The 2016 EFIMED week was recently, held at the core of the Calabria Region (Italy). A marvelous mixture of pastures, fruits orchards and forests with the sea in the far distance framed the event, summarizing in one sight all the main features of rural landscapes in Southern Italy. This multidisciplinary event brought together partners from different European and Southern Mediterranean regions so as to discuss: “smart Mediterranean forestry, bioeconomy and social integration”.
The need of societal changes and innovation in an era of crises in terms of economy, cultural identity (urbanization) and migration fluxes, was stressed both from foresters and non- forester participants. “Are forests a mean of social integration or is social integration a mean for forest management?” was a key question posed by Prof. Laura Secco (Univ. Padova). The debate suggested that to build up innovative bioeconomy strategies, technological and process innovations are to be integrated with changing social realities. That would strengthen the resilience and effectiveness of the bioeconomy strategy within the forestry sector.
Some cases of social innovation in forest-based projects were presented. Joachim Englert (SocialForest) is a social entrepreneur who works for labor integration of unemployed young people and migrants -a vulnerable segment of the Catalan society- in the forest sector. Joachim drew attention to the need of evaluating social forestry businesses for their work quality rather than for the social element per se, which is fundamental within the business culture.
Moreover, forests hold a rich potential for innovative services and related jobs, i.a. forest pedagogics, forest geragogics, forest therapy. Petra Schwarz (Austrian Research Centre for Forests) highlighted the complementary of these new services within modern bioeconomy models.
A Greek case helped in understanding bottlenecks for social innovation in marginalized rural areas. Spyridon Mamalis (Kavala Institute of Technology) explained how the Greek economic crisis was “turned into opportunity” when thousands of youngsters decided to return to the rural areas to start new green businesses. However, the lack of infrastructure and public services to encourage entrepreneurship, act as insurmountable barriers for young innovators impeding the establishment of profitable and lasting businesses.
Immigrants in rural areas constitute a chance and a challenge. Alina Sabangeanu (Kogayon Association) showcased the weak integration of immigrants in a Model Forest governance system in central Spain. Immigrants constitute an important link in the wild mushroom value chain. However, conflicts with locals arise based on prejudices, hence becoming neglected in the development strategies. An opposite example was the emotional presentation by the Mayor of Riace (Italy). The willingness of his local community to revive of traditional practices, to renovate abandoned houses and to rejuvenate the local economy triggered the successful integration of 550 immigrants within a local population of about 1800 inhabitants.
Elena Górriz Misfud (EFIMED)
Valentino Govigli (EFIMED)