“We were ‘the crazy ones’… And now the town has recovered the passion for the olive groves”, said Alberto Alfonso (Apadrina un olivo). In just five years of crowdfunding, 4,000old olive trees and an olive mill have been recovered in the small town of Oliete (Aragón, Spain). By creating emotional, gastronomic and technological links between owners of abandoned groves and donors, a sustainable initiative is revitalising the town’s landscape and contributing to labour opportunities with handicapped people.
Another initiative to maintain an active rural landscape and its associated economic opportunities is land banking, which facilitates access to the land. “We aim to provide opportunities to interested new farmers, by guaranteeing landowners a solid project and commitment with organic farming”, said Jordi Martí (Terrafranca). In Matarranya, the land bank is promoted by the administration through a wildfire prevention strategy. Vicent Ferri (Victoria Laporta Foundation), instead, described how a private foundation works to upgrade Mediterranean forest biodiversity, making it sustainable through a portfolio of products and services. These initiatives are framed within the concept of land stewardship, incipiently spreading along Aragon’s territory. Through collaborative agreements, agro-forestry landowners and civil society entities engage in the management of the natural heritage.
These testimonies opened the first local workshop of the SIMRA project in Mora de Rubielos (Teruel, Spain), organised by EFIMED jointly with Gúdar-Javalambre county. The event, “Guardians of the Territory. Social Innovation in Rural Areas”, saw invited speakers managing successful Social Innovations from other rural territories transmitting inspiration and enthusiasm to the local audience. Shifting to the Gúdar-Javalambre context, the afternoon session focused on local entities, with group work to determine the interest and feasible opportunities that could be channelled through the SIMRA innovation action. “I don’t want to hear ‘it could be done…’. I want to hear ‘I could do…’”, expressed Aurelio (Asoc. Tres de Copas) inciting participants to be proactive.
Land banking and trail recovery were suggested, aiming to tackle the abandonment of agricultural and forestry parcels, improve access to land, recover the patrimony of irrigation infrastructure, reduce wildfire exposure and support the use of traditional varieties. While the technical aspects were largely shared, the big challenge now is on people. In a rural context of traditional suspicion, defeatism and strong attachment to private land property, these initiatives can only be realised if there are opportunities for landowners and new farmers to build commitment and trust relations. This is actually what the SIMRA Innovation Actions pursue. EFIMED will support the launch and/or consolidation of a social innovation in this field in Gúdar-Javalambre, acting as observer, facilitator and analyst.
The 28th annual conference of the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE) was hosted in Manchester on the theme “Industrialisation, socio-economic transformation and institutions”. EAEPE was founded in 1988 with an aim to promote evolutionary, dynamic and realistic approaches to economic theory and policy by bringing together the ideas of various disciplines and scholarly traditions (http://eaepe.org/). SIMRA partners Elena Pisani and Catie Burlando, University of Padova, participated in the session “What can ruralisation do for industrialisation and vice versa?”, which was organised by Asimina Christoforou, University of Athens Economics and Business.
The objective of the panel was to investigate the role of rural development and its relationship to industrialisation. There has been much debate about the place of rural areas in regional development. Typically, conceptions of the rural are associated with places of tradition rather than modernity, of agriculture rather than industry, of nature rather than culture, of changelessness rather than dynamism, of passivity rather than innovativeness. Thus, academics, administrators and policy-makers suggest that development in these areas can only be promoted via the sterile reproduction of the strategies and goals of urban areas and industrial sectors.
However, with this panel we argued that rural areas are increasingly seen as progressive sources of new economic dynamism, not only of technical but also of social innovation, and of alternative ways of working and living that support sustainable development and the quality of life. Various economic sectors beyond agriculture are emerging, including rural tourism, manufacturing, information and communication technology, cottage industry, environmental and recreational services, sectors which are often connected to the emergence of socially innovative ideas in contests of rural marginalisation. The valorisation of local resources, including physical, financial, natural, cultural and social capital, emanates from investments and bottom-up initiatives, which are not undertaken solely by individual farmers, but also by new networks and partnerships among various stakeholders in both public and private spheres and in new multi-level governance structures. These networks and governance structures take heed of local needs, identities and values and of interrelationships with other rural and urban areas which are the basis of social innovation. Emphasis is given to the creation of new social institutions and governance structures for the mobilisation of local actors and the co-determination of the means and ends to development. Norms and networks of reciprocity, trust and cooperation, often identified as social capital, constitute a crucial building block in the creation of new institutions, especially in areas where individuals find it hard to collaborate due to diverse and conflicting interests and needs.
