The paper discusses the relevance of "relational goods" in studying the economics of agriculture and food supply chain. The quality of interpersonal relations and the dynamic of relational assets have been proposed as relevant concepts in the interpretation of the happiness paradox in developed economies. After a short overview of the literature, the concept of "relational goods" is used to discuss three specific topics: the role of personal relations in overcoming the information asymmetries in the agro-food system, the organisation of labour in agriculture and the emerging sector of social farming. Quality differentiation increases the importance of credence characteristics in marketing agricultural and food products. The creation of relational assets may ease the solution of this information problem. Moreover, emerging forms in the marketing of agricultural and food products, such as alternative food supply chains, community supported agriculture and farmers’ markets, can be better understood when the production of relational goods is taken into account. The dynamic of personal relations is also relevant in explaining the variety of tenancy forms and models of labour organisation in agriculture. A historical example relative to share tenancy in Italy is used as an example to discuss this theme. Finally, the growing sector of social farming (where farming activities are the basis of personal care of individuals with disabilities or social discomfort) clearly shows the economic and social relevance of relational goods. In social farming production activities become the opportunity for a personal "encounter" between the carer and the beneficiary. The nature of the agricultural production process seems particularly suitable for lending support these forms of personal care. The paper closes with a discussion on policies to incentive the creation of relational assets in the agro-food system. The possible trade-off between economic incentives and altruistic motivations in producing genuine human relations suggests an indirect approach. The institutional context and the specific regulations should widen the spectrum of means available to actors in arranging economic and market relations.
Keywords: Relation of economics to social values, welfare economics, agriculture
Jel Code: A13, D6, Q1