted to changes in worker practices and to the lengthening of their stays. Rural territories have been consistently shaped by modifications in seasonal agricultural employment tied to international migration (Morice and Michalon, 2008). If this agricultural lens allows us to observe the versatility of infrastructures in rural areas, this modular quality can also be seen today in a more uncommon field of action. As an extension of our investigations, we witnessed unexpected situations of cohabitation between seasonal agricultural workers and exiled individuals (unaccompanied minor19 and asylum seekers in particular) in certain accommodation places. Indeed, in recent years, asylum issues have increasingly surfaced alongside traditional agricultural concerns. Territories outside the major metropolitan areas have begun to play an important role in the implementation of French asylum policy (Berthomière et al., 2021). The low density of these places offers a solution to accommodation shortages in saturated urban areas (Przybyl, 2016/ibid.). This is the case of the Côte d’Auray holiday village in the Pays Loudunais, an atypical place whose trajectory has been imbued with these successive transformations, allowing crucial insight into the intertwining of local dynamics and international migrations.

2.2.2 Optimising the functional diversity of the countryside, adapting the residential offer to the temporality of presence

38The Côte d’Auray holiday village extends over a park of several hectares. Equipped with a swimming pool, a mini-golf course and a multi-purpose hall, its initial purpose was to offer outdoor activities in a place ideally designed for family holidays. The residential complex consists of seven cottages, which have been restored and developed by the owner since the 1980s (Figure 7). In 2016, upon his retirement, his partner Viviane (formerly a family assistant [assistante familiale] providing foster care to minors as part of the child protection system), took over the management of the cottages, diversifying the accommodation offer. For a number of years now, she has hosted Bulgarian seasonal workers, making the land available for caravans, the multi-purpose room for lodging, and the cottages for rental. She told us that on various occasions she had hosted up to 60 Bulgarian seasonal workers during the peak melon-picking season in August.

Figure 7. Trajectory of a reception place and its forms of cohabitation

Figure 7. Trajectory of a reception place and its forms of cohabitation

39At the Côte d'Auray holiday village, the accommodation of these seasonal agricultural workers was somewhat problematic in terms of cohabitation with family holidaymakers. Consequently, in 2018, Viviane chose to focus solely on seasonal workers, and thus to abandon the challenging activity of hosting both the latter and tourists (Figure 7). This strategic decision made all the more sense since tourism had been in decline in the region since the early 2010s and the place was struggling to renew its clientele. The offer then shifted towards the rental of cottages to foreign seasonal workers, in the form of short-term contracts (a few days to a few weeks). In addition to these rentals to transient workers, Viviane also rented one of the cottages on a yearly basis to a young Bulgarian couple and their friends. This localised experience illustrates the intersecting changes resulting from the evolution of a local context, the practices of seasonal farmers, and the economic opportunities that these presences generate.

40In this shifting context, Viviane's management skills shed light on the way in which local actors adapt their activities to changes in international migration. In this specific case, the decline in tourism has been compensated for by the longer stays of seasonal workers, whose presence is a sort of ‘déjà vu’ that Viviane has successfully dealt with over the course of the seasons and calls to gradually ‘ensure’ the economic sustainability of the reception place.

2.2.3 An attempt to graft in a cosmopolitan place

41The changes that have occurred in the Côte d'Auray holiday village also have to do with the recent orientations of French migration policy, especially in terms of the reception and placement of asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors in low density areas. In a context of a shortage of accommodation places in urban spaces, Viviane decided to use her professional expertise as a family assistant to help, for a summer, several minors without accommodation in the neighbouring town (Figure 7). Following this experience, in 2018, within the framework of an agreement concluded with the Vienne Departmental Council, she decided to extend this care by opening 16 emergency reception places for minors awaiting an assessment of their situation. This radical conversion involved material and human investment in the site, so as to accommodate these youth and allow them to live in sufficiently autonomous conditions. In addition to an existing employee, Viviane recruited trained staff to carry out socio-educational tasks (Figure 7).

42This response, to what Viviane calls 'a social demand', grafted an emergency reception model usually mobilised in the city onto an isolated rural space. In line with botanical principles whereby the success of a graft necessitates a pruning of the most fragile branches of a plant, here, in order to maximise its chances of success, Viviane decided to sacrifice a major part of the temporary accommodation for seasonal workers in order to switch to the reception of unaccompanied minors. The grafting of the emergency reception system rested on her fruitful previous experience caring for minors seeking protection but also in managing a collective living space. Though, in the reorienting her activity, Viviane chose to maintain a minimum level of accommodation for Bulgarian seasonal workers. This, added to the emergency reception financial settlement granted by the department, was meant to give her a certain level of economic security.