In the panel, we took the argument further by stressing that this alternative conception of “ruralisation” can potentially offer insight on ways to promote regeneration, recovery and sustainable development in the industrialisation process and overcome the shortcomings of the capitalist system, like consumerism, the over-exploitation of natural resources, unhealthy foods and products, the under-valuation of leisure, socialisation and creativity. For example, by pursuing objectives and means for collective action and a quality of life in rural areas, via alternative organisational structures, like public-private partnerships, social entrepreneurship and multi-level governance, we open industrial actors to considerations of environmental preservation, common resource management, food security and health issues. Thus, ruralisation and industrialisation interact and enable actors to come up with new ways of production, consumption, investment and redistribution that combat the problems of de-industrialisation, restore social welfare and promote social innovation.
In the present panel, we discussed the implications of European Union policies on regional and rural development for the ruralisation-industrialisation nexus, highlighting the role of governance in promoting social innovation, and the LEADER Approach as one of the European policies which could support neo-endogenous development. The presentations combined qualitative and qualitative analyses to suggest ways to assess the social dynamics of the development process and to improve the effectiveness of these projects. Catie Burlando presented a multi-authored paper on “Identifying Governance Options for Social Innovation: A Preliminary Analytical Framework”, which highlighted how Social innovation (SI) and related new governance mechanisms are acquiring at the European level a role of paramount importance as determinants of sustainable growth and development. While there can be a reciprocal flow of ideas, resources and models between rural/natural and urban/industrialized spaces and networks about governance and SI options, what governance is, how it is structured and what are its mechanisms of functioning are often not clearly explained. Moreover, these analyses are often not detailed enough to isolate and extract the key factor/s of governance that can allow for innovations and, more specifically, for social innovation. A structured analytical framework that allows us to describe, analyse and compare network governance systems in different regions and contexts and potential effects on social innovation (and vice versa) does not exist yet. The paper thus presented a proposal for a preliminary path toward the construction of an analytical framework specifically focused on those governance elements that are likely to support social innovation. The preliminary framework was a first step toward the objective of SIMRA’s to develop approaches and tools for the evaluation of social innovation and its impacts in marginalised rural areas, a task led by the University of Padova team.
The LEADER programme aims at local development of rural areas, is linked to the neo-endogenous approach and relies on social capital. It was showcased in two presentations for its potential to support social capital and build the collective networks, partnerships and governance structures that enhance local development, the quality of life and the emerge of social innovation.
Asimina Christoforou presented “The Endogenous Approach and Social Capital in EU Policies for Rural and Regional Development: The Case of LEADER”, a paper co-authored with Elena Pisani. On the hand, the neo-endogenous approach is inextricably related to social capital which provides the norms and networks of cooperation, reciprocity and trust for bringing together local actors to organise collectively, re-build partnerships, and share common goals and identities. On the other hand, in EU regional and rural development policies, the LEADER programme is a striking example of the implementation of the neo-endogenous approach and the social capital concept. Initiated in the 1990s, LEADER is seen as an alternative “approach” or a “laboratory” whereby local stakeholders and rural communities learn how to exploit their own capabilities by mobilising and organising collectively, by changing behaviours, creating shared identities and beliefs, and establishing new local and multi-level governance structures.
Thus, aspects of social capital should be considered as separate measures and objectives to be pursued alongside conventional socio-economic indicators like income, employment and competitiveness. However, by analyzing various case studies, policy documents and ex-post evaluation reports, the authors found that funding and decision-making bodies at all levels have not explicitly and formally addressed and assessed the role of social dynamics and specifically of social capital in promoting rural development via LEADER. Policy-makers and evaluators have not taken full account of the contextual and multi-dimensional aspects of social capital in the various stages of the project, from design to implementation and evaluation. Factors like power relations, state-society embeddedness and the institutional environment still receive limited attention. This can impair our understanding of the core processes of development and compromise the evaluation and effectiveness of these projects.
