Scaling out and up social farming in Italy. Evolution of social farming and the role of the National Forum of Social Agriculture, a qualitative analysis
Dalla Torre C
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The concept of social innovation in rural and marginal areas has rapidly expanded in the research and policy debate for its potential to be the framework for addressing urgent societal challenges and unmet needs (Bock 2012). In rural and inner areas, social agriculture practices (SA) can be seen as social innovations as they pioneered new form of co-operation between actors and sectors in the provision of social services in remote and rural areas. Moreover, social agriculture is an important factor for the diversification of agriculture, providing farms new additional income and delivering services that promote the persistence of the local communities in rural and marginal areas (Di Iacovo, O’Conner 2009). In Italy, interesting social agriculture experiences have developed since the early 1970s. However, only in the early 2000s that the model of social agriculture spreads across rural and remote areas. In the same years, actors coming from various fields (scientific, social, agricultural, cooperation) started to build up a network of practices and experiences, which evolved in the creation of the National Forum of Social Agriculture (NFSA) in 2011. The NFSA promotes a model of social agriculture based on a set of common principles (e.g. valorization of the differences among social agriculture realities, the relationship between man and agriculture practices and above the empowerment of the individual) and a network of different social agriculture realities (e.g. cooperatives, farms, labor organization, enterprises, institutions, and regional networks). The paper aims to analyze the process of scaling out and scaling up of social agriculture in rural areas as a social innovation by analyzing the contribution of the forum to this diffusion. By using the theoretical framework developed in the Horizon 2020 project on Social Innovation in Marginalized Rural Areas (Secco et al. 2017) and by means of mapping, the paper addresses the following research questions: What is the role of the FNAS and other contextual factors in promoting the diffusion and the growth of the SA across Italy? What triggers the scaling up of the Forum itself? What distinguishes SA practices in geographical terms and precisely what is the difference between urban and rural social agriculture? In answering these questions, the paper analyzes the specificities of such network of practices in marginal and rural areas in comparison to urban areas in terms of target groups and types of social services provided. Furthermore, the paper discusses the bottom up action prompted by the member of the NFSA in the approval on national and regional laws on SA, which in turn strongly promoted the replication of social agriculture experiences across Italian rural and peripheral areas. Overall, the paper contributes with an evaluation of the capillary action of the FNAS at all administrative levels (local, provincial, regional, national) and its innovative capacity to spread a set of values related to social agriculture that are able to mobilize the local community and the society broadly.
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