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  • How a small Spanish town is revolutionising its local food system

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    Baena (ES) supports sustainable agriculture for a resilient city developement model close to its citizens’ needs, beyond mass production.


    Antonio Zafra and Raquel Moreno Vicente were part of the coordination team of the AGRI-URBAN project which was led by the Town Council of Baena. They work in ADEGUA, an association which brings together town councils, civic associations, entrepreneurs and others who want to promote sustainable development in the surrounding region. They talked to the political journalist Jamie Mackay about the organic movement, the unique features of small cities and their experience working with URBACT.

    How did you get interested in agriculture?

    Antonio Zafra (AZ): I could say I am a rural man but at the same time I love cities. I don’t live in Baena but in a small village of 500 inhabitants with all the demographic problems you can imagine. Most of my family abandoned rural work to go to university, but my roots are in the rural way of life. I love living in small villages. I run a small olive oil production and am involved in organic consumer and producer groups, so I’m a bit of an activist too.

    Raquel Moreno Vicente (RMV): I was raised in Baena so I’ve always been surrounded by olive trees and the countryside that produced our food for generations. It wasn’t really until I became a mother, though, that I realised we were buying so many things from far away rather than eating what we were producing. This was a personal revelation. From that moment on I became more aware of food in society, in health, in art, and I saw the potential for change.

    How has the food industry around Baena evolved over the past decades?


    : Today Baena is a monoculture area, but it wasn’t always like that. In twenty years we’ve lost around 200 hectares that used to be cultivated with fruit and vegetables. The agri-industrial system has won the battle of food production. Most of our olive oil is sold in big containers to other countries, or taken to other cities to be put in bottles. The result is a terrible paradox. This high production rural area is now dependent on food from all over the world to feed its people. Maybe it’s a successful industry, but it’s not a successful system for the population’s health.

    RMV: Another big problem is unemployment. Because of automation, fewer agricultural workers are needed, and when they are, it’s only for a few months a year. This trend demands a reaction. If we want to keep people in the territory and halt depopulation - not only in agriculture - some changes are needed to better balance globalisation and local initiatives.

    What has Baena done to promote alternatives?

    AZ: One of the earliest steps was an analysis of the composition of the oil which we did with Cordoba university, to map and analyse the territory. Then we created some spaces – including a museum– so visitors and the local population could engage with the culture of olive trees. With the 2008 crisis our priority shifted to the social dimension of the problem. We supported the creation of small social gardens which were really successful at reconnecting people and food at the local level.

    How did URBACT help your efforts?

    AZ: There are lots of problems when trying to innovate in small cities. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a department or even a single professional working on a topic in a small town or village. Occasionally you don’t even have a councillor in the area. Through AGRI-URBAN we wanted to share expertise. We had 11 cities in our network, but all coming from different starting points. Over time, though, we managed to find a common interest in the food system. We also wanted to promote the importance of the rural urban connection. Lots of small cities are connected with big cities around them so we wanted to discuss how they might interact more effectively.

    RMV: The URBACT methodology was an inspiration for us too. If you don’t connect networks with local realities you can’t promote grassroots change. In AGRI-URBAN our local stakeholders had direct access to the experience in other cities, to understand how they might be applied here in Baena. Seeing that connection, coming from European to local and back to European level has been really important in allowing us to make changes.

    What were the most inspiring practices shared in the network?

    AZ: 40 years ago the municipality of Mollet Del Vallès (ES), in the suburbs of Barcelona challenged the industrial expansion of the city by creating an agrarian area. Today they have a protected natural park of around 500 hectares where they promote organic food and food start-ups. They’re even developing social governance and researching with Barcelona University how to protect biodiversity and collect seeds.

    RMV: Fundão (PT) have been really successful in uniting the food sector and promoting change. Their producers have support from a central unit where they can try new things in the way they pack and present their food. We need something like that here. We’re actually working with them now on another project, promoting the use of new technologies in relation to food.

    Your plans include social orchards, a food hub and a farming incubator to support young businesses. Which look the most promising at this stage?

    AZ: At the moment only 5-10% are being implemented, though some of the proposals just need a small commitment to get going. Making organic canteens in high schools, for example, only needs the school staff and the municipality to be a little more proactive.

    RMV: All the political parties in the town council support our plan. There’s no majority at the moment, but some of the manifestos in the elections last month actually included AGRI-URBAN initiatives. What happens next depends on political willpower but also on individuals. If someone has the interest and engagement they can really make things happen.

    AZ: We’ve developed a pilot action to remind the politicians of what they approved. It’s a kind of social garden, not for just families but on a bigger scale involving NGOs, ecologist groups and other organisations. There’s a plot in the very middle of the city so nobody can forget about us!