To highlight these factors, alternative concepts and indicators that originally combined the understudied work of Bourdieu with the classic work of Woolcock, Uphoff, Krishna, and Narayan were proposed, inspired by a series of studies conducted in the rural areas of Greece and Italy that suggest alternative ways of understanding and measuring social capital. Since its inception, LEADER has had considerable appeal in Southern Europe due to underdevelopment often associated with low levels of social capital. It is seen as a way to enhance development by reshaping local organisations and networks, creating confidence and trust, and changing social values and governance institutions. As the authors concluded, these studies show that if we are to seize the opportunities offered by these projects, we must further assess the role of contextual and multi-dimensional factors, like centralised governance structures and clientelistic relations, which seem to characterise regions in the South and impede participation and development.
Elena Pisani concluded the session by presenting a paper co-authored with Catherine Laidin on “How Do We Evaluate the Project Networks in the EU-funded LEADER-CLLD across Europe? A Proposed Method Based on Social Network Analysis”. The presentation proposed and applied a method to evaluate the networks of projects implemented by different actors financed by Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) through the Local Action Groups (LAGs) of the EU-LEADER initiative. The method uses indexes and graphs of Social Network Analysis (SNA) and proposes the Decomposed Density Indexes (DDIs), which detail the classical density index in relation to specific types of interactions among members, partners and beneficiaries of projects. The DDIs allow measuring the extent rural development initiatives have effectively supported the local development strategies. The indexes have been applied in a longitudinal study in Italy and in a cross-sectional study in France. For further information on the panel session, please contact the organiser Asimina Christoforou email@example.com.
Laura Secco, Catie Burlando, Nathalia Formenton Cardoso, Riccardo Da Re, Mauro Masiero, Davide Pettenella: Identifying Governance Options for Social Innovation: A Preliminary Analytical Framework.
I have recently been involved in some work with the ENRD Contact Point in a meeting on innovation and LEADER, in preparing an article for their magazine and I am currently preparing for another ENRD meeting about the new business opportunities associated with social innovation in rural Europe.
This preparation and working for SIMRA has made me think long and hard about how we let rather out of date dualities between private and public sector guide our thinking about the nature of “business” in the rural economy and the place of social innovation in delivering beneficial change.
Take an example of the unambiguously defined private sector: a European family farm. In many years, its income will be less than its total receipt of Pillar 1 payments. Public money is the lifeblood of the farm sector. When we consider a group of farmers in say an environmental cooperative, this voluntary association creates something that seems more like a social enterprise. Yet this too will almost certainly be underpinned by European RDP or sometimes state or regional money.
Take a look at a typical municipality. It runs education, social care services, waste management and so on. Or does it? I took this photo a few weeks ago of a primary school sign in England.
Academies are the product of a national initiative to quasi-privatise what had been a municipal service. But this example of a privatised school is a co-operative. So here we find public, private and cooperative entities in one hybrid form. And we look around a bit further into the countryside and we find farmers benefitting from snow clearing or grass cutting contracts with local authorities; we find communities taking on the management of social care, which had been public sector, then was privatised and now is transitioning into something else. We find energy production which had been state owned, then was privatised, but now with many examples of cooperative and community provision. The mayoral candidate for Birmingham, England’s second largest city, who is expected to win an imminent election, is committed to mutualising many municipal services, morphing them into not for profit organisations. Hybridity seems to be the new normal.
The last two decades have witnessed a remarkable growth of social enterprises and other voluntary associations and collaborative groups. This is the third sector which has been around a long time but is becoming more prominent. Community ownership of land and renewable energy installations and social entrepreneurship have flourished in an era of public sector austerity and economic recession.
What appears to be happening is that the old categories of public, private and third sector have become almost outdated by new practices. Often the practice seems to be ahead of the theory. In SIMRA we need to be alert to this emergent hybridity and hopefully explore some of the more interesting examples of these hybrid forms in our case studies.
Human migration has occurred throughout history and everywhere on the planet. The old continent has constantly witnessed major migratory flows. However, the current plethora of people, routes, motives and countries of origin, poses new challenges and a need to seek strategies to address these displacements.
If we speak of human displacement today, our mind jumps to the current influx of immigrants and refugees in the European Union (EU), originating mainly from social imbalances and armed conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is referred to as a humanitarian issue exacerbated by the exponential increase in the flow of asylum-seekers, vulnerable migrants, moving to Europe through irregular channels.
This is also a reflection of the economic downturn and a crisis of values affecting Europe; in short, a European crisis. Years ago, when the EU economy was solid and demanded labour for the workforce, there were no impediments to these persons joining the job market; but now we are looking at hundreds of thousands of people crowded in refugee camps in Turkey or Greece, or drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.