43This rural space thus emerges as a possible response for local towns facing political and institutional issues related to migration management (Przybyl, 2016). Here, a logic of spatial distribution of minors overlaps with a managerial logic of subcontracting a departmental responsibility to a private establishment. The intertwining of these two dynamics should not, however, be read solely as a vertical decision-making process originating from departmental services. Such an interpretation would obscure the internal needs of the Côte d’Auray holiday village, which, faced with an increasingly uncertain tourist flow, has made this partnership an opportunity to revitalise its activity.

2.2.4 Reasons for an aborted graft and a new response

44While Viviane's profile and the characteristics of her project seemed promising for the success of this grafting, certain challenges emerged. The location made it difficult to recruit competent staff, able to assist unaccompanied minors, as they often considered the place to be too isolated. Though the professionals initially in place ensured a start to the establishment’s conversion, breaches of contract early on prevented Viviane, beyond the material management of the centre, from putting together a sufficiently versatile team to carry out the mission of socio-educational support for the minors. In addition to these organizational difficulties, Viviane also faced problems in supporting the minors accommodated. Indeed, as part of their care, these young people are regularly summoned by child welfare services, located 45 minutes away from the site. This administrative practice thus required Viviane to travel frequently.

45Such urban-rural mobility issues are not specific to the Côte d'Auray. They can similarly be observed, for example, in a small neighbouring town where a reception centre for asylum seekers has been set up. Here too, distance makes it challenging to recruit staff and accompany exiles to the prefectures, medical appointments, etc. These situations highlight the limits of a grafting where institutional and managerial priorities are at odds with the geographical characteristics of the reception area. The grafting is also weakened by changes in the broader context of unaccompanied minor reception. Viviane experienced first-hand the constraints of a system that was saturated not only in terms of emergency support but also the reception of protected youth. Though her mission was specifically to offer accommodation and social support, the lengthening of entry time into the system forced her to broaden her scope of action. In addition to her usual work, she began to accompany minors to their place of education. This extension of her tasks, without the expected financial compensation, raised concern over the sustainability of her conversion of the Côte d'Auray. The tariff conditions established in the agreement with the department further convinced her of the fragility of this grafting. The so-called emergency care she was providing was less well paid than a more permanent reception, while the long daily journeys, more numerous, and the multiplication of her duties had a considerable impact on the operating budget. It was when Viviane found herself with only six young people on her site, designed to accommodate sixteen, that she realised the impact of the variability of the placements made by the department on the economy of her structure.

46Variation in users, economic imperatives, recruitment difficulties, the lengthening of the period of care, and a feeling of exhaustion and fragmentation led Viviane to put an end to the conversion in early 2020 (Figure 7). As a final response to these ever-changing contexts, she ultimately decided to focus solely on hosting seasonal agricultural workers, with whom she is used to working and is familiar with the modes of operation. This solution reflects the importance of social capital in the ability of rural actors to make successive modifications within a short timeframe. In the space of two years, Viviane has thus transformed the Côte d'Auray numerous times by mobilising her own skills as well as those present on the site.

47In sum, while the Côte d’Auray may be a unique place at the local level, it reveals the intertwining of multiple dynamics in the reception of migrants. The now clear foreign presence has become an economic opportunity for the expression of a local entrepreneurship able to adjust to changing circumstances. Yet, while this example illustrates a form of vitality and capacity to adapt, it also reveals the great fragility of these grafts initiated from saturated models of care in urban areas. Finally, the local characteristics of the places where such grafting has been carried out have also meant a mobilisation of solidarity networks. Viviane has thus benefited throughout her conversion process from a local network of volunteers supporting minors. That said, the isolation and fragility of this reception meant that Viviane had to generate financial value before she could claim social value.

2.3. Rhizome, expression of the social morphology of solidarity networks

48Using Ariège as a starting point, in what follows we highlight yet another facet of the initiatives emerging in contemporary rural areas. Characterised by the singularity of its social morphology—notably the salient migratory experiences among its population of new residents—this space reveals, through a metaphorical rhizome, a third and final form of socio-spatial inscription of solidarity initiatives. Field observations revealed hierarchical ramifications and rhizomic links, which define ‘a discrete, separated view of space’ (Regnauld, 2012).

49Berthomière and Imbert (2020, §5), based on work conducted in this department—a place that stands out for the diversity of its social resources—point out ‘a great porosity between spheres of activity that interact within social networks made up almost entirely of people who are not natives of the department’. While the efficacy of these rhizomorphic structures lies in their capacity to act, they do, as we shall see, sometimes suffer from a lack of resource pooling. Using the creation of a contemporary art cooperative as an entry point, we show the performativity of solidarity initiatives that often spontaneously unfold in this department.