    Have you got a message for other small cities working to tackle big issues like these?

    AZ: Some intellectuals say the spirit of Europe was created in cities. From a historical point of view maybe it’s true. But many important values in Europe - freedom, sociability, care for the environment – are rooted in rural areas. Personally, I like the idea of a Europe in which we are able to ruralise urban areas and urbanise some rural areas, to exchange the good things we have in both directions. Small and medium sized cities have a unique capacity to connect the two worlds and food is one of the best interconnectors we have. In this age of new communication, I think we can redefine both areas together.

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  • Local food in urban forks

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    Agri-food production can help with social inclusion says Miguel Sousa the Agri-Urban Lead Expert following the workshop held during URBACT City Festival in Lisbon in September 2018.

    Agri-food production is key for cities.


    Agri-food production is a mature industry that plays an important role in terms of GDP, employment, environmental sustainability and social integration. Here we share the knowledge of Agri-Urban and Semear projects.

    Food is actually one of the main urban challenges, but food is also at the centre of the debate on sustainable development. Food systems are essential for sustainable development: they are at the nexus that links food security, nutrition and human health, the viability of eco-systems, climate change, and social justice.

    More than 7 500 million people need to be fed healthily, equitably and affordably while maintaining the ecosystems on which life depends. The evidence of the impact of diet on the health of people and the planet has grown enormously during recent decades, yet changing consumer eating habits, even for public health alone, not to mention planetary health, is proving difficult.

    Power in the food system is becoming increasingly concentrated with mega-mergers in the seed, agri-chemical, fertiliser, animal genetics and farm machinery industries; this reinforces the industrial farming model, exacerbating its social and environmental costs. Globally, farmers are increasingly reliant on a handful and suppliers and buyers, squeezing their incomes. There is an urgent need to connect research and policy around an innovative and more integrated sustainable food security agenda.

    That is why innovation, new business models and strategies must activate growth potential. Small and medium size European cities, especially those located in rural areas and with a local economy linked to agriculture and the agri-food system can play a leading role to face this urban challenge.

    Visit to the SEMEAR agricultural land in Oeiras (ES)

    As part of a workshop during the festival, the team went out onto the field - literally - and visited Oeiras, near Lisbon. 

    The SEMEAR team (SEMEAR - Exploração Agrícola SEMEAR - Terra de Oportunidades at Oeiras), Joana Santiago, Raquel Monteiro and Cecilia Duarte, explained how their sustainable program of social inclusion for children, young people and adults with intellectual and developmental difficulties works through training and development of skills, employability and socio-professional insertion, as well as agricultural production and transformation.

    The preparation of the land took some months to be ready for agricultural production due to the lack of water. With the first crops consumed by local workers, a B2C approach was adopted, and it still works very well. SEMEAR doesn’t foresee a business agreement with retailers because of the lack of capacity to supply the market on a regular basis.

    Agricultural production is a tool to facilitate people’s integration into society, commercialisation and profitability is not a final goal” insists Joana Santiago.

    Sustainability is always a key issue for organisations like SEMEAR and the participants tried to understand how the operations work in terms of financial sustainability. The revenue streams for SEMEAR were summarised by Cecilia Duarte and are based on a strong network with local donors, public grants from regional or national funding schemes and by selling their products to families around SEMEAR.

    It’s a goal to move to an organic production, but at this stage the transitional period is preparing the land”, says Raquel Monteiro.

    The main outcome of SEMEAR is the social inclusion for young people and adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), through professional training, developing soft skills and promoting employability in agricultural and food industry trades

    The agri-food sector as social integration 

    SEMEAR and Agri-Urban both work on social integration in agriculture for the young population, addressing the capacity of agriculture to promote (or to generate) therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social services.

    Agri-food to increase urban-rural links

    Small and medium-sized towns are key in providing a meeting point between urban and rural businesses, turning into hubs for employment, entrepreneurship and training for rural youth.

    One can look more specifically at the examples of Fundão (PT), Mouans-Sartoux (FR), Petrinja (HR), Mollet del Vallés (ES) and Baena (ES). These cities’ Integrated Action Plans intend to improve links between urban centres and smallholder farmers and their organisations. Enhancing links between smallholders and market opportunities across agri-food value chains, creating decent employment in them, and fostering shared sustainable arrangements between urban and rural groups are necessary preconditions to create inclusive and sustainable rural-urban linkages.

    Practical take-aways from SEMEAR and agri-urban experiences

    Open agri-business to young people

    Youths can become “agri-preneurs” along agri-food value chains, from production and aggregation to processing and marketing. Supporting their access to productive resources can help them invest in profitable smallholder agricultural activities.

