AgriLink The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: commons management. - AgriLink

The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: commons management.

Italy, Udine
Region

The focus region Friuli Venezia Giulia (specifically Udine province, ITD42) has been chosen as an example of small and geo-morphologically variegated area, where the agricultural sector is very advanced for certain sectors (viticulture) while arable systems, even with some very high productivity, suffer for structural limitations and the lack of organized processing in the region.

Region map.

The conformation of the landscapes and the conservative mindset that is characteristic of the rural economy also due to the limited share of young farmers, influenced the business setting of agriculture in the area. The average agricultural enterprise is familiar and small-medium scale, with an average utilized area of about 10ha per farm, even if larger and innovative farms are more and more frequent. In this context, the interest for social innovation in agriculture is consistently growing.

The experiences collected within case Commons management in Udine (ITD42) are bottom up initiatives that found little support (if not hostility) within the standard advisory system. From many perspectives the conventional AKIS actors, at the current date, have not showed support in resolving challenges encountered by these experiences. The lack of expertise propelled the development of cross-figures and operative groups and networks.

These are bottom up initiatives, collecting the legacy of Middle Ages commons, generated from the communities’ desire for the implementation of sustainable practices. They are initiatives with a community dimension, having at their core small family farms and hobby farms. This dimension makes it easier, or at least less risky, to become economically sustainable, as well as creating a sense that small local actions count as response to the huge problems of climate change and landscape preservation. Moreover, the local scale of the experiences is consistent with the need of environmental sustainability, thanks to the low carbon footprint and reduced waste production.

Study focus

DES (Distretto di Economia Solidale) “Pan e Farine dal Friûl di Mieç” is a community cooperative in Friuli Venezia Giulia region (Italy) whose aims are to manage common land, improve the use of natural resources and suggest examples of innovative and sustainable value chains.

In 2016, DES launched an initiative involving not only common land managers, but also farmers, part-time farmers and hobby farmers but also a mill, bakeries and local citizens in a wheat-flower-bread value chain. To reach the initiative’s goals, a combination of several innovations had to be implemented: a) organic management of farmland; b) use of best adapted varieties of wheat and evolutionary breeding materials; c) crop diversification.

To implement the innovations, constant advisory support is needed. There are no experiences in advisory schemes for part-time and hobby farmers, and consequently there are no tools for effective knowledge sharing in this context. DES experience highlights that best results are still constant direct one-to-one contact between a farmer and an advisor, and workshops where advisors bring information and stimulate sharing. Online tools or remote meetings, or newsletters do not allow to reach the desired impact. The constant support of advisors is still needed, and since it is not economically feasible within the value chain budget, it needs to be financially supported from Rural Development Plans or other project funds.

Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

Vinidea SRL

Davide Zimolo, info@des-mediofriuli.it

Vinidea srl (VIN) is a micro-enterprise founded in 1999 that provides information transfer and innovation brokerage for the wine industry.  VIN looks for scientific and practical news from all over the world and then makes it available to agronomists and enologists.  They make full and effective use of all available tools to promote the sharing of information among the different categories of wine specialists: from classic conferences to webinars and internet tools, study trips, written articles, audiovideos, translations from and into different languages and surveys.  VIN is publisher of the journal Infowine (Internet Journal of Enology and Viticulture) which is available in 6 languages and read by 40,000 wine professionals worldwide.

Lessons learned
1 Diverse examples of commons management still exist and have a high vitality.
The fact that in a very small region as Friuli Venezia Giulia, diverse examples of commons management still exist and have a high vitality, either directly involving common lands or gathering farmers that manage a food supply chain together, represents a positive starting point for the development of local sustainable projects. These experiences, born as bottom up projects and still a novelty in the regional rural economy, have the merit of stimulating the development of new expertise and enable new advisory providers.
2 Advisory support systems are missing for most areas.
Currently, advisory support systems are missing for most areas (the exception is, to a certain extent, the agronomic support for crops management through several phases). The gap is therefore mostly filled by peer to peer advice or operative informal or formal groups or actors not linked to agriculture but to other economic sectors. The difficulty of planning a management system for common lands or for a local food supply chain that is sustainable from an economic point of view, makes the development of such advisors within the traditional entities such as farmers´ unions, associations, private advisors quite arduous. What is of utmost difficulty is the fact that there is a concurrent need for a diverse and wide array of knowledge and skills (including soft skills to manage groups of different actors who need to work together with share interests and objectives). Often the economic dimension of the initiative does not allow for a pool of experts to be involved all together for a long time.
3 Operational groups gather several actors from different branches.
The surprising aspect is that operational groups gather in fact several actors from different branches, favoring the confluence of expertise for the benefit of the group. This approach, that initiated on a theoretical basis, proved to work in practice and to harvest results also in the short term.

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