2.3.1 Ariège: an embodiment of rural cosmopolitanism

50Of the areas considered here, the Ariège Pyrenees is the least populated, but has the greatest diversity of nationalities. While the most represented nationalities differ very little across the three places, Ariège stands out for the strong presence of Eastern European citizens as well as the relatively large number individuals from the Americas (Figure 4).

51An area thus emerges whose characteristics evoke, like the Irish small towns described by M. Woods (2018), a rural cosmopolitanism. If this notion is certainly relevant here and the increase in international mobility has undeniably had an impact on rural towns and villages, in the case of the Ariège this diversification has (unlike the Irish case) transpired since the early the 20th century. The cosmopolitanism in Ariège is the result of the accumulation of several migratory periods: the arrival of Italians in the 1920s and 1930s, Spanish refugees from the Retirada, North Africans and Portuguese in the 1950s and 1970s, the Europeans and North Americans of the first hippy waves in the 1970s, and asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe in the 1990s and 2000s.

52This rural cosmopolitanism is all the more pronounced in that the diversification of the population is also due to post-1970 waves of French neo-rurals who have settled in Ariège. The large majority of such individuals made this move after their travels abroad.

53Following a period of strong natural decline since the 1960s and 1970s, this diversification dynamic has translated into a sort of ‘rural renaissance’ (Kayser, 1990; Chevalier, 2011). This has largely been based on maintaining agricultural activity and developing non-agricultural initiatives, notably by relying on Ariège environmental capital. This capital (Tommasi et al., 2017) has been a significant draw for French and foreign populations involved in business projects that mobilize a variety of skills.

2.3.2 ‘Neos’ of international trajectories, reflection of an urban-rural flow of capital

54These new residents, commonly described as ‘neos’, largely consist of skilled French whose settling in Ariège forms part of easily identifiable individual and family trajectories. Interviewees described their presence in Ariège as a longing to leave an alienating urban life, a career shift to the countryside, or a desire to put down roots after spending time abroad where they had experienced living in a rural environment. A personal history of international mobility, of varying length and occurrences, is the common denominator that links these new French residents to the international migrants settled in Ariège.

55In Ariège, the foreign ‘neos’, like the French 'neos', typically have a high level of cultural capital: 47% have at least a high school education (baccalauréat), compared to 34% of the population as a whole.20 The anchoring of groups of educated foreigners unfolds across an extremely diverse terrain, whose unity lies in its interstitial position between two major thoroughfares: the upper reaches of the Ariège and Garonne valleys. Yet, the living conditions of the isolated and perched Pyrenean hamlets, sometimes cut off from electricity and water supply networks, and where no market gardening is possible, are radically different from those that prevail in villages on the plains and hills further north in the area, caught up in the periurban growth of Toulouse. Whereas in the Pyrenees hamlets, the neo’s projects tend to be oriented towards residential tourism and agro-pastoralism, in the plains and hillsides, they are more frequently active in market gardening and horticulture. That said, these tend to be farms of smaller surface area than those encountered in the Loudunais and the Périgord, and are more likely to utilize a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) type of additional labour than to turn to seasonal workers. This latter area is also more conducive to creative professions (publishing, business consultancy, well-being economy, cf. Herslund, 2012), which benefit from the amenities of a remote countryside but also the nearby Toulouse metropolis. More generally, this rural entrepreneurship, in which a significant share of European and French migrants engage, impacts the employment structure: 30% non-salaried jobs in this area,21 a rate that is even higher for foreigners.22

56The convergence of these life paths, which sees a transfer of human capital—strongly enriched by experiences of international mobility—from the cities to the countryside, gives this rural area a marked multicultural and cosmopolitan quality. Moreover, the presence of such migratory dynamics extends as far as the upper reaches of the Ariège and Garonne valleys, making these outskirts far from lifeless or inactive (see also Depraz 2017). Indeed, fieldwork revealed local innovations and novel initiatives, sustained by the importance and diversity of the capital borne by the ‘neos’.

  • 23 Source: INSEE, SIRENE directory, April 2020 base.

57Ariège also stands out relative to the other two study areas in the volume of new establishments in the arts and entertainment sector (Figure 5). Over the period of 2002-2008, the number of business creations multiplied significantly, though they have since regularly diminished. Put differently, the number of new establishments annually is now slightly less than 10, but it more than doubled between 2002 and 2008 (from 15 to 40). Moreover, this volume in 2008 was twice as high as that in the Périgord, and almost three times as high as in the Loudunais.23

  • 24 On this topic, mention should be made of the first edition of the National Meetings on Culture and (...)
  • 25 See the website:

58At the European level, numerous cultural enterprises are being established in the rural world,24 ranging from the more conventional (eco-museums, cultural bars) to the more unconventional. The Inland project,25 developed by Fernando García-Dory and bringing together artists, craftsmen and farmers, is one of the most successful examples.

