Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilDossiers110-2Agroecology in the Limousin Mount...

Agroecology in the Limousin Mountains: Relocating and Diversifying Food Production to Encourage Employment and Conserve Semi-Natural Spaces

Nathan Morsel et Nadège Garambois
Cet article est une traduction de :
L’agro-écologie en Montagne limousine : une production alimentaire plus diversifiée et relocalisée, au service de l’emploi et de la préservation des espaces semi-naturels [fr]


Caractérisée dans les années 1950 par une agriculture de polyculture polyélevage, tournée avant tout vers la consommation locale, la Montagne limousine s’est depuis spécialisée dans l’élevage bovin naisseur pour la production de broutards destinés à l’exportation, rompant presque tout lien entre agriculture et système alimentaire local. La recherche d’accroissement de la productivité physique du travail a parallèlement conduit à l’abandon massif des écosystèmes pastoraux de la Montagne — les landes et les tourbières. Depuis près de 10 ans et à rebours de ces dynamiques, un petit groupe d’éleveurs a développé des systèmes agro-écologiques, mettant au centre de l’alimentation de leurs troupeaux le pâturage des végétations spontanées de la Montagne limousine. Répondant aux enjeux des transitions agro-écologique et alimentaire, ces systèmes agro-écologiques pâtissent pourtant des standards des filières habituelles, inadaptés à leurs produits, ce qui a conduit ces éleveurs à se tourner vers les circuits courts et des débouchés plus locaux. Ces derniers présentent néanmoins leurs limites, et invitent à une collaboration plus étroite entre éleveurs et bouchers, et à une réflexion sur les enjeux d’équité alimentaire dans les zones rurales en déprise comme la Montagne limousine.

Haut de page

Texte intégral


1Today, in the Global North, in support of a more sustainable food system, food transition is increasingly being considered in order to reconcile nutritional quality, equal access, and the conservation of ecosystems (Rastoin, 2018). Consequently, this transition appears to be more and more conceived as closely linked to the agro-ecological transition of agricultural production processes. Therefore, the definition of some key food transition concepts, such as that of a territorialized food system, includes the use of agroecological principles (Rastoin, 2016). At the same time, research on agroecology, which focuses on the importance of agroecosystems’ biological processes and functionalities to reduce the use of synthetic inputs (Altieri, 1986), extends its analysis to the entire food system (Francis et al., 2013; Wezel et al., 2016). However, the combined deployment of these two transitions may be at odds with the structuring of both agricultural sectors and agricultural production systems, which are characterized by heavy investments and therefore by some degree of inertia (AAF, 2019). In addition, production from agro-ecological systems may not conform to the sectors’ standards, leading farmers in agro-ecological systems to seek other markets. A transformation of the food system, defined as “the way in which people organize themselves, in space and time, to obtain and consume their food” (Malassis, 1994), may then prove essential to support them.

2These transitions are a reaction to the limits of the current agricultural development model predominant in the North since the 1950s. It is characterized by inter- and intra-regional specialization and an unprecedented increase in physical labor productivity, thanks to the increased use of synthetic inputs and the ever-growing capacity of motorized equipment (Mazoyer and Roudart, 1997; Devienne, 2019). In mountain areas, the prevailing mixed crop livestock systems disappeared in favor of specialized livestock production. Some of these regions, having less favorable agricultural production conditions to implement this technical revolution and increase production, were able to base their development on high added-value production (mostly dairy and cheese production) (Martin et al., 2014), often associated with the development of tourism (Mollard and Pecqueur, 2007). These two factors helped maintain agricultural jobs and a thick rural fabric, consequently slowing down landscape closure, even if these quality productions often only marginally feed local food systems. On the other hand, in other mountain regions, specialization in animal production with comparatively low added value led to a massive decline in agricultural employment. Thus, entire sections of ecosystems were abandoned and/or reforested. At the same time, the evolution of livestock management resulted in the underutilization or even abandonment of pastoral areas in order to concentrate herd feeding on motorized grasslands and distributed fodder (Hubert et al., 2010; Aubron et al., 2019; Garambois et al., 2020). In these territories, the decline in food production diversity has been combined with a massive rural exodus and deep landscape transformation. More studies are thus required to analyze the impact of both food and agro-ecological transitions on rural development.

