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Social agriculture: social cooperatives in Italy fostering territorial cohesion and development

14 December 2015 [ English ] français ]

Social innovation in Italy is making a difference, even in agriculture. Multiple experiences of social agriculture have “sprouted" around the country. Those initiatives closely connect agriculture with the local welfare, making it a tool for territorial cohesion and development. But what is “social agriculture "? According to Federsolidarietà, the largest social cooperative organization in Italy, social agriculture is the activity that connects agriculture together with therapies, social services, care and education. At the same time, there are several social cooperatives specialised in work inclusion of disadvantaged people active in the agriculture sector.

Social cooperatives play a big role in the development of the social economy: more than 500 social cooperatives of the Federsolidarietà network are active in the social agriculture sector and 400 of them organize courses and therapy sessions linked with rural activities for people with drug and alcohol addictions and strong disabilities. There are about 5,000 workers already involved in this growing sector.

For example, the traditional food and typical products from NCO - Nuova Cooperazione Organizzata (New organized Cooperation) are made by a social cooperative that manages former criminal businesses that have re-integrated the legal economy, fighting against the power of the camorra and providing for a new life to difficult areas. They strive to contribute to the development of a social and sustainable economy by providing activities for people in difficulty with the involvement of the community. The cooperative’s motto is “if you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.”

The group Veneto Together - Group Polis is also strongly involved in this movement. Created in 1985 in Padua, Northern Italy, the group works in the sectors of disability, mental health and social problems, creating day care centers and housing communities located all around the territory. In 2007 Group Polis launched “Fuori di Campo” [“outside the field”], an organic farming program, through which people with disabilities, mental health problems, or experiencing social exclusion are socially integrated and are taught good practices that will help them in the future and might lead to their integration on the job market. This activity allows for disadvantaged people to be involved in an ongoing activity in contact with nature and the local community. The group cultivated 160,000 square meters of crops, including a 30,000 square meters vineyard that produces four varieties of wine grapes.

In Matera, in the south of Italy, the consorzio La Città Essenziale has created the brand Panecotto to promote local food and agriculture and to link tourism profits with the provision of social services. Their food products are mostly produced by social cooperatives that include disadvantaged people. They not only sell their products directly but also online on their web platform (http://www.panecotto.it/). When one buys products from Panecotto they not only support a cooperative but also the region’s welfare system, the cooperative has decided to transform its profit into a way of helping those in need meaning that every 20€ worth of products purchased equals one hour of social assistance to those not helped by public assistance and local administrations.

These examples and the other experiences like this show that innovation is made from the ground by social cooperatives, it is their trademark, and it produces social inclusion and territorial cohesion.