giovedì 5 febbraio 2009

Supporting Social Agriculture

Social Farms are a kind of farms where agricultural and livestock activities are accompanied by cultural, educational, care, health, training services directed to disadvantaged people (disabled persons, mental disabled persons, drug addicts, prisoners or former prisoners, elderly or young people at risk of social exclusion, etc.). This kind of farms provide therapeutic and rehabilitating actions, job training and social re-integration for these persons thanks to the promotion of agricultural and environmental resources.

Social agriculture is thus an important expression of the links between ethics and agriculture involving a valorisation of agricultural products often directly sold in farm shops and through the creation of purchaising support networks. Social farms provide a critical contribution to the processes of local rural development because they translates development strategies, not only in economic terms, into a concept of rurality based on real ethical principles; solidarity, social welfare, environmental responsibility.

Social farms still have in Italy scarce visibility both in communication terms and in terms of space of their products in shops' and supermarket shelf. In Italy social agriculture is still considered a niche sector.

Nonetheless, in Italy there are about 2000 social farms (above all cooperatives) about which 70% devoted to organic productions. These farms are placed mainly in Emilia Romagna (15%), Tuscany and Lazio (14%), Veneto (11%), Lombardia (9%), Piemonte and Sicily (8%), Umbria (6%). In southern Italy there are important experiences such as the cooperatives Libera Terra, created on the land confiscated to Mafia. Another important experience come from Siracuse in Sicily where the cooperative Arcolaio, composed of prisoners and former prisoners, produces organic cakes.

It is clear that social farms cannot survive thanks only to subsidies but they must be economically efficent: for this reason it is necessary to create and develop a real "market of social services" where these farms will be able to compete with other firms. Local development strategies have to keep into consideration this essential social context's component of rural areas also removing the obstacles created by ossified interests. It could be useful for example to offer to these farms those hectars of abandoned land, often owned by public entities, or stimulate the creation of these cooperatives (possibily composed of young farmers) or facilitate the distribution of social farms' products.

For further info about the network of social farms in Italy visit this website.

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