3The Limousin Mountains (Figure 1) is emblematic of this agricultural dynamic. This small region in the north of the Massif Central has progressively specialized in suckling cattle breeding, with low value-added products mainly exported to Italy. In parallel, it was hit by a massive rural exodus and experienced heavy resinous forest growth. Today, these plantations account for the majority of the forests that occupy half of the region’s surface area. However, over the past ten years, a small group of breeders has progressively implemented agroecological production systems based on grazing in pastoral areas and mostly on short selling channels. This article aims to study the impact of these middle mountain agro-ecological systems on local agrarian dynamics and their link to local food systems. Likewise, it aims to understand both the central role of local consumption in these systems’ functioning and sustainability and its limits to be considered for their wider deployment.

Figure 1: Location of the study area

Figure 1: Location of the study area

source: Géoportail and APML; design: authors

  • 1 This doctoral thesis receives financial support from the Fondation de France
  • 2 This field work mobilized the agrarian diagnosis methodology (Cochet et al., 2007).
  • 3 A production system is characterized by a specific combination of cropping systems and livestock sy (...)

4As part of a doctoral thesis1, this research is rooted in a comparative agriculture approach (Cochet et al., 2007; Cochet, 2011), a discipline at the crossroads of agro-economics and rural geography. The scale of analysis is the small agricultural region, which is the most suited to measuring how the local food system is affected by both changes in agricultural production logics and agro-ecological systems. Based on a judgmental sample, 40 historical interviews and 60 techno-economic surveys were conducted in 2020 and 2021 with farmers in the Limousin Mountains2, complemented by interviews with local development actors. These surveys allowed us to better understand the evolution of this agrarian system and the connections between agricultural production and the local food system, as well as to study and compare the different current agricultural production systems’ production logics, economic results, and introduction into the food system3.

5First, the mechanisms that led to the Limousin Mountains’ strong specialization as well as its disconnection from local food systems are presented, in order to then better clarify the development of agroecological systems in the region and their effects in terms of sustainability. Lastly, the induced reconfiguration of the food system is considered.

The Limousin Mountains: From an Agropastoral System Based on Local Consumption to a Suckling Cattle Specialization Based on Long Channel Distribution

The 1950s Agrarian System: A Diversified Agriculture for Local Markets

6In the 1950s, farmers of the Limousin Mountains combined the cultivation of cereal and fodder vegetables for human consumption and to fatten animals with the breeding of cattle (veal calf and cheese production, draft power), sheep, and pigs, which were mostly slaughtered and sold in local agricultural fairs and towns. Ruminant herds depended strongly on feeding from moors and bogs, which then covered 70% percent of agricultural surface area, forests only making up barely 15% (Larrère, 1978). Cattle and sheep grazing kept landscapes open in this region with limited arable land. Agricultural products were reserved for farmers and local consumption, thanks to the Limousin fairs’ dynamism (Bognon et Marty, 2015).

The Mountains’ Specialization in Suckling Cattle Breeding for Long Channel Distribution

7Since then, deep shifts took place in the Limousin Mountains agriculture and landscapes. Unable to withstand competition with western France, pig breeding disappeared in the 1960s. Instead, farmers developed suckling sheep breeding in the 1970s, with lambs fattened in sheepfolds from then on. However, despite the creation of quality labels for this production, it nevertheless declined from the mid-1980s on as it is more labor-intensive than suckling cattle breeding and because of the unfavorable evolution of ovine meat prices. Suckling cattle breeding, which became the majority of production, also saw significant shifts in the 1970s. Namely, veal calves were progressively replaced by grazer calves or “broutards” (sold lean at 8–10 months old), whose production was less labor-intensive and at the time better paid. This product is now mainly exported to Italy, no longer passing through fairs in Limousin, as it has been inserted into long supply chains built by cooperatives and the meat industry (Bognon and Marty, 2015).

8The specialization in suckling cattle breeding, as well as increased herd size and animal weight due to the genetic selection adopted, led to a simplification of grazing practices. It also resulted in the abandonment of many moors and bogs, which slowly closed due to lack of maintenance, thus losing some of their ecological and landscape functions. A large part of the abandoned moors was planted with spruces and Douglas firs. These plantations make up the majority of the forests that today occupies more than half of the Limousin Mountains surface area. Breeders buy almost all the straw for bedding and concentrates for feeding their herds outside the region. They also strongly depend on synthetic input purchases, in particular fertilizers for grasslands and the few remaining cereal fields.