59Beyond classic forms of tourist reception, more complex sorts of entrepreneurship have emerged, including the Marbret Cooperative created by Jules and Cécile; a French couple who decided to retire to the Volvestre hillsides. In what follows, we more closely examine this unique initiative, which began with the mobilisation of professional experience to develop an artists' residence, and was then extended to include the reception of refugees.

2.3.3 An inadequate set of scales or the setbacks of an entrepreneurial dynamic

60Settled on a property acquired in 2017 located about fifty kilometres from Toulouse, the young retirees’ initial idea was to develop cultural resources, acquired over the course of an expat life devoted to the world of the Arts. Based on their careers within the diplomatic cooperation and cultural action network of the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, they sought to create an artists' residence of an African slant, given the countries where they had spent time abroad.

61Jules and Cécile's professional experience also guided them in their choice of location. The property they acquired allowed for the development of different residency spaces for the artists hosted, as well as a workshop equipped for wood and metal work, an exhibition room (180m2) and a range of guest rooms for art lovers. The Marbret Cooperative has been able to gain local and international visibility by receiving artists selected for biennials of contemporary African art. Seven sculptors or visual artists from Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and South Africa have already benefited from several months of artist residency.

62Encouraged by the success of this cultural enterprise, Cécile and Jules decided to develop a farm on the estate. Driven by humanist values, they chose to make this project a hospitality endeavour, by proposing to host a family of Syrian refugees. The mobilisation of a network of personal relations, developed during their careers within the senior civil service, facilitated the birth of this venture.

  • 26 Prefect in charge of the coordination mission for the reception of Syrian and Iraqi refugees with t (...)
  • 27 The professional experience of the project initiators led them to participate (two team members) an (...)
  • 28 In the commune of Victor, another farm similarly benefited from the support of the ADEAR 09. Now an (...)

63The first of these connections was the ‘Prefect for Refugees’,26 an acquaintance of the couple, who helped identify a farming family in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon.27 The couple was then assisted in getting set up in agriculture by the Haute-Garonne departmental council, which sent an agrarian counsellor living in the commune, as well as mobilised the Association for the development of agricultural and rural employment in Ariège (ADEAR 09).28 The association, part of the Confédération Paysanne (a French agricultural union), nominated among its members Victor, an ‘adviser’ farmer, to help. This retired sheep farmer ended up playing a much more important role than he initially excepted. Indeed, in helping to settle the refugees, he provided almost daily accounting and material assistance (ploughing, clearing brush, fencing, etc.). In addition, the farm was financially supported by a free loan obtained by the Solidarité laïque collective, supplemented in January 2018 by a successful crowdfunding operation for the purchase of a small utility vehicle so that the Syrian farmer could travel to the village in the absence of a driving licence. Finally, spontaneous mutual aid was an important contributor, notably the donation of livestock (sheep and poultry) by neighbouring farmers or members of the Confédération Paysanne.

64Additional support was also provided to help the family socially integrate. This included assistance on the part of a social worker from the Haute-Garonne Departmental Council, a translator paid by the same Council and a second volunteer translator (a retired Syrian academic), as well as the provision of clothing and household equipment by private individuals. The setting up of a school bus stop for the refugees’ children further attests to the Cooperative’s capacity to act. Finally, likely a product of a habitus inherited from their professional know-how, Jules and Cécile were able to mobilise the local and national press in order to publicise the project and generate a surge of solidarity among the local population.

65Yet, in February 2018, despite all the steps taken, the project came to a halt, just six months after the Syrian family had arrived. According to interviews with Cécile, Jules and Victor, the family was having difficulty adjusting to the sudden change of place and coping with trauma related to the Syrian conflict. They ultimately expressed the feeling that their desired family project was not one of farming, which isolated them from an urban or village environment. Beyond these psychological elements, the fieldwork conducted suggests additional explanatory factors: the context of the family's recruitment and the difficulty of realistically evaluating the proposal from a refugee camp in the Middle East, as well as the lack of knowledge of the quality of the land and the work required to develop it.

2.4 The rhizome or the strength of an ‘acentric, non-hierarchical and non-significant system’

66In the Ariège case, the entrepreneurial dynamics described underscore the importance of sufficiently structured social capital for achieving such a cultural and humanistic objective. Yet, our field observations also suggest that the prestige of social status and privileged access to institutional networks in no way guarantees the success of the enterprise.

