FARMWELL: Connecting farming communities

FARMWELL is a thematic network and is one of the first projects to focus exclusively on promoting social innovations in different national and local contexts to improve the mental, physical and social well-being of farmers and their families.

National mapping reports

The FARMWELL project methodology involved mapping the main challenges faced by small farmers in Romania when talking about well-being. In the national mapping report we described that many of the social challenges of farming communities reside in economic challenges. The simple fact is that rural Romania – although rich in natural resources – continues to be plagued by poverty and a huge gap in living/social standards between rural and urban areas.

At the local level, HCC and the Local Action Group Ținutul Bârsei (representing small farming communities) have been working together, analysing the small farming communities that overlap the LAG territory. The LAG territory covers 14 localities, 12 of which are in Brasov county and 2 in Covasna county. Based on the LAG’s knowledge of the most active actors in the territory and our attempts to contact them, only 4 local communities responded openly to the idea of getting involved in the FARMWELL project: Bod, Poiana Mărului, Șinca Veche and Vulcan.

Practice groups

We jointly carried out an initial assessment of their challenges during the first practice group meeting, which aimed to closely involve farmers in identifying the most relevant challenges. The main challenges identified were:

  • out-migration (especially of women)
  • low household income
  • low levels of education – with a direct impact on the welfare of small farmers and their communities

We looked for solutions to address the above challenges in the counties near Brasov. The inspirational innovations we found were:

  • Women’s Neighbourhood Association of Saschiz – women focused on rebuilding the social fabric of their rural community.
  • Transylvanian Highlands Project – a project covering 44 administrative units in three counties, promoting the cultural, natural and gastronomic values of farming communities.
  • EduBuzz – a private initiative supporting children in farming communities to prevent them from dropping out of school.

Based on the FARMWELL model of the solution tree, the team in Romania, together with the farming communities and stakeholders involved in the working group, analysed the root causes of the problems and the social innovations that can provide solutions, with a positive impact on the social well-being of farming communities.

The root causes identified with farmers and stakeholders relate to:

  • Migration (especially of women) of people from rural communities in search of opportunities (social, educational and economic) abroad or to cities
  • Low household income due to limited economic activities in rural areas
  • Low level of education – with direct impact on the welfare of small farmers and their communities

Social innovations

The so-called social innovations we have identified together respond to root causes in different ways:

During the second practice group meeting, we invited both people from our focus area and the identified innovations to create connections and explore how FARMWELL can support (locally) the exchange between innovations and smallholder communities.

Poverty, reduced access to education and reduced out-migration, as well as creating the conditions for small business development or attracting investors to raise income levels in farming communities are closely linked to (if not conditional on) the quality of local governance, encouraging communities to engage and come together to develop joint actions.

In response, the second meeting of the practice group focused on showcasing initiatives from farming communities that have managed to take control of their own growth and progress, that rely on working partnerships or that have provided opportunities for income growth and built a strong identity.

Piloting

All of these project activities concluded with a final field visit, called Piloting, where together with stakeholders from the surveyed farming communities, we spent two days in Saschiz to better understand what Women’s Neighbourhood is achieving for the local community.

The main objective of the piloting activity was to highlight and promote the importance (role) of women in farming communities. Thus, we learned directly from the founding members of the Women’s Neighbourhood in Saschiz about the process of setting up the association, how they work together, the events they initiate to promote their village and local gastronomy, as well as the impact that the Women’s Neighbourhood has in the community and the future plans of the association.

In addition, participants had the opportunity to meet the manager of the Transylvanian Hills project, of which Saschiz is a part, and to learn how such a project can contribute to the mobilisation of farming communities by promoting the cultural and natural values of the village, bringing knowledge and information to strengthen local identity and encouraging the start-up of small businesses (cycling, pottery, food canning, tea house).

The aim of the visit was to inspire participants to reflect and think about what they can do in their own communities to revive identity, to mobilise women and young people to become more involved in community life, to diversify farming activities leading to resilient farming communities – initiatives that contribute to a positive impact on the wellbeing of farmers, their families and the community.