Strong Rural Decline and Agriculture Disconnected from Local Consumption

9The unfavorable evolution of grazer calf prices (compared to those of inputs and farm equipment, to which farmers have increasingly had to resort to) led to growing farm size and number of animals raised per worker, but also to the shutting down of all farms unable to keep up with these transformations. Our surveys show that over 70 years, physical labor productivity increased significantly, while the number of farms was ten times reduced, with an even greater decrease in the number of agricultural jobs. The forest, which for a few decades had been a source of income for farmers (e.g., setting up and maintaining plantations, harvesting ceps in young spruce plantations), is today exploited almost only thanks to specialized, motorized equipment (Palluet, 2019). The evolution of both agricultural and forestry sectors thus explains the population density of fewer than 10 inhabitants per km², which restricts local outlets (Figure 3).

10Today, the Limousin Mountains region is strongly dependent on grazer calf exports, a production low in intensive labor—and added value and which does not benefit from any quality label recognition. The region is thus reduced to a mere link in the chain of the supranational beef industry, subject to Italian demand and largely disconnected from local food systems. This specialization in the export of live animals contributed to accelerated closure of local slaughterhouses: after the one in Guéret in 2006 (the last one in Creuse), the one in Eymoutiers closed in 2007. The nearest slaughterhouse is now in Ussel, located 50 km from the Limousin Mountains, where cutting plants remain limited for farmers wishing to develop direct sales. Only a few cull cows are fattened, slaughtered in Ussel, and sold in the remaining independent local butcher shops and some supermarkets around the region.

Figure 2: Agrarian system in the Limousin Mountains at the end of World War II

Figure 2: Agrarian system in the Limousin Mountains at the end of World War II

Figure 3: Current dominant agrarian system in the Limousin Mountains

Figure 3: Current dominant agrarian system in the Limousin Mountains

11In contrast to these strong transformations, a pastoral redeployment has been underway for the last ten years in the Limousin Mountains, led by breeders, especially of suckling sheep (but sometimes also of small dairy ruminants). Most of them have been set up for less than 10 years on farms on the edge of the region with limited access to moto-mechanized land. To strengthen links between pastoralism actors, they created the Association for Pastoralism of the Limousin Mountains (APML) in 2019. As they want to limit their use of inputs and farm equipment, they chose to develop systems based on agroecological principles, with major economic and social effects.

Emergence of Agroecological Systems in the Limousin Mountains

A Different Production Logic: Making Use of Local Pastoral Resources

12In these agroecological systems, the feeding of flocks is based as much as possible on the grazing of pastoral areas in order to reduce the need for stored fodder and concentrated feed purchases, thus also reducing the need to buy fertilizers, amendments, seeds, and equipment. Most of the sheep breeders who set up these systems also try to fatten their lambs with only grazed resources. To achieve their objective, these farmers rely on the diversity of grazed ecosystems, particularly differences in seasonal growth and plants’ ability to keep their food value over time, in order to be grazed outside the peak growth period. The complementary use of the ecosystems allows their herds to graze sometimes throughout the year, alternating according to the season: permanent grasslands in spring and autumn, heather moors and forest fallow in winter, bogs and resinous underwood in summer.

13This logic implies systemic shifts in herd management: voluntary moderation of prolificacy, milk yield, and animal growth rate; choosing hardier animals that are better able to make use of woody plants; adaptation of animals’ (re)productive cycles to seasonal grazing resources. It implies new skills and strong changes in daily herd management. Indeed, if farmers manage the grazing of grasslands mostly with mobile fences, they hire shepherds or shepherd the flocks themselves to make them graze semi-natural areas.

A Brand-new Summer Transhumance Practice in the Limousin Mountains

14Because of the region’s density in moors and bogs, there are now seven Special Conservation Areas (SAC) and one Special Protection Area (SPA) in the Limousin Mountains, part of the Natura 2000 network managed by the Regional Natural Park (PNR) of Millevaches and the Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels (CEN) in the Limousin (now Nouvelle-Aquitaine). In the late 1990s, the CEN started to work on the restoration and maintenance of pastoral vegetation in the Limousin Mountains. Since then, it buys, or manages for private owners, parcels of moors and bogs, with the goal of fencing them off and renting them to breeders so that these areas, some of which had been abandoned for several decades, can be grazed by herds. Because of the difficulty of fencing off many of these sites (too fragmented, too wet, etc.), since the late 2000s part of this land has been rented to member breeders of the APML, who gather their sheep flocks there in summer, under the watch of a shepherd (who is either salaried or one of the breeders themselves). The management of the SPA by the PNR of Millevaches also facilitates the prospecting abandoned pastoral land, as the case leader has an “itinerant grazing” mission as part of his duties.

