The agricultural sector is very advanced for certain sectors (such as viticulture) while arable systems, even with some very high productivity, suffer for structural limitations and the lack of organized processing in the region.Overall, the economic sustainability of arable farms is at high risk which is causing a high degree of abandonment, also due to farmers ageing and insufficient new entrants into farming.
The role of “usual” advisory suppliers in the innovation cycle is limited and there is a lack of independent advisory affordable to small/medium scale farms. Innovations in small and medium scale farms are mainly supported by actors who do not have advisory as a primary task such as Universities and local NGOs. In this context, the interest for social innovation in agriculture is consistently growing. In the last decades a number of experiences of natural resources commons management have been developed.
The Cooperative D.E.S. Friul di Miec has been chosen since it represents one of the most innovative examples of common management of land in the region. This initiative started five years ago when a group of farmers and citizens started to manage cooperatively a parcel of common land in the surroundings of the city of Udine.
The aim was to create a food supply chain based on wheat production and processing, and as a consequence try to help mitigating farming abandonment, as well as preserving rural landscapes, reducing soil depletion and pollution and, at the same time, producing local and sustainable food. The majority of farmers involved are small to medium farm holders, most of which are part time or hobby farmers. Local municipalities and citizens are also involved in the management of the land. The knowledge required to run the operation is mainly agronomic (crop rotation, minimization of tillage, variety choice etc.), but efficient organization systems and clear legal guidelines are also needed.
The aim of this living lab is that of catalysing the creation of services and tools able to provide support to a demographically and professionally diverse group of farmers and other stakeholders in the consolidation of a wheat value chain that is rooted in the cooperative management of common land.
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.
We decided to work with the farmers that are involved in the cooperative D.E.S. Friul di Miec project, which is a pioneering experience for what concern common land management that, at the same time, is facing common challenges such as economical sustainability and transparency/efficiency of production, storage, milling, transformation and marketing.
We carried out a number of interviews, meetings and events during which we were able to immerse into the living lab and were able to define the needs of the group. This stage was also important to understand social and power dynamics within the cooperative, and define the role of the Living Lab in this context.
One of the most common themes that emerged from Living Lab activities was the difficulties to engage actors in co-creative processes and design thinking activities. This was most likely due to the socio-demographic profile of the group. According to most stake-holders a tool that would guide farmers and other actors throughout different stages of the process is very much needed: this lead us to present to farmers the idea of a “guidelines booklet” that would contain information and serve as a reference for good practice and problem solving.
Farmers were enthusiast of the idea and helped co-create the first chapter, which was written by local experts and includes information needed for sustainable and efficient wheat production in that specific context. We are now in the process of gathering information and pulling together expert knowledge to add on other aspects of this guidelines booklet.
The end result will be a resource that will help farmers and other actors in the process of growing, storing and processing the product as well as dealing with legal, economical and administrative issues. This would serve as a novel resource for common land management projects that often fail to find appropriate advice that is directed to their unique needs.
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