AGRILINK – 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. 

Second stop: 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.

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 must 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.

Cosmina Dinu, Highclere Consulting 

Explanatory note

AgriLink aims to improve the transition to more sustainable European agriculture through better understanding of the roles played by farm advice in farmers’ decision-making. It builds on the premise that the full range of advisors need to be included when assessing service provision and innovation adoption. To this end, AgriLink will analyse and improve the role of farmer advice in 8 innovation areas identified in the “Strategic Approach to EU Agricultural Research & Innovation”, by combining theoretical insights with cutting edge research methods, using a variety of disciplines and involving a spectrum of organisations. It draws on ‘micro-AKIS’(individuals and organisations from whom farmers seek services and the exchange of knowledge) analysis in 26 focus regions, sociotechnical scenario development and ‘living laboratories’ where farmers, advisors and researchers work together.

The aim of the AgriLink Living Labs is to develop and test improved innovation support services with potential to stimulate the transition to more sustainable forms of agriculture. We assume that doing this in a Living Lab (real life) setting, which involves stakeholders and end users in a co-creation process, leads to better results. We also assume that several different tools and methods can enhance the process and support Living Labs.