Social innovation in forests: buzzword or opportunity?

Article originally published on Medforest.

What is social innovation? Over the last decades, social innovation has gained significant popularity as a process able to tackle societal challenges and improve well-being via the direct engagement of the civil society. Hundreds of initiatives have claimed to be linked to this concept both in urban and rural contexts and in all topics and domains. Is social innovation yet another fuzzy word in a modern century of trending topics and well-designed marketing strategies? One of the aims of the H2020 SIMRA project (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas) is also this one: to identify and map what are the key variables desirable for Social Innovation to occur, so as to identify success (and failure) cases, and develop methods for their appraisal and assessment.

During the VI Mediterranean Forest Week, which took place from 1 to 5 April in Brummana, Lebanon, hundreds of researchers, policy-makers and other relevant stakeholders from the wide Mediterranean basin gathered to discuss Mediterranean-wide forestry issues. Emerging topics included: the role of forests for achieving NDC targets for COP21, existing linkages between forests and other sectors (water, cities and biodiversity), forest communication, socio-ecological resilience of forests and many more. Social Innovation was indeed one of them, with a SIMRA-organised workshop aiming at exploring the role of the Mediterranean region as an incubating model for social innovation, presenting real cases that demonstrate elements for success and best practices for replication and learning purposes.Continue reading

Welcome spring! Welcome forests!

The 21st of March is the official first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. The day of the equinox, in which plants start to blossom and sprout as warm air begins to invade our latitudes. Not only this, this day is also celebrated throughout the world as the International Day of Forests, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees for biodiversity and the livelihood of human communities around the globe.

Trees and forested areas cover one third of the Earth’s land, playing a key role in enhancing plant and animal diversity and in regulating carbon fluxes, mitigating the impact of anthropogenic climate changes. Additionally, forests are crucial resources for sustaining communities around the world. Water, flood prevention, fruits, leaves, branches, and wood are only a few of the key ecosystem services that they entail. Lastly, forests are of increasing importance for urban areas, providing a cooling green infrastructure in which citizens benefit from recreational activities and healthy lifestyles.

In rural areas, forests are a prominent feature of the landscape, especially when demographic changes increase spontaneous afforestation in former farmlands. For these reasons, forests are often the source of innovative projects aiming to alleviate social, environmental, and economic burdens of rural communities.

SIMRA database collected several examples of forest-based social innovations, spanning agroforestry schemes in Guadalupe, community woodlands in the UK or central Europe, to fire prevention groups in Spain and Portugal. Here is a selection of these forest initiatives:

Continue reading

The day I adopted an olive tree

This article is also available in Spanish here// Este artículo está disponible en castellano aquí.

Carmen, the olive tree I have adopted. (Photo: Apadrina un olivo)
Carmen, the olive tree I have adopted. (Photo: Apadrina un olivo)

A year ago this week, I adopted an olive tree. I called it Carmen, after my grandmother. Whenever I want to know about my tree I just need to open an app that I have installed on my mobile phone. I can see pictures of it and whether it has been pruned, or what the local weather’s like, etc.… Once a year I receive two bottles of delicious olive oil. But what I love most, is that for only 50€ per year I am helping to employ people at risk of exclusion, I am helping young people to have a future in their village so they don’t have to migrate to the city, and I am preventing the closure of a local school in a village that, like so many others in inner Spain, have had to face the monsters of depopulation, ageing and loneliness. All at the same time as I am helping to recover hundred-year old olive trees and local traditions and conserve landscapes, care for the land, and support environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Continue reading

Partners’ Lands to restore Spanish abandoned forestry areas

This post is available in Spanish here/ Este artículo está disponible en castellano aquí.

It was between 1855 and 1924 when the Spanish Government expropriated and auctioned the assets that belonged to the Catholic Church and the religious orders and the barren and communal lands of the municipalities. The principal aim of this confiscation was to get extra income to pay off the public debt securities that the state had issued to finance itself. Previously the owners of these assets used to pay very low or no taxes and with the change of their property the state could get more and better taxes.

ramoneo
Goats browsing in a forest area. Photo: LLM

Most of the lands auctioned weren’t a good investment for potential buyers, because their profitability was going to be limited. However, they were essential for the survival of the nearest villages, because the neighbours had always used them for livestock farming, for getting timber and firewood, etc… So, their food (meat, milk and honey), their clothes (wool, furs and leather), their main energy source (firewood and coal) and the access to basic commodities for building (wood and stone) were at stake in an eminently farming rural system.

That is why, the neighbours, afraid of losing their livelihood, decided to get together and find enough money to access the auctions and acquire the land that sustained their way of living. These initiatives were very common in different parts of Spain and could be called Montes de Socios (Partners’ Lands), as a summary of the different local names: Monte de la Sociedad de Vecinos (Neighbours Association Lands), Montes del Común (Common Man’s Lands), Sociedad del Monte (Lands Partnership), Sociedad de Baldíos (Barren Lands Partnership), etc…

Over the years, many Spanish rural areas have been abandoned, including whole villages and their surroundings and even whole valleys. With the aim of recovering and promoting the Partners’ Lands social approach, and also to contribute to economic diversification, modernization and the improvement of the quality of life in rural areas, The Forestry Association of Soria has developed the project Montes de Socios (Partners’ Lands), funded by FEADER and The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

To achieve this goal, they will follow three main actions: Making the Partners’ Lands known, implementing practical examples of renovation of the Partners’ Lands through the constitution of executive committees and putting forward a proposal for basic regulations to establish a specific legal framework for the Partners’ Lands.

Meeting of three Management Boards in Ucero (Soria, Spain). Photo: montesdesocios.es
Meeting of three Management Boards in Ucero (Soria, Spain). Photo: montesdesocios.es

Thanks to the Forestry Association of Soria, the Ley Básica de Montes 43/2003 (Basic Law of Lands 43/2003) was modified to allow the Management Boards (Juntas Gestoras) to take over the land management without the imperative to find and collaborate with all the owners’ heirs. This change has favoured the creation of many Management Boards throughout a growing number of provinces.

According to the researchers, in Spain there are at least 1.500.000 hectares of Partners’ Lands, and most of them are located in areas endangered by depopulation. Sometimes, innovating in marginalised rural areas means looking back to the past in order to move ahead to the future.

More information is available at www.montesdesocios.es

Author:

Lucía López Marco (IAMZ-CIHEAM)
Lucía López Marco (IAMZ-CIHEAM)