67A closer look at this project allows us to better understand exactly what happened. To begin, the mobilisation of strong links with external actors gave the project an ‘above ground’ dimension. That is, the vertical nature of the actions taken by Jules and Cécile in effect distanced them from a group of associations and collectives constituting a loose, non-hierarchical network of solidarity actors, which had developed across the Arize and Lèze valleys and in Couserans with the ‘migration policy crisis’ of 2015.

  • 29 According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ‘resettlement is the transf (...)

68While activating channels tied to the social capital of its bearers, this individual initiative took place in a local environment that was actually already very involved in the reception of exiles (the Carla-Bayle CADA [accommodation centre for asylum seekers] and the reception of families of rejected asylum seekers). Cécile and Jules only partially used resources that were close to them—for example, Victor's wife belongs to an association that supports families in the CADA—and when doing so, turned more to those of the neighbouring department. The priority given to activating more institutional networks to find an exiled farming family conceivably deprived the Marbret Cooperative of the resources of a local asylum support network. That said, this project, only recently established in the region, did not have the same intervention timeframe as that of the local solidarity associations. Specifically, its viability could only be achieved through the settling of a family with a stabilised legal status (hence the search for a family involved in a resettlement process).29 Meanwhile, local association activities essentially focus on people waiting for international protection or whose claims have been refused.

69It should be noted that all the protagonists here were critical of the asylum procedure timeframe (on average more than a year). Indeed, it is incompatible with the economy of a settlement project such as that described here and is denounced by all the exile support associations. They point out that it reduces the chances of success of territorial development projects in low-density areas, where every opportunity to settle new families is seen as a rare and precious resource.

  • 30 The 100 for 1 scheme was initiated in Touraine by Emmaus and is based on the principle of a monthly (...)

70Local associations meanwhile include the ‘Collective Volvestre’, (Figure 8) located not far from the Marbret Cooperative, created with the aim of supporting exiles, particularly Syrians. This collective has garnered visibility through the organisation of film-debates around the theme of international solidarity, as well as by the setting up of an information stand at the commune’s weekly market. The local nature and diversity of the socio-economic profiles of its members has facilitated the development of connections and initiatives in support of exiles. The Volvestre collective has collaborated with organizations that assist migrants, such an international solidarity NGO. This same NGO also works with the Couserans Association for the Reception of Refugees and Migrants (Association Couserannaise pour l'Accueil des Réfugiés et des Migrants - ACARM 09) based in Saint-Girons, whose members are spread out across Couserans (western half of the Ariège department) and include second-home working individuals and retirees. In addition to these activities, a 100 for 1 Roof30 scheme was initiated in the lower Ariège valley by members of the Emmaus’s departmental branch (Figure 8). These collectives and associations work quickly, taking advantage of their complementarities and the varied skills of their volunteers (accommodation for rejected asylum seekers, French lessons, material support, lodging search, legal support, help with transportation, cultural and leisure activities, etc.).

Figure 8. From the CADA to the Marbret Cooperative

Figure 8. From the CADA to the Marbret Cooperative

71Interviews conducted with the group of actors more or less directly connected to the Marbret Cooperative project reveal that a lack of awareness of these local solidarity networks hampered its undertaking. Indeed, introducing the project to exiles housed at the Carla-Bayle CADA via the local associations and collectives collaborating with the centre's team of social workers might have led to a reformulation of the project's intervention, based on an apprenticeship in agricultural operations and practices in Couserans.

  • 31 See the article (in French) ‘Des arbres fruitiers plantés pour s'implanter’, La Dépêche (a regional (...)

72Many of these local initiatives are, in fact, converging around the idea of integrating exiles ‘through the land’. One example is the Diversités Association created in 2015 by professionals and volunteers connected with the CADA in Carla-Bayle, with the aim of forging ties with local farmers.31 Here we observe social capital drawn from rhizomorphic links, which in interaction convert their heterogeneity into a capacity to act. For instance, it was thanks to the information stand set up at the Montbrun Bocage market that Nicolas—a thirty-year-old ‘neo’ who had decided to go into organic beekeeping after having travelled extensively abroad—was recruited. At the picnics regularly organised by the collective to encourage interactions with the exiles housed at the CADA and help with their social integration, Nicolas met a member of the Diversités Association, who asked if he would be willing to host a person awaiting a decision on their refugee claim on his farm once a week. Such ‘hostings’ offer the exile an opportunity to integrate and learn about agricultural activities from production to marketing, and more generally provide exposure to exercising a profession in the rural world (Figure 8).

