The field next door

March 5, 2020

How do the ideas and outcomes of the INTERREG projects live after the project’s end? The Municipality of Bologna and its European partners are exploring this “unwritten phase” of “MADRE”, Metropolitan Agriculture for Developing an innovative sustainable and Responsible Economy:

 

From Monday to Saturday, the association Campi Aperti, the nomad farmers’ market of the city of Bologna, sets up its tables in different squares and social centres of the city to offer its habitants an access to organic local farm products, directly sold from their producers’ hands. By mutualising and cutting out business intermediaries, the farmers reduce the logistic costs. And by establishing a system where farmers and consumers members of the association assess the farming techniques and employment methods of the sellers, they ensure healthy and environmental-friendly products to consumers.

 

 

Campi Aperti’s expertise is part of the urban agriculture “good practices” that the city of Bologna presented to its Mediterranean partners during the MADRE project encounters. The association’s founding themes run through the INTERREG MED project : “Health, the quality of the environment, and the dignity of labour are the objectives that we are pursuing through an economy of relationships, with concrete solidarity between consumers and producers” (https://www.campiaperti.org/chi-siamo/).

 

 

It is particularly through these topics that the sustainable innovations of the Metropolitan Agriculture (MA) were discussed in depth by the 6 partners of the MADRE project, coming from Barcelona (Spain), Montpellier (France), Aix-Marseille (France), Bologna (Italy), Tirana (Albania), and Thessaloniki (Greece).

From February 2017 to July 2018, the partners learned from the best practices existing in their respective communities. From there, they aimed to create a transnational network between the area’s stakeholders, and to offer propositions to foster MA.

 

What is the Metropolitan Agriculture?

 

Also referred to as “Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture”, it was defined by the FAO1 as “the agriculture activity that occurs within and surrounding the boundaries of cities throughout the world and includes products from crop and livestock agriculture, fisheries and forestry in the urban and peri-urban area”. Going beyond production and including distribution, consumption…., as well as the environmental and social services it provides, MA connects the rural and urban lives through urban farms, communal gardens, “food miles”, farmer’s markets, green rooftops and balconies…

 

 

It is estimated that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas (today, 55%)2. This intensification of the urban population presents a major challenge to the sustainability of the cities’ food supply system, facing ever higher demands. But as the industrialised agriculture leaves little possibility of emergence for small producers -land prices, low wages, …-, it produces a quite high price to pay for the environment – high greenhouse gas emission by the production and transportation, pesticides, …-. The European population is more and more aware of those consequences on their environment and health, and the development of sustainable MA fits their interests:

 

It contributes to food security and quality: the MA initiatives developing today adopt health and environment-friendly techniques and standards (organic, agroecology, attention to the low carbon footprint, to waste management…). They also work on creating trust between local farmers and consumers, and a greater knowledge about environment protection and nutrition benefits for the latter, via many educational initiatives.

 

 

The economic opportunities created by the MA are also attractive: the short circuits of the local food system allow a higher share of value for the producers, who often “have small bargaining powers facing large retailers”3. This developing economy has a job creation potential when the system becomes economically viable for its actors.

 

Social inclusion is also at the core of the concern of MA, the territories’ strategies of development, and the MADRE’s partners.  The project explored the social innovation dimensions of those new agricultural models and services. Many of the experiences studied showed a great involvement of the local population, in the functioning and/or organisation, and the objectives of socialisation, capacity and community-building carried by activities like workshops, trainings, festivals, … Furthermore, they hold a great potential of integration of the more vulnerable populations. For example, the project participants had the opportunity to visit community and collective gardens working to further the social inclusion in their communities: such as the Can Pinyol Community Gardens of Barcelona (SP), cultivated by people with social and/or psychic difficulties, or the Jardin des Aures, offering environmental and nutrition education to adults and children in a disadvantaged neighbourhood of Marseille (FR).

 

                The richness of this 18 months collaboration was thus to inspire each other, by capitalising on the different or similar good experiences on the field. But the project’s collaborators also wondered how to make their partnership fruitful beyond its limited time? It is a question for all INTERREG programmes:

 

How can projects have a lasting impact in their communities?

 

It is by investing on the exchange and policy aspects of the INTERREG programmes that MADRE’s partners kept on contributing to the Mediterranean’s sustainable evolution.

 

And it is not an easy feat, as out of the framework of a defined project, the collaboration only depends upon the wills of participants, who can change along the way, and is without financing.

 

Nevertheless, “the partners of the projects and the participants who presented their initiatives are still in touch with each other!”, assures Francesca Villani, the Bolognese Project Manager. “On a personal level, and as they organise to try to always send one of them to European conferences and events surrounding MA to present their collective realisation”. For the “after”, the INTERREG MED program also offers the framework of the horizontal communities to bolster a dialogue and exchange of knowledge between actors working on connected themes, such as the “Green growth” group, for a greener development.

 

Their commitment to foster a network also with exteriors stakeholders took the shape of the AGRI-MADRE web platform, where they compiled innovative MA projects in their regions and encourage Mediterranean MA actors to share theirs, precising their contact information to spur cooperation.

 

Furthermore, they published their policy recommendations, calling for, among others, an integration of the sustainable MA into the general strategic planning of the territories, and reflecting on the viable economic models and financing schemes “[as it is its] most challenging issue”.

 

The political possibilities for the Municipality of Bologna are limited, as the region holds the competencies on agriculture. But the institutions are interested”, explains Mrs Villani, “they are working with other programs and projects towards the same direction. MADRE is part of a movement of ideas”, and its work helps feed their progress.

 

 

 

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1 The Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations.

 

2 The 2018 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, published by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), 2018.

 

3 Policy Paper Towards sustainable food systems in the Mediterranean: the role of metropolitan agriculture, INTERREG MADRE, 2018.

 

4 https://agri-madre.net/

 

5 Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture – Best Practice Catalogue, INTERREG MED MADRE Project, 2018.

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