While these large flows of people occur, certain regions of the EU are challenged by the problem of depopulation, generated by domestic migration. This is the case of the regions in mainland Spain, suffering from an ageing population, loss of education and health care resources, neglect and overexploitation of natural resources, deterioration of the architectural heritage and loss of cultural and traditional values.
In this context, an increasing number of initiatives and projects are proposed to address the worrying depopulation rates. The reception of refugees and the current migratory movements are seen by some as a good opportunity to repopulate the European rural areas. But is this a real solution?
If we really want to repopulate rural areas by means of these migratory flows, it is essential to work on the culture of welcome, tolerance, openness and harmony in a context of diversity.
LET’S THINK IDYLLIC
Let’s use our imagination to address these two challenges; refuge and repopulation of rural areas. We could combine both in an attempt to find an appropriate place for persons in search of new opportunities, of a life in peace to settle and at the same time, to revitalize villages on the verge of extinction.
Regardless of numbers, motives and origin, the arrival and settlement of a new population could mean a solution to the current problems of the rural environment. The towns would come to life again and regain their activity. Agriculture and livestock farming would be strengthened, increasing their socioeconomic importance, while new jobs would be created for the sustainable management of the natural, cultural, gastronomic, artisan and touristic resources.
The population increase of the municipalities would keep the village schools open, and they would be provided with the means and resources; it would improve school transport, and students would be able to learn professional skills without having to travel to the city, and thus expand the range of employment possibilities in rural areas. Social services and health care would guarantee home care, health centres and emergency services.
With these improvements in the employment situation, we would stop talking of an economy of survival. The shops and businesses would have significantly more customers, and would broaden the range of goods and services to meet the needs of the new population; bars, cafeterias and leisure centres would become new places of gathering and integration; there would be more participation in social and communal activities, leading to the recovery of the cultural and architectural heritage. Transport, telecommunications, libraries, accommodation, etc., would no longer be defined as insufficient or inadequate.
The environment would become a strategic sector in the development of new market niches. The rural areas would no longer have an ageing and male-dominated population. The streets would be buzzing again with families and young people.
NOW, BACK TO REALITY
If we consider what could be beneficial to the rural areas, the solution is not just to fight depopulation with the arrival and settlement of refugees. This is neither a simple process nor a failsafe remedy.
Considering the social reality of the rural mainland, especially in the region of Castile, the perception of the arrival of refugees in our villages may generate some fear and initial reservations that should be overcome. In areas where there are hardly any migrants, awareness has to be worked on previously, so that sharing spaces with the ‘new neighbours’ can be seen as something positive. This is what is known as a ‘culture of welcome’ and it requires all stakeholders of local communities to cooperate and establish ties to offer opportunities for integration in the host territory.
It is also key to consider and address all aspects involving migrants and refugees from the moment when they leave their country of origin, their journey, their means of entry and the initial stages of settling, in addition to their personal characteristics.
As inhabitants of the rural area, we know first-hand that the integration process is hindered by a more closed society on occasions. This, combined with the existence of consolidated communities of the same nationality (something that also happens in the cities), makes immigrants resort more to their support groups, thus limiting cultural exchange.
Considering that the labour market is small and there are few opportunities for self-employment, these new families or townspeople can often find themselves in situations that may be seen as a preferential treatment by local people with difficulties to access support.
Therefore, this process has to be dynamic and bidirectional, involving local communities and adopting a sensitive approach to the challenges and opportunities presented by migration.
On the other hand, we tend to think that there are no funds to promote the socio-economic development of depopulated rural areas, but Spain is one of states that have received most structural funding from the EU. Economic ‘practices’ have endowed the rural areas with impressive visitor centres, industrial estates with state-of-the-art technology, great sports facilities even with indoor swimming pools. However, despite these major investments, they may be abandoned or closed down due to lack of population. The aids to undertake economic activity are scarce and the initiatives that are underway face enormous difficulties for development, dealing with complicated regulations and bureaucracy.
If we really want to repopulate the rural areas, the global context of migratory flows must be taken into account. In this sense, it is essential to adopt and work on the culture of welcome, tolerance, openness and harmony in a context of diversity.
The perception of the arrival of refugees in towns and villages may generate some fear and initial reluctance that should be overcome.
EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES ARE NECESSARY TO REVITALIZE THE RURAL AREA
At Fundación Cepaim our mission is to promote the model of intercultural society that facilitates immigrants’ full access to the rights of citizenship, by creating policies to fight against all forms of social exclusion and collaborating in the development of their countries of origin. Being aware of the difficulty of these processes, we are working to address the urban-rural issue. Through the project of integration of immigrant families in depopulated rural areas “New Paths”, Nuevos Senderos in Spanish, we work on the inclusion of immigrant families and individuals who have decided to move to rural areas. In addition to geographical mobility and the improvement of their quality of life, the aim is to generate and promote community development in the towns and villages.
In the New Paths project, we must overcome the fact that the rural environment is not seen as an opportunity for employment and quality of life. There are disadvantages such as the difficulty to be accepted in some communities, unequal opportunities for women, shortage of resources and services, and the widespread idea that urban environments offer more social, occupational and recreational opportunities, etc.
In addition, the few job offers that arise in the rural environment are very specific, temporary, and follow the gender roles established by a patriarchal society. For instance, the vacancies for male shepherds often consist only of shepherding the flocks and do not include collective tasks related to milking, breeding or health, which in many cases limits the acquisition of technical skills, and hinders the learning of the language, since they spend most of their time on their own.
Another job in demand would be housework or home care for the sick and elderly, for which women are sought. They are mainly seasonal jobs, usually for the summer, when many elderly people return to the hometown. It is a job with little recognition or rights, and employers often do not sign contracts or guarantee a minimum wage and acceptable working conditions.
There are also some temporary job offers in the catering and hotel industry, as rural population increases in the summer. Sometimes they demand self-employed people to manage the local pub, where it is impossible to make a living in winter, serving 3 or 4 coffees a day and paying for cable TV for a few customers to watch the football match.
It is no wonder that in view of such offers, mostly unattractive in principle, not many people are motivated to move to the rural area.
THE ROAD TOWARDS CHANGE
Based on direct experience in our work, we know that if we want the rural environment to have an important role in promoting the acceptance of refugees and become an opportunity to revitalize life in the towns and rural areas:
– The rural environment should be seen as a space for opportunity and quality of life.
– There must be a political commitment at different scales, so that the measures and investments in rural development can support initiatives and projects that come from the area.
– A rural environment is to be enhanced with quality public services and productive activities that foster culture, heritage, agriculture, food and natural resources in a sustainable way.
– Policies should be managed correctly and coordinately to benefit both the immigrants and the local communities.
– It is understood that living in rural areas is neither better nor worse than living in the city, it is just different.
Ultimately, if we want to end depopulation of our rural towns a real social and political commitment is required, leading to an equilibrium that guarantees the continuity of the rural environment and the basic needs of its residents.
“Mountain regions, territories of innovation” was the title of an international conference held on January 11-13, 2017 in Grenoble, France. The conference was organised by Labex Item, the platform for mountain research and territorial action in the French Northern Alps; it regroups academic and public institutions and other local stakeholders in the French departments of Savoie and Isère.
The aim of the conference was to discuss the relationship between mountain regions and innovation in the context of a wide variety of topics ranging from tourist resorts to social innovation and spatial management. SIMRA was well represented at the conference, with the specific goal of fostering discussion on the issue of social innovation. Project partners attended, moderated, or presented the SIMRA project in several sessions.
How to define social innovation in mountain territories?
The session “Transformative social innovations in mountain territories” co-organised and run by Manfred Perlik (Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern – a SIMRA partner) tried to answer the following questions:
– How are social innovations different compared to other innovations? – What are the specificities of social innovations in the mountains? – What is an innovation in the context of a regional transformation process?
Several themes from different disciplines ranging from history to social anthropology, economic geography and political science were examined to address the socio-economic and cultural transformations in mountain areas, the relationship between regional actors and social innovation, as well as the specificities of social initiatives and governance in mountain regions.