15Eight summer pasture areas (“estives”) were thus created on moors and bogs for suckling sheep flocks and small dairy ruminants. Flocks are guarded by a salaried shepherd hired by pastoral groups created for this purpose (in the case of suckling sheep) or by individual breeders (in the case of dairy ruminants). The hiring of shepherds was at first only financially supported by Agri-Environmental and Climatic Measures. Since the creation of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in 2016, this support is supplemented by regional aid initially created for the Basque Country. While contributing to the maintenance of these environments, this summer transhumance allows the APML breeders to increase the resources available for summer grazing in a context of increasingly frequent of droughts over the past few years.

Photos 1 and 2: Collective flock of the Pastoral Group of the Mille Sonnailles grazing moors and peatlands at the source of the Vézère (left) and resinous underwood at the source of the Vienne (right)

Photos 1 and 2: Collective flock of the Pastoral Group of the Mille Sonnailles grazing moors and peatlands at the source of the Vézère (left) and resinous underwood at the source of the Vienne (right)

photo credit: authors

Making systems more pastoral to create more wealth and agricultural jobs in the Limousin Mountains

16Table 1 presents the main characteristics of two of the most frequent suckling cattle production systems in the Mountains, compared with two agroecological systems set up on the region’s outskirts, all four identified thanks to our surveys.

Table 1: Selective illustration of production systems identified in the Limousin Mountains

Table 1: Selective illustration of production systems identified in the Limousin Mountains

source: surveys

  • 4 The net added value corresponds to production value (gross product) minus annual consumptions (seed (...)

17Our results show that thanks to a strong reduction of most cost items (purchase of inputs, feed, equipment costs, etc.), this agroecological logic allows for strengthening the creation of wealth rather than continuing to increase the volumes produced. Thus, these farmers favor economic labor productivity rather than physical labor productivity. Figure 4 shows the comparison with the suckling cattle systems that prevail in the Limousin Mountains. If the gross production per worker is two to three times lower in the agroecological system, the net added value4 per worker is two to three times higher (although it can be negative for some farms in the suckling cattle system). Farms in agroecological systems thus manage to generate a positive farm income per worker before the payment of subsidies, unlike the suckling cattle systems. If their total income (including subsidies) is lower per worker, it is because they receive less subsidies per farm job: 40 to 60% lower for the suckling sheep system, and five to seven times lower for the sheep and goat cheese system than suckling cattle systems.

  • 5 The agricultural income before subsidies corresponds to net added value minus land access cost (far (...)

Figure 4: Comparison of gross product, added value, and agricultural income before subsidies5, subsidies, and complete agricultural income per familial farm worker

Figure 4: Comparison of gross product, added value, and agricultural income before subsidies5, subsidies, and complete agricultural income per familial farm worker

design: authors; sources: surveys

18The gaps in subsidies awarded by production systems are mainly related to first pillar aid, paid per hectare. This system disadvantages farms that try to create more wealth per hectare in order to use less surface area per worker, thus trying to maintain a greater number of agricultural jobs. In addition, these agroecological systems, which depend more on the use of pastoral land, are not any better supported by second pillar aid. Most of this aid is also paid per hectare and therefore remains more favorable to farms with large areas per worker. The Compensatory Allowance for Natural Handicaps is paid without any strong requirement for the grazing of vegetation. The Agri-Environmental and Climatic Measures, which are supposed to support farms’ agroecological transition, have a very limited role in this case. Thus, of the dozen measures proposed in the Limousin Mountains, one alone account for more than 80% of the subsidies and surface areas awarded over the 2015–2020 period. Its specifications are indeed not very restrictive and allow all farms to sign up without changing their practices.

19If relying more on pastoral practices allows these agroecological systems to maintain more jobs in the Limousin Mountains, while still using certain natural ecosystems underutilized by other farms and thus contributing to the maintenance of landscapes in the region, their development also depends on other outlets for their products. Such outlets play a central role in the sustainability of these practices, while presenting certain limitations.

Direct Selling: Essential to Agroecological systems but Facing a Lack of Local Outlets

The Mismatch Between Sheep Meat Sector Standards and Pastoral Lambs

  • 6 Carcasses are classified according to European grid. The conformation (muscular development) is rat (...)
  • 7 Data from Ovins Berry Limousin (OBL): purchase grid 2021 from OBL for lambs, cull ewes and rams.