73In Ariège, there are thus different modes of action at work, mobilising distinct networks. If the efforts of Jules and Cécile are based on institutional networks, the rhizomatic nature of the networks observed in the vicinity of the Marbret Cooperative indicate the formation of a small solidarity world, asserting itself as one of the proponents of rural entrepreneurship. More broadly, while the trajectory of Cécile and Jules and that of Nicolas are comparatively quite different in terms of capital mobilisation, they both highlight an ability to act based on solidarity values.


74This article highlights the diversity of forms of foreign presence in low-density French rural areas through an approach that combines the quantitative processing of public statistics data and the qualitative investigation of local initiatives observed in three study areas.

75Activities involving the foreign presence in the French countryside, whether carried out by the foreigners themselves or meant to ensure their reception, are considered here as forms of rural entrepreneurship. We describe these initiatives using metaphors borrowed from horticulture. Specifically, ‘marcottage’ in Dordogne, ‘rhizome’ in Ariège and ‘grafting’ in Vienne reflect distinct modalities of development and diffusion of the initiatives, as well as reveal their varying degrees of anchorage to the area. Despite their great diversity, these types of entrepreneurship share the fact that they are situated within the domain of foreign reception in rural areas. This sometimes occurs through a specific activity (agriculture in Dordogne as an economic activity that anchors foreigners to the place), sometimes through the creation of services for their integration, support, emergency or more permanent reception (the Côte d’Auray and the Marbret Cooperative).

76The three cases discussed show how the foreign presence contributes to maintaining activities or converting others. The Périgord case illustrates the renewal of a traditional rural activity—agriculture—with the arrival of foreigners who engage not only in the development of a new sector (market gardening), but also in the establishment of the farm as a social and welcoming place. The case of the Côte d'Auray shows the conversion of a touristic holiday village into a place of accommodation for seasonal agricultural workers and then for unaccompanied minors. Finally, that of the Marbret Cooperative reveals the development of new forms of reception based on a combination of artistic and agricultural activities. These different initiatives thus lie at the intersection between classic entrepreneurship linked to amenity migration and the social and solidarity economy sector. International migration dynamics contribute to the emergence of new forms of rural entrepreneurship based on a desire for social justice, thus constituting a ‘response, based on proximity, to problems experienced directly by empowered citizens' (Boncler and Hlady Rispal, 2004). The initiatives studied here highlight the conditions necessary for the emergence of such processes in rural areas, the investment in which depends on the convergence of human capital and economic resources.

77The descriptive stance adopted throughout this article underlines the importance of local contexts and opportunities (housing, land, etc.). The dynamics observed are often the result of the settlement of people from outside the area or those who have travelled before returning to their rural origins, through internal or international migration. They bring with them different types of capital gained in previous professional, social and migratory experiences. The trajectories through which certain initiatives emerge thus provide another window onto the urban-rural relationship, expressed both in the motivations of individuals to settle (which often take the form of a rejection of urban life), and in the resources invested. These mobilise economic, relational and professional capital, accumulated in the city and reinjected into the rural enterprise. Migration, whether it be from the city to the countryside, or international, allows to ‘introduce or displace human resources’ (Stockdale, 2006) in areas that are sometimes in demographic decline and therefore potentially losing human capital. The anchoring of foreigners in the countryside can therefore be seen as a real prospect for endogenous development that enhances rural resources by relying on local territorial configurations.

78Finally, these initiatives, more or less novel in relation to the context in which they are implemented, are situated at a three-way crossroads between migration, entrepreneurship and innovation. Thus, the Côte d'Auray innovates in the type of activity proposed in the isolated rural area of the Loudunais; the foreign neo-farmers in Dordogne innovate in participating in the creation of a new market gardening sector, and alternative ways of selling, producing and conceiving the traditional farm. The Marbret Cooperative, for its part, innovates in its unique format and the type of artistic activity offered. In all three cases, innovation is stimulated by the meeting of people foreign to the area, who become actors in its emergence.

79Does this mean that innovation is synonymous with the particularity of initiatives involving the reception of foreigners in the countryside? On the contrary, our investigation leads us to believe that the foreign presence is but one facet among others of the dynamics of change in rural areas. Notably, we observe a diversification of the sociological profiles of these territories. The initiatives described reflect, in turn, the multiplication of modes of foreign settlement in the rural context. In response to the diversification of nationalities observed at the beginning of this article, a proliferation of activities either welcome or anchor them. This suggests that a normalisation of the foreign presence is at work in rural areas. Though, far from being new, this process forms part of relatively long-standing trends in the areas concerned: sociological changes in agricultural, the arrival of neo-rurals and exiles, the development of tourism.