Central issues were What is social innovation and how can we define it? To what extent are social innovations transformative? The presentations that took place during this session highlighted different definitions (see examples below), and SIMRA’s working definition was introduced:
– Collective initiatives taken by citizens in response to social needs which are not otherwise fully satisfied by the market or political organisations (Klein and Harisson, 2007). – Social innovations are new solutions that simultaneously meet a social need and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources (European Commission). – The reconfiguring of social practices in response to challenges associated with society, economy or environment based on novel ideas and values. These practices include the creation of new institutions, networks and governance arrangements, and seek to enhance societal outcomes, especially but not exclusively for disadvantaged groups and recognising the likelihood of trade-offs among competing interests and outcomes. While these practices may include diverse institutions, they necessarily include the voluntary engagement of civil society actors [working definition based on the definition seen in the H2020 proposal of SIMRA (Nijnik et al., 2016) further developed by Slee et al. (in preparation)]
Several examples illustrated the richness of concepts associated with social innovation, which included references to new markets, governance, alternative networks, civil society mobilisation, cultural initiatives resources and relationships. For instance, one presentation focused on import-export dynamics in the macro-regional context of the Alps, highlighting the economic aspects of social innovation connected to competitiveness. Another presentation focused on territorial dynamics, asking how the origin and nature of relationships between residents of a region facilitate the emergence of social innovation, exogenously or endogenously.
How did SIMRA contribute?
Many SIMRA partners are interested in exploring the issue of social innovation in mountainous regions. Such areas can be regarded as marginalized with regard to their geography (difficult terrain, remoteness of internal areas, limited infrastructure, etc.) but are also highly heterogeneous. These characteristics were introduced by Martin Price (Perth College, University of the Highlands and Islands – a SIMRA partner) in his keynote lecture. Because mountain regions have specific constraints, looking at social innovations in mountain regions can help identify salient characteristics of these innovations and provide some answers regarding the patterns of emergence and development of social innovation in a physically constrained environment.
The audience was reminded that social innovation has the potential to be a sustainable answer to economic and social crises. During a crisis, new modes of governance can rebuild trust relations and connections between individuals, thus also promoting economic relations and trade. A key element in the development of SIMRA is its emphasis on the involvement of stakeholders throughout the construction, implementation and evaluation of the project, particularly via the project’s Social Innovation Think Tank. SIMRA stakeholders can provide methodological advice, propose case studies, support network-building and offer feedback and contributions to ensure the project reflects the values it is trying to promote throughout the project and beyond.
Regarding evaluation methods, presentations and discussion during the conference highlighted how the identification of specific critical issues in the evaluation of social innovation can support more effective and inclusive mountain development policies via the adoption of indicators that capture the tangible and intangible elements of social innovation (e.g. network building, trust, quality of participation).
A few concluding remarks
Transformative social innovation was presented at the conference in the context of mountainous regions. As mountains are part of global peripheries, experiences from the mountains can be fruitfully applied in other marginalised areas. While it was again recognized that there is no agreed definition of social innovation, and there might be a need for a general, rather universal, common vision of social innovation, it remains a very case- and context-specific phenomenon, so that several definitions can co-exist.
The definitions introduced by the different speakers focussed on two categories of scale. The first highlighted actions that emerge from and are led by individuals of civil society. The second related it to territorial innovation, seen as profoundly entrenched in the characteristics and dynamics of territorial institutions with their norms, values and conventions. Despite the differences, both types of definition stressed the importance of territorial embeddedness but also networks (formal or informal) as drivers of social innovation. Both reiterated the potential transformative power of social innovation and drive to create change within governance systems. For example, the emergence of social innovation was analysed while keeping in mind the long trajectory of a territory’s cultural legacy, highlighting how it can lead to changes in practices and consequently to a rethinking of norms within territories. Finally, strategies to build resilience and to adapt were discussed in terms of how they are linked to social innovation.
Aragon is an autonomous region located in northeastern Spain. It holds reservoirs and rivers of great interest for sports activities. Many of those reservoirs and rivers are in rural areas whose towns have suffered large depopulation processes, as their lands have been flooded to build reservoirs and activities such as agriculture, livestock farming or mining have been abandoned. Some local companies have decided to pursue a model of quality, experiential tourism based on sustainability criteria to reverse the depopulation. This is the case of companies that provide fishing, rafting or canyoning guides, among others.
The Pyrenees are considered a unique place worldwide for fly-fishing, since they host the oldest ecotype of Zebra Trout in the European continent, and offer sunny days, warm weather, stunning landscapes and rivers, and a unique gastronomy and culture, in addition to national and natural parks belonging to an impressive ecosystem.
For the Pyrenees Fly Fishing guides it is important to promote and encourage this type of touristic model, especially now, since 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This activity requires the services of one guide for every one or two fishermen, with the subsequent potential to generate employment. Moreover, being catch-and-release, this activity respects the fishing resources and adds value to the protection and conservation of elements of high ecological value such as rivers. As the guides say, “the rivers will not be conserved until the local economies perceive the benefits.”