20In the Limousin Mountains, some suckling cattle farmers continue breeding suckling sheep and fattening their lambs only in sheepfolds with concentrated feed. They sell their lambs to two cooperatives, Lim Ovin or Ovin Berry Limousin (OBL), under Red Label Occitan Country Lamb or under the private brand Baronnet of Limousin. Both favor young lambs: Red Label refuses lambs older than 5 months; for the Baronnet brand, premiums are given for lambs younger than 6 months. Prices are also higher at two key periods—Easter and Christmas. In both cases, when slaughtered, lambs must reach a carcass weight of 18 kg (between 16 and 20 kg) and have conformation and fatness grades between U3 and R2, the best being U26, otherwise the price per kilo carcass will be heavily reduced7. These lambs are slaughtered in other departments, Lim Ovin having its own infrastructure in Bellac (Haute-Vienne) and OBL contracts in Cher, Indre and Lot.

21The pastoral lambs produced by farmers in agroecological systems do not correspond to these standards. First, they are usually Limousin breed lambs, whose conformation does not allow them to reach a U grade, even if fattened in a sheepfold with concentrated feed. Secondly, they are rarely slaughtered before 8 months old because their more pastoral diet implies a longer fattening period. They are generally judged to be less well-conformed and to have insufficient fat cover according to sheep meat sector standards. Finally, since most of them were born in spring and because of their fattening diet, their growth is more heterogeneous, so their slaughter rarely takes place during Christmas or Easter. Thus, most farmers in agroecological systems have had to give up selling their lambs in these channels, where their animals were refused or bought at a very low price. Regardless of farming type, the market is still not very profitable for cull ewes and wool, nor is it for cull goats and kids.

22In order to sell their non-standard products (lambs) and obtain a better price for those for which the market is limited (cull females, wool, kids), over the ten years since they established themselves, these farmers progressively developed their own outlets by turning to direct selling and short channels. These products respond to several major changes in consumption patterns: namely, a demand for better quality meat (Bonneau et al., 1996), since fattening from pasture provides a meat that is richer in unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins A and E, and iron (Duru et al., 2017). Another significant example is the consumer’s search for smaller portions of meat (Dockès et al., 2009) as their animals tend to be smaller than usual standards. However, establishing direct selling and short channels in the Limousin Mountains faces numerous difficulties because of its socio-geographic context.

Diversified Selling Channels but for Ever Further Deliveries

23The development of short channels has proven essential for the sustainability of these agroecological systems and the extension of these practices in the Limousin Mountains. In addition to selling lamb in meat boxes and processing ewes into merguez and pâtés, several sheep breeders have also developed the transformation of wool into felted products, as Limousin wool is not suitable for yarn production. Thus, they work with local craftspeople in Felletin where Lainamac is based, a training center for the wool professions created ten years ago.

24Nevertheless, farmers face the absence of a local slaughter structure: they must take their animals all the way to the Ussel or Limoges slaughterhouse, as the remaining cutting and processing plants are mostly in Haute-Vienne and Creuse. In addition, the Limousin Mountains region is characterized by a low population density and offers limited outlets. Farmers in an agroecological system sell part of their production locally (sheep meat, farm cheeses), either directly or through the rare grocery stores (such as the one in Tarnac), or in some restaurants around the Vassivière Lake. However, demand in the region still cannot absorb everything, despite a peak in market attendance during the summer vacations thanks to tourism. Created in 2009, the brand “Parc” remains for the moment limited to honey, berries, and cider. Despite the Regional Natural Park of Millevaches’s commitment to short channels with activity time devoted to the theme, there is still no Territorial Food Project covering the entire study area. Although one already exists in the Creuse department, it does not yet seem to have produced any concrete results. However, the program “De Village En Sonnailles” (From Village to Sheep Bells) led by the APML, partly financed by the PNR Millevaches and the Mixed Syndicate of Vassivière Lake, encourages better understanding of the specifics of these systems and their products through discovery outings for the general public.

25To balance low local consumption, farmers deliver within a perimeter of 80 km around the Limousin Mountains to supply producers or local product stores in the main cities of the Limousin region (Tulle, Limoges, and Brive). Some breeders also make deliveries to more distant cities, such as Paris, Toulouse, and Lyon, with increasingly long distances and additional investments (refrigerated boxes, etc.). The Chronofresh system makes it possible to deliver to faraway customers without having to make the trip but seems to be adapted only for already loyal customers able to pay for this additional service.

A Necessary Reconnection Between Breeders and Butchers

  • 8 Ratio of meat weight over carcass weight.

