New approaches to sustainable rural development: Social Farming as an opportunity in Europe?

Commercial agriculture seeks to maximize production efficiency, especially since the mid-20th century. This has led to profound changes in farms and rural areas throughout Europe. The intensive farming of the so-called “Green Revolution” has marginalized many agricultural areas, which then become depopulated. Economic diversification in rural areas since the 1980s, incorporating tourism activities and generating added value in agricultural products, has driven the present multifunctionality. At the same time, consumer appreciation for organic farming and proximity sourcing has increased, and farmers have responded to this market. Since 2008, the global crisis has aggravated the economic situation of a large part of the population. On one hand, more and more low-quality food products are imported, at an unsustainable level of energy costs. On the other hand, the lack of employment opportunity has led many young people to seek economic opportunities in the countryside; producing new products based on ecological criteria and marketed in short proximity circuits.
Within this scenario, Social Farming has appeared in several European countries in different forms. Through the production and processing of agricultural products that incorporates direct social benefits in employment, training, therapy or rehabilitation of groups at risk of social exclusion, Social Farming gives society a return on public and private investment in the form of social contributions, especially in four areas: a) social cohesion; b) empowerment of socially vulnerable groups; c) local development in rural and peri-urban settings; and d) an equitable balance between revenues and costs to society. We will discuss this emerging activity as an innovative instrument within the framework of agricultural and rural multifunctionality, defining Social Farming, outlining its main features and its dissemination throughout Europe and present some specific examples in the Catalan context.

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