Social farming, or care farming as it is also called, defines short or long-term activities that use agricultural resources such as animals and plants to promote and generate social services in rural areas. Examples of these services include rehabilitation, therapy, sheltered employment, life-long education and other activities that contribute to social inclusion (Di Iacovo and O’Connor, 2009).
Social farming activities emerged in the northern European countries (e.g. Belgium and the Netherlands) in the mid-20th century; and they soon spread throughout Europe as a result of a growing perception of the positive impacts on both the social and the economic welfare, particularly in peripheral rural areas (Gallis, 2013). While social farming has developed differently in the European countries, it can be seen as a way of addressing specific social needs and promoting innovative patterns of rural development that are rooted in local resources. On the one hand, social farming activities, by combining the agricultural environment with rehabilitation and care services, benefit peoples’ quality of life and their social inclusion. On the other hand, social farming activities represent an opportunity for farmers to broaden and diversify their multifunctional agriculture, to open up new markets and offer alternative services that go beyond food production.
In Italy, social farming is quite a recent phenomenon; interesting social farming experiences have developed since the early 1970s, when social farming was mainly based on the ideas of ’68 movement and on other community-based initiatives (i.e. the community-based, Barbiana School of Don Milani, Community of Capodarco); however, their establishment increased once psychiatric institutions closed down in the 1980s. Social farming activities present in Italy are considered a reliable system of social care today. The providers are normally organised in social cooperatives. However, there are also private farmers offering social farming services. They offer a range of initiatives, yet the two main fields are work placement and employment oriented initiatives, and childcare, education and training.
The employment-oriented initiatives aim at labour integration and social inclusion on the farm and address specific people with different problems and disabilities (i.e. people with moderate physical disabilities, with mental health difficulties and learning difficulties or people experiencing social exclusion) or vulnerable target groups (i.e. long-term unemployed, ex-prisoners, addicts). They are included in agricultural activities such as horticulture, vine or olive growing, animal care, food processing, direct selling of farm products, or other activities such as working in the farm-restaurant. In this way, these vulnerable groups of people have the opportunity to increase their capabilities and skills, improve their social life and experience an alternative practice of reintegration into society and the labour market.
Childcare and educational initiatives include flexible care and education of children and students with the aim of transmitting sustainable nutrition and environmental education by directly involving them in farm activities. In Italy, these educational farms (called fattorie didattiche), have grown considerably in recent years, and have become important, especially in rural, peripheral and peri-urban areas as they provide a significant contribution to the social welfare system, where services (i.e. social, health or care) are marginally available or lacking.
Italy has strong regional, social farming networks that bring together providers and demanders and are a key component of marketing, as they serve as platform where farms present their specific practices. In addition to the regional networks, Italy has a national forum on social agriculture that was initiated in 2011. It is a driving force in promoting social farming as an innovation of the agricultural system (Newsletter FNAS Italy). Only 4 years later, on 18 August 2015, Italy implemented the national framework law n. 141, providing a framework of principles and procedures for recognising social farming practices that respect the social needs of the territory, the local available vocations and agricultural resources.
An interesting initiative of social farming in Italy is the social cooperative “Mit Bäuerinnen lernen-wachsen-leben” (Learning- growing- living with women farmers) located in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Bozen/ South Tyrol. The history of social farming in the Province of Bolzano is relatively young and is connected to the foundation of the cooperative in 2006. The cooperative initiated its activity in 2007 by offering day care for children on farms with the objective of providing childcare by women farmers or other family members and encouraging the interaction with nature. Thus, the farm has been expanded to a place of learning, offering a complementary and alternative setting for environmental education. Away from the classical environmental and nature education towards a direct integration of agricultural resources and the environment as teaching elements, the farm aims at stimulating the curiosity of children in learning, as well as developing their awareness for environmental, sustainable and rural resources. The childcare service includes individually adapted care accommodating up to six children, flexible care hours, the integration into the family structure, the transmission of traditional and cultural values, environmental education, and summer care as well as care for children at different events. The currently active 106, day care mothers, who are organized in the social cooperative, offer effective, childcare services in South Tyrol. Especially in peripheral areas, this service supports existing public services and responds to local demands.
Some of the social cooperative members also offer educational farm activities for school children, were they spend a few hours on the farm and practically get to know the cultural environment of the farm life.