26Nonetheless, limited local demand does not alone explain why farmers in agroecological systems have to deliver meat all the way to Paris or Toulouse. Our surveys also show that these farmers work very little with local butchers. The butchers seem to have similar expectations to the cooperatives in terms of animals’ carcass weight, age at slaughter, fat cover and conformation in order to offer their customers standardized pieces of meat (Morsel, 2019). They also request to be supplied regularly throughout the year and that carcass yield be uniform8 from one lamb to the another, demands that are difficult to meet with a pastoral fattening method and hardy breeds. Animal husbandry remains largely unknown to butchers: lessons on this sector only take up one week out of the four years of training in butchery, with a single field visit. In the early 2000s, the Limousin Ewe Selection Organization had tried to set up a “Lamb of the Plateau de Millevaches” brand to promote the local breed and to better showcase the lambs. Due to a lack of support from local butchers, however, who preferred to buy lambs with better conformation in Haute-Vienne, the brand was dissolved a few years ago. Nevertheless, it shows how crucial a reconnection between these two sectors would be.

27As an endeavor to create more links between farmers and butchers, in 2019 the APML initiated a collaboration with one of the Apprentice Training Centre of Tulle’s butchery trainers: students discover meats from pastoral systems through cutting and comparative tasting sessions (in which farmers also participate) and visit some of the summer pasture areas (Photos 3 and 4). Another solution could be the relocation of slaughtering and cutting by the breeders, today supported by a project with the Meat Center of Bourganeuf in Creuse. It was initiated a few years ago by a group of breeders wishing to develop direct sales, and today most of the APML breeders take part in it. The Meat Center includes a small slaughter line (with a capacity of 10 cows per week) and cutting and processing rooms and should also serve as a relay for the marketing of meat products under the brand name “Viandes Paysannes”, especially to local communities. While the cutting and processing parts of the Meat Center are now operational, the slaughter line is yet to operate because of delays in equipment delivery and therefore certification. With its economic equilibrium weakened, the Meat Center, initially structured as a société par actions simplifiées (SAS) and owned by the breeders, was taken over in January 2022 by the company “C’est qui le patron”.

Photos 3 and 4 : Butcher students and sheep breeders participating in compared meat cutting and tastings (left) and summer pasture area visit

Photos 3 and 4 : Butcher students and sheep breeders participating in compared meat cutting and tastings (left) and summer pasture area visit

photo credit: authors

28All of these new selling channels suggest a possible broader reconnection of Limousin Mountains agricultural production systems with its local food system (Figure 5). However, the local food supply is still very centred on livestock production, with a significant fruit and vegetable deficit in due to the virtual absence of market gardeners.

Figure 5 : What are the impacts of agropastoral, agroecological systems on the Limousin Mountains agrarian system?

Figure 5 : What are the impacts of agropastoral, agroecological systems on the Limousin Mountains agrarian system?


29The agroecological, agropastoral systems of the Limousin Mountains allow the farmers who established them to strongly reduce their dependence on inputs and farm equipment. At the same time, they make use of the territory’s pastoral resources that were largely abandoned over the last decades. The systemic adaptation of production logics to the pedoclimatic conditions of this small region enables these farmers to respond to the challenges of the agroecological transition and contribute to the creation of wealth and agricultural jobs in the region. They achieve this despite the lower support they received from the current agricultural political context, with the exception of regional aids facilitating the hiring of salaried shepherds. These farms’ agricultural products, however, differ greatly from cooperatives’ and butchers’ standards, and in particular from the local quality labels’ and associated brands’ specifications. These farmers therefore developed other outlets in short channels to sell their products, though up against limited local demand. Without strong food policy measures in the region and closer collaborations with key local operators like butchers, today these farmers have no other choice but to seek more distant urban outlets. This phenomenon highlights not only food equity issues, but also the need to expand local outlets in order to catalyze a food transition that will amplify the agroecological transition initiated in this region.

Haut de page


Académie d’agriculture de France (AAF), 2019.– “Transition alimentaire : pour une politique nationale et européenne de l’alimentation durable orientée vers les consommateurs, les filières et les territoires”, Group work “Transition alimentaire, filières et territoires” (TAFT) started November 14th, 2017 and finished in september 2019.

Agreste, 2020.– “Consommation alimentaire – En France, la consommation de viande se modifie fortement entre 1960 et 2018”, Primeur, juin 2020, no 4.

Altieri M. A., 1986.– L’agroécologie. Bases scientifiques d’une agriculture alternative, Éditions Debard.

