Article originally published in Spanish on Revista Agricultura Ecológica number 35.
Available in Spanish here.// Disponible en castellano aquí.
Traditionally, extensive farming[i] has been one of the activities that has fixed more population in disadvantaged rural areas in Europe and the Mediterranean. Moreover, it creates jobs and shapes most of our ecosystems. However, isolation and depopulation in these areas translate into the loss of their activities and the landscapes associated to it. That is why it is necessary to seek new practices that assure its social and economic sustainability.
In that sense, the European project SIMRA (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas)[ii] shows us some examples. This project aims to make progress in the understanding of social innovation and innovative governance in agriculture, silviculture and rural development and enhance implementation in disadvantaged rural areas in Europe and the Mediterranean. It also understands social innovation as “reconfiguration of social practices, answering social challenges, looking to improve well-being and involve civil society’s actors.”[iii]
Social agriculture is defined by the National Forum for Social Farming (FNAS) as an innovative, inclusive, participatory and generative model of agricultural practices that deliver recreational, educational and assistance services. It aims at the social and labor inclusion of disadvantaged people, which through social agricultural practices are able to contribute to food and agricultural production (Di Iacovo, O’ Connor, 2009). According to the recently published Report on Social Agriculture in Italy (Giarè 2018), social agriculture experiences have the characteristics of being a generative welfare, as they aim at developing practices for a transversal development of the territory, supporting growth, skills and professionalism of those people who are at risk of social exclusion. Social agriculture provides the tools for the creation of cohesive, intelligent and competitive communities able to provide meaningful responses to population’s needs and to the productive industry.
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.Continue reading