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1 The research programme ‘The French Countryside in International Migration Dynamics’ (Les campagnes françaises dans la dynamique des migrations internationales - CAMIGRI) has benefitted from financial support from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) and the Nouvelle Aquitaine region

2 ‘Very small enterprises’ is a term used in France for businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

3 In reference to the title of a travelling show in France by an Ariege neo-farmer recounting the experiences of his initiatory trips to meet ‘traditional’ rural farmers of Eurasia.

4 The general framework of the global hypothesis can be explored through statistical data, which at the national level reveals the increase and diversification of foreigners in rural areas. In addition, verifying the statistical visibility of dynamics observed in the field through data that 'record' the presence of actors (census and administrative data) reveals to what extent this presence has been institutionalised (through a main residence or business creation), and therefore to establish length of existence and scale.

5 Other statistical sources are used to study specific dimensions of the foreign presence. For example, PERVAL data for real estate transactions in the study areas, according to the nationalities of buyers and sellers; or data from the French NGO La Cimade, or the French agency in charge of immigration and integration (Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration - OFII) (Berthomière et al., 2021)

6 This work benefited from government funding managed by the Agence nationale de la Recherche within the ‘Investing for the Future’ programme (ANR-10-EQPX-17; Secure Data Access Centre - CASD). This system allows to access detailed population census files containing information on the individual characteristics of each resident since 1968, including nationality and country of birth.

7 There are, however, some limitations in terms of measuring the foreign presence using the census. It is generally carried out at the beginning of the year, which means that seasonal workers, particularly agricultural labourers, who may be present in France for more than half the year, are not always counted. Furthermore, as people are only counted in their main residence, the foreign population present at least part of the year in a secondary residence is not counted either.

8 The law limits the publication of results on nationalities to geographical areas with at least 5,000 inhabitants. In order to give priority to the reality of the data collected when analysing sparsely populated areas, we also chose to primarily use the main processing of the population census, which contains all the information collected.

9 The statistical processing carried out within the framework of the CAMIGRI program is based on a specific definition of rural areas which, in addition to accounting for the legal constraints in the analysis of foreign populations, is the result of theoretical (cf. a definition of rural that includes the small towns that structure rural areas) and methodological (cf. only communes with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants as they were exhaustively surveyed) considerations. Ultimately, we selected all EPCIs (public programmes of intercommunal cooperation) of the “community of communes” type (communauté de communes – a federation of municipalities (communes)) located in mainland France, whose most populous commune counted fewer than 10,000 inhabitants in the 2010 and 2015 censuses.

10 The Pays Loudunais Community of Communes (communauté de communes) includes 45 communes and 7 associated communes (commune associée) located in the northern part of the Vienne department, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.

11 The northern part of the department of Dordogne, in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, is called the Périgord Vert (Green Perigord). This study area includes the following Communities of Communes: Périgord Nontronnais, Périgord-Limousin and Isle Loue Auvezere en Périgord.

12 Ariège is a department in southwestern France, in the Occitanie region, in the heart of the Pyrenees chain. This study area includes the following Communities of Communes: Arize-Leze and Couserans-Pyrenees.

13 France’s national identification register of enterprises and their local units (National Directory for the Identification of Companies and their Establishments; Répertoire National d’Identification des Entreprises et de Leurs Établissements -SIRENE). SIRENE records the vital data of enterprises (such as activities, number of employees, and legal status).

14 These statistical portraits are available (in French) at:

15 The lifestyle farmer is a neo-farmer who goes into agriculture to fulfil a life project. Migration from the city to the countryside, whether internal or international, allows to achieve this life change. This concept differs from that of gentlemen farmers (Sutherland, 2012), or individuals of urban origin with significant economic capital, who buy agricultural land for residential purposes, to practice farming as a hobby. This leads to a process of gentrification, where migration to the countryside is motivated by an agricultural lifestyle. The use of agricultural land is recreational, in contrast to lifestyle farmers who practice a form of commercial farming.

16 These remarks are based on fieldwork conducted between 2018 and 2020, including interviews with 15 foreign farmers in market gardening and livestock farming in the Périgord Vert, farm visits, interviews with agricultural support organisations (unions, Chamber of Agriculture, AgroBio Périgord), and observations of markets and direct sales venues.

17 Human capital is understood here as the knowledge and skills possessed by an individual (Stockdale, 2006).

18 The names and locations cited in this article have been changed to ensure the anonymity of the respondents and the places in which they have settled.