Aubron C., Latrille M., Lhoste V., 2019.– “Dynamiques agraires dans les Causses et Cévennes. Limites d’un développement centré sur l’accroissement de la productivité physique du travail et émergence d’alternatives”, in Aubron C., Garambois N. et Nozières Petit M.-O. (eds.) L’économie des régions agro-pastorales revisitée, Pastum hors-série, Association française de pastoralisme et Cardère éditeur, pp. 19–42.

Bognon S., Marty P., 2015.– “La question alimentaire dans l’action publique locale. Analyse croisée des trajectoires municipales de Paris et de Brive-la-Gaillarde”, Vertigo, vol. 15, no 2.

Bonneau M., Touraille C., Pardon P., Lebas F., Fauconneau B., Remignon H., 1996.– “Amélioration de la qualité des carcasses et des viandes”, dans Grosclaude F., Geay Y., Farce M.H. (eds.), “50 ans de recherches en productions animales”, INRAE Productions Animales, pp. 95–110.

Bouet G., Balabanian O., 1986.– “La forêt : une chance pour le milieu rural limousin?”, in Norois, no 130, pp. 249–256.

Conseil Économique Social et Environnemental, 2016.– “La transition agroécologique: défis et enjeux”, Avis du Conseil économique, social et environnemental sur le rapport présenté par Mme Cécile Claveirole, rapporteure au nom de la section de l’agriculture, de la pêche et de l’alimentation.

Cochet H., Devienne S., 2006.– “Fonctionnement et performances économiques des systèmes de production agricole: une démarche à l’échelle régionale”, Cahiers Agricultures, vol. 15, no 6, EDP Sciences, pp. 506–513.

Cochet H., Devienne S., Dufumier M., 2007.– “L’agriculture comparée, une discipline de synthèse?”, Économie rurale, nos 297–298, pp. 99–112.

Cochet H., 2011.– L’agriculture comparée, Éditions Quae.

Devienne S., 2019.– “Les révolutions agricoles contemporaines en France”, dans Chouquer G., Maurel M.-C. (dir.), Les mutations récentes du foncier et des agricultures en Europe, Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté.

Devienne S., Garambois N., Perrot C., Dieulot R., Depeyrot J.—N., 2018.– “Les exploitations d’élevage économes et autonomes, fortes créatrices de valeur ajoutée”, Analyse no 126, Centre d’études et de prospective, Ministère de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation.

Dockès A. C., 2009.– “Synthèse des entretiens auprès des associations et de la distribution”, Projet COSADD, document de travail, Institut de l’élevage, 16 p.

Duru M., Bastien D., Froidmont E., Graulet B., Gruffat D., 2017.– “Importance des produits issus de bovins au pâturage sur les apports nutritionnels et la santé du consommateur”, Fourrages, no 230, pp. 131–140.

ENGREF, 2005.– “Contributions de la forêt aux dynamiques territoriales du Parc naturel régional de Millevaches en Limousin”, report of the field study VAMS DLAT Engref Clermont-Ferrand, “Analyse spatiale pour le diagnostic et le projet de territoire” module, 8 p.

Francis C., Lieblein G., Gliessman S., Breland T. A., Creamer N., Harwood R., Salomonsson L., Helenius J., Rickerl D., Salvador R., Wiedenhoeft M., Simmons S., Allen P., Altieri M., Flora C., Poincelot R., 2013.– “Agroecology: The Ecology of Food Systems”, Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, vol. 22, no 3, pp. 99–118.

Garambois N., Aubron C., Morsel N., Latrille M., Jallot L., Lhoste V., 2020.– “At the limits of coexistence: development of inputs-saving systems in agro-pastoral regions”, Review of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Studies, vol. 101, no 2, pp. 311–337. DOI: <>.

Hubert B., Deverre C., Meuret M., 2011.– “Deux siècles de changement radicaux pour les parcours du Sud de la France”, dans Meuret M. (dir.), Un savoir faire des bergers, éditions QUAE, pp. 27–42.

Larrère R., 1978.– “Désertification ou annexion de l’espace rural? L’exemple du plateau de Millevaches”, Études rurales, no 71–72, Campagnes marginales, campagnes disputées, pp. 9–48.

Malassis L., 1994.– Nourrir les Hommes, Dominos-Flammarion, Paris, 110 p.

Martin B., Lherm M., Béranger C., 2014.– “Evolutions et perspectives de l’élevage de ruminants dans les montagnes françaises”, in Grosclaude J., Thivier M., Baumont R. (eds.), “Spécificités de l’élevage de ruminants en montagne”, INRA Productions Animales, vol. 27, pp. 5–16.