In 2014, the social cooperative expanded its social farming services offering elderly care due to a pilot project. With this service, the providers directly react to the steadily growing number of old people in South Tyrol; while in 1975 the Province counted 43.500 in 2015 it increased to 100.000 (ASTAT Info No. 64 09/2016). Originally 10 women farmers that have increased to 32 today offer the service on request, whereby they can normally accommodate a maximum of two old people up to the second level of care. Besides responding to the aging society, the service also addresses the growing concern about the efficiency of the institutionalized and available public services. Thus, it allows old people to receive family orientated care and be actively integrated in farming life. The qualified course “elderly people on farms” as well as the course for “day care mothers” are a prerequisite for offering these services.
Besides the valuable contribution the social cooperative is offering, it is expanding its existing activities across the territory and is also planning to introduce new social farming activities. Potential new activities could include activities for people with disabilities, holidays on farms with specific care service, horticulture and animal therapy. Adopting new practices stimulate new cooperation between the farms and private and public institutions, but also strengthen rural- urban relations.
Social farming activities have been established due to the changing demands of today’s society (i.e. ageing population, changing family structures, revalorisation of rural life in an ever urbanising society, high influx of migrants and increase of people with chronical diseases). They are a practical and innovative response to societies needs that many institutionalized social services are not able to provide adequately. Hence, social farming contributes to social and economic wellbeing as it stimulates vulnerable people’s independence and their personal development based on active collaboration and help on the farm. It promotes women farmer’s empowerment. It provides an additional income in peripheral rural areas as women can directly practice their pedagogical, health, care or therapeutically profession on the farm. Moreover, it stimulates the economic sustainable development of peripheral areas by guaranteeing services to people in order to prevent further depopulation.
The innovative aspects of social farming are twofold: on the one hand, innovation includes the development of new initiatives for specific target users (e.g. social farming for cell-phone dependent children and youth, art therapy for autistic children…); on the other hand, innovation is grounded in the creation of new forms of horizontal and vertical collaboration (e.g. between the agricultural, social, economic, health care, educational, tourism and regional development sectors), as well as the establishment of new private-public partnerships.
Di Iacovo, F., O’Connor., D., (eds.), 2009: Supporting Policies for Social Farming in Europe. Progressing Multifunctionality in Responsive Rural Areas. ARSIA, Firenze.
Gallis, C., 2013: “What is Green Care? Introduction, History, and Origins” in: Gallis, C. (ed), “Public Health in the 21st Century, Green Care for Human Therapy, Social Innovation, Rural Economy, and Education”, Nova Science Publishers, New York.
O`Connor, D., Lai, M., & Watson, S., (2010). Overview of Social Farming and Rural Development Policy in Selected EU Member States. NRN Joint Thematic Initiative on Social Farming.
Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano – Alto Adige, Istituto provinciale di statistica, ASTAT Info N. 64 09/2016, 1 Ottobre 2016 – Giornata internazionale delle persone anziane.
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.
In our 1st Transdisciplinary Workshop, held in Bratislava on October 26th-28th 2016, we attended the invited lecture of Susan Baker, professor at Cardiff University, titled Dynamics in Social Innovation: Enabling Factors and Barriers. You can access the presentation by clicking here and can download the recorded audio on this link. 😉
Last 19th and 20th of October, the SwitchMed Connect 2016 event was held in Barcelona. Such meeting aims to build strong network among social innovators in the Mediterranean basin as to scale up solutions, increase awareness and exchange knowledge and best practices.
Valentino M. Govigli (EFIMED) took part in this very inspirational conference. The event was structured in innovator talks and thematic tracks, namely Civil Society, Entrepreneurs, Policy, Finance, and Industry. The thematic tracks carried the audience through a journey of exciting innovative projects and bottom-up solutions for modern societal challenges across the whole Mediterranean basin. Some of the thematic covered included energy supply, education, water and waste management, topics all very relevant for the advocated switch towards a new circular and inclusive economy.
Switchers were the core of the event, as enablers of social innovation to move towards a more sustainable and responsible world.
These are just some of the new projects that Switchers from around the Mediterranean have developed and presented during the event.
One of the organizers, the SCP/RAC (Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production) trains Mediterranean practitioners about entrepreneurship and eco-innovation. Following the Civil Society Track, SCP/RAC presented some examples on the needs of Mediterranean local trainers. The willingness of local stakeholders towards the development of collaborative networks emerged as success factor. Within a dynamic working atmosphere, participants got a clear awareness of the need of peer-to-peer learning and the development of long-lasting cooperation networks.