19 Unaccompanied minors are third-country nationals under the age of 18 who are on French soil in the absence of their legal representative. Given their isolation and the situation of danger in which they find themselves, they are entitled to special care from the State in the name of respect for children’s rights enshrined in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. In France, this support is provided by the departments as part of their child protection duties.

20 Source: Insee, 2014, MIGCOM file.

21 See the statistical portraits at:

22 According to data from the 2014 MIGCOM file on residential migration, the number of foreign-born workers who are self-employed or employers is approximately 400 in the two Ariège EPCIs (public programmes of intercommunal cooperation). This in a context characterised by a total population of 40,000 and a total number of foreigners of 1,900 in 2015.

23 Source: INSEE, SIRENE directory, April 2020 base.

24 On this topic, mention should be made of the first edition of the National Meetings on Culture and Rural Communities, co-organised by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Territorial Cohesion, in partnership with the Rural Network, on June 29, 2018 at the CGET in Paris, introduced by the rural specialist Claire Delfosse. See, also her 2003 thesis, as well as the article by Emmanuelle Bonerandi and Camille Hochedez (2007), building on Thiérache.

25 See the website:

26 Prefect in charge of the coordination mission for the reception of Syrian and Iraqi refugees with the Director General for Foreigners in France (2015-2017).

27 The professional experience of the project initiators led them to participate (two team members) and generally follow the discussions at the symposium 'Migrations and the rural environment: better understand to act', organised by the CIVAM network (Centres d'Initiatives pour Valoriser l'Agriculture et le Milieu rural) and held on the 8th and 9th of June 2017.

28 In the commune of Victor, another farm similarly benefited from the support of the ADEAR 09. Now an ‘Access to Land’ farm, it pioneered biodynamic farming in the region. Founded in the 1980s by Swiss and Dutch individuals, it is strongly linked with international migration, not least because of the associated alternative primary school, whose pupils come from a wide range of countries, including Japan and Thailand. Despite the hour and a half drive from the Toulouse metropolis, the school has attracted various foreign families settled in the region looking for alternative and 'international' educational offers.

29 According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ‘resettlement is the transfer of refugees from one asylum country to another State, that has agreed to admit them and ultimately grant them permanent residence’ (Source: In 2016, France pledged to receive 10,000 Syrian resettled refugees over four years.

30 The 100 for 1 scheme was initiated in Touraine by Emmaus and is based on the principle of a monthly contribution from 100 people allowing to finance housing for people in precarious situations.

31 See the article (in French) ‘Des arbres fruitiers plantés pour s'implanter’, La Dépêche (a regional daily newspaper), published on 27 November 2015.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Distribution of foreign nationals in the rural areas of mainland France
Fichier image/jpeg, 388k
Titre Figure 2. Change over time in the weight of foreign nationals in rural metropolitan France
Fichier image/png, 106k
Titre Figure 3. Foreigners by nationality groups in Western France
Légende Made by Pierre Pistre; Designed by Julie Fromentin and Pierre Pistre. CAMIGRI research, 2021.
Crédits Source: Insee, 1975, 1999, 2008, 2015 population censuses (main processing)
Fichier image/png, 48k
Titre Figure 4. Nationalities in the areas under study
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Titre Figure 5. Change over time in the creation of legal units (SIRENE) in key sectors at the national level and in the study areas
Fichier image/png, 155k
Titre Figure 6 - From dairy farming to market gardening: the establishment networks of foreign neo-farmers in the Périgord Vert
Fichier image/png, 127k
Titre Figure 7. Trajectory of a reception place and its forms of cohabitation
Fichier image/png, 158k
Titre Figure 8. From the CADA to the Marbret Cooperative
Fichier image/png, 187k
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William Berthomière, Julie Fromentin, Camille Hochedez, Christophe Imbert, David Lessault, Pierre Pistre et Sarah Przybyl, « Foreign presence in the Southwest French countryside. Contribution of recent initiatives to the social and economic diversification of rural areas », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Espace, Société, Territoire, document 995, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2022, consulté le 29 novembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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William Berthomière

Directeur de recherche CNRS, UMR 5319 PASSAGES, France.

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Julie Fromentin

Docteure en géographie, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques, France.

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Camille Hochedez

Maître de conférences en Géographie, Université de Potiers, UMR 7301 MIGRINTER, France.

Christophe Imbert

Professeur de Géographie, Université de Rouen-Normandie, UMR 6266 IDEES, France.

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David Lessault

Chargé de recherche CNRS, UMR 6590 ESO, France.

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Pierre Pistre

Maître de conférences en géographie, Université de Paris, UMR 8504 Géographie-cités, France.

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Sarah Przybyl

Post-doctorante, Université de Poitiers, UMR 7301 MIGRINTER, France.

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