Mazoyer M., Roudart L., 1997.– Histoire des agricultures du monde, Éditions du Seuil.

Mollard A., Pecqueur B., 2007.– “De l’hypothèse au modèle du panier de biens et de services. Histoire succincte d’une recherche”, Economie Rurale, no 300, pp. 110–114.

Morsel N., 2019.– Engraisser et finir au pâturage des bovins et des ovins. Quels effets sur les qualités des viandes, étude menée pour la Fédération des CIVAM en Limousin, 124 p.

Palluet B., 2019.– “Pourquoi la forêt du Plateau de Millevaches s’attire les critiques et que faire aujourd’hui” l’Agora: Points de vue, Forestopic.

Rastoin J.-L., 2016.– “Les systèmes alimentaires territorialisés : enjeux et stratégie de développement”, Résolis, no 7, pp. 12–14.

Rastoin J.-L., 2018.– “Editorial. Accélérer la transition vers une alimentation durable par un changement de paradigme scientifique et économique et des politiques publiques innovantes”, Systèmes alimentaires/Food Systems, no 3, pp. 17–27.

Wezel A., Brives H., Casagrande M., Clément C., Dufour A., Vandenbroucke P., 2016.– “Agroecology territories: places for sustainable agricultural and food systems and biodiversity conservation”, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, vol. 40, no 2, pp. 132–144. DOI: <>.

Haut de page


1 This doctoral thesis receives financial support from the Fondation de France

2 This field work mobilized the agrarian diagnosis methodology (Cochet et al., 2007).

3 A production system is characterized by a specific combination of cropping systems and livestock systems, set up by farmers with the same access to resources (land, workforce, capital/equipment) (Reboul, 1976; Cochet and Devienne, 2006).

4 The net added value corresponds to production value (gross product) minus annual consumptions (seeds, fertilizers, energy, vet costs…) and mean annual farm building and equipment expenses.

5 The agricultural income before subsidies corresponds to net added value minus land access cost (farming and property taxes), capital (interest on borrowed capital), and labor (wages and contributions). The addition of subsidies gives the complete agricultural income.

6 Carcasses are classified according to European grid. The conformation (muscular development) is rated by a letter (E, U, R, O, and P) with E as strong muscular development and P the opposite, the fatness by a number from 1 (skinny) to 5 (overfat).

7 Data from Ovins Berry Limousin (OBL): purchase grid 2021 from OBL for lambs, cull ewes and rams.

8 Ratio of meat weight over carcass weight.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Location of the study area
Crédits source: Géoportail and APML; design: authors
Fichier image/jpeg, 365k
Titre Figure 2: Agrarian system in the Limousin Mountains at the end of World War II
Fichier image/jpeg, 390k
Titre Figure 3: Current dominant agrarian system in the Limousin Mountains
Fichier image/jpeg, 313k
Titre Photos 1 and 2: Collective flock of the Pastoral Group of the Mille Sonnailles grazing moors and peatlands at the source of the Vézère (left) and resinous underwood at the source of the Vienne (right)
Crédits photo credit: authors
Fichier image/jpeg, 475k
Titre Table 1: Selective illustration of production systems identified in the Limousin Mountains
Crédits source: surveys
Fichier image/png, 138k
Titre Figure 4: Comparison of gross product, added value, and agricultural income before subsidies5, subsidies, and complete agricultural income per familial farm worker
Crédits design: authors; sources: surveys
Fichier image/jpeg, 194k
Titre Photos 3 and 4 : Butcher students and sheep breeders participating in compared meat cutting and tastings (left) and summer pasture area visit
Crédits photo credit: authors
Fichier image/jpeg, 451k
Titre Figure 5 : What are the impacts of agropastoral, agroecological systems on the Limousin Mountains agrarian system?
Fichier image/jpeg, 402k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Nathan Morsel et Nadège Garambois, « Agroecology in the Limousin Mountains: Relocating and Diversifying Food Production to Encourage Employment and Conserve Semi-Natural Spaces »Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 110-2 | 2022, mis en ligne le 16 décembre 2022, consulté le 29 janvier 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Nathan Morsel

AgroParis Tech

Nadège Garambois

AgroParis Tech

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Haut de page
  • Logo UGA Édtions
  • Logo Labex ITTEM
  • Logo ISCAR
  • Logo INRAE
  • Logo Institut de géographie alpine
  • Logo Pacte
  • Logo MSH-Alpes
  • DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search