Blog post: Reconsidering our scope – Farmers’ groups evaluation
Coming back from the training in Leuven I took some time to think about what we learned, and reconsider our aims and what resources are available. The result was that our plan to build a nationwide platform to supply reliable and timely information and improve communication among stakeholders no longer seemed the best option for our Living Lab anymore. This was due mainly to our drive to see actual change taking place. Such a broad focus would be difficult to measure, and the available time and money wouldn’t be enough to be worthwhile.
So I’m looking at something more focused, working with a smaller community where we can have a more open and direct interaction. The information platform idea is still very good and necessary, but not yet feasible.
I was keen to identify groups of farmers at a particular stage of their development. I wanted to work with interest groups, cooperatives or associations –not communities of farmers – for two reasons:
1) I already had experience of working with broad rural communities and I was sure they would not be suitable for the format of this Living Lab.
2) groups of farmers working together towards specific objectives have specific challenges for which we can actually pilot an advisory/support service and see how it goes.
Talking to the team, we identified two possible candidates:
1) a cooperative of about 100 members, vegetables producers based in the south of the country, one of the best examples of cooperation between a big retailer and small producers resulting from Law 321/2009 [see my previous blog post]. We knew this cooperative through our colleague Raluca Ioana Barbu, and her work for the SALSA project, investigating the role that small farms have in nutrition and food security.
2) a livestock association of eight members from our county (30 minutes drive to their village) led by George Cățean, a very active and innovative young farmer.
Next step? Get to know them!
First stop: The Livestock Association from Rotbav, Brașov
Eight livestock breeders have divided the communal pastureland between themselves, with each having a plot of land according to the size of their herd. They all use their land for forage production, and each has extra arable land and hay meadows. They trust their leader a lot and he’s doing a great job! Being such a small group, I could talk to some of them individually, and we got down to their problems and needs very quickly. In the picture below, you see me presenting myself – my upbringing as a farmers’ daughter seemed to relax them a bit. We spoke the same language, more or less.
Second: Vărăști Agricultural Cooperative
During a regional meeting organized within the SALSA project, I met the leaders of Vărăști Cooperative. They are the initiators of the cooperative – very active and capable persons that I instantly connected with, and we talked a lot during the breaks. They are all people that love their work and want a fairer share for themselves, their families and their community. Concentrated on their plots of land, they aren’t even aware of their worth. If we could get their story across, it would be of immense value to our wider society. I was explaining the role of the Living Lab as a connector between farmers and policy makers, researchers and the general public. I gave a more complex presentation as the audience was mixed.
My objective at these meetings was to get to know each other and test their willingness to work together. I am grateful that both groups were quite positive towards our efforts and were interested in working with us. I was, as ever, impressed by their diligence and the level of stuff they have to deal with. Again, I felt a profound unease plunging into their reality and then thinking about the distance between them and the policy makers that rule their activity: their fragile livelihoods that so many depend on. I hope we will make a small positive contribution and get to grips with this huge, complicated problem.
by Cosmina Dinu, Highclere Consulting