    Invest in hard and soft infrastructure

    Access to energy, roads, communications and water infrastructure is essential, as well as facilitating the flow of goods, labour, money and information.

    Operate both on labour supply and demand

    Youths need access to quality training in order to develop relevant skills for the labour market (supply), and decent farm and non-farm employment opportunities within agri-food value chains (demand).

    Integrate decent work aspects

    Policies should improve working conditions of young women and men employed in agri-food value chains by extending social protection, workers’ rights, occupational health and safety, and rural workers’ groups.

    Share and learn with successful case studies

    Here are some Portuguese initiatives of the social and solidarity sector:

    • PROVE: creating jobs and bridging the rural-urban divide;
    • FRUTA FEIA: adding social value and reducing food waste;
    • CABAZ do PEIXE: between the sea and the city, delivering fish protein and reducing fish waste;
    • BIOVIVOS: tiny urban spaces can produce simple, healthy and nutritious food.

    The engagement and commitment of local policymakers, social organisations, entrepreneurs and retailers is a key aspect for the sustainable development and the resilience of small and medium sized European cities.

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  • The growing role of food in fixing our cities

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    El pasado 7 de enero de 2019 se lanzó oficialmente la nueva convocatoria las URBACT Action Planning Networks, que estará abierta hasta el 17 de abril. Puedes conocer todos los detalles aquí
    Circular economy

    Representatives from small and medium sized cities in the URBACT network Agri-Urban met recently in Fundao to exchange ideas about improving the food infrastructure in their cities. They got together to ask: How can we work more effectively with producers? How can we stimulate innovation in the supply chain? How can we optimise public sector procurement in schools and care homes to reshape our local food supply lines - and consumption habits?

    Around the table, Agri-Urban brings some heavyweight experience. Among the partners is Sodertajle from Sweden, with its trailblazing work in public procurement. There is also Mouans-Sartoux, a small French city punching above its weight and challenging city decision-makers on key questions of land use.

    Fundao itself has overcome its apparent vulnerability to dependence on one product by diversifying its local cherry economy in highly innovative ways. Its “Fablab” enables local producers and creatives to collaborate using state-of-the art facilities. One local business is cultivating mushrooms in used coffee grounds, exploiting commercial waste to generate value – a great example of the circular economy in action.

    In the fading sunlight of a long productive day the international group visited the Natura glamping site, glamorous camping to the uninitiated, where Agri-Urban’s city partners planted a row of trees – cherry trees of course – on a ridge overlooking the valley.

    In this network we can see the URBACT integrated principles at work, truly encompassing environmental, economic and social activity. And Agri-Urban is not working alone in this sphere. Food has become a hot topic for cities.

    Main course: URBACT’s food adventure continues

    At the recent Unusual Suspects Festival in London, Agri-Urban had the chance to connect with a global audience interested in their work. With inputs from across the city, participants from as far afield as Canada and South Korea assembled at the wonderful Calthorpe Project to exchange ideas and inspiration.

    Albert Garcia, representing Mollet de Valles (Spain), another URBACT food pioneer, had some interesting take-aways from the event. He noted the important role of food in helping reach some of the goals cities have today – including meeting health, social and economic priorities. He said: “What I really thought in the plane is that I will commit as a civil servant to make the unusual more usual. To work hard to convince the main actors that making innovative contributions to their city with unusually good initiatives or approaches is possible. From the city hall we have to struggle to create the right framework to let the unusual grow and become usual as a major achievement for the city. A long way to go but lot of unusual suspects full with energy and commitment.

    In Mollet, as in many URBACT cities, the food theme remains strong. As well as Diet for a Green Planet, which was Mollet’s first programme experience, we have had Sustainable Food, led by Brussels, as well as URBACT Markets exploring the important role of city markets, led by Barcelona. The recent announcement of the URBACT Good Practices continued this food-related momentum, with labeled cities including Mouans Sartoux (France) and Turin (Italy). Mouans Sartoux confronts city planners with key questions about how urban land should be used in the 21st Century. Many cities are under pressure to accommodate growing populations and provide additional housing. But where will the land come from – and how can we ensure a balanced approach where cities retain green spaces, not only for recreation but also for cultivation?

    One of Turin’s two URBACT Good Practices taps into Italy’s integral relationship between food and local communities. In recent years the city has supported the redevelopment of its network of neighbourhood markets, giving each community access to local produce within walking distance of home. This helps sustain hyper-local micro-economies. It also provides a valuable social forum at a time when there is much talk of the increase in loneliness and isolation in our cities. Additionally, the fact that these markets are a short walk from home discourages driving and promotes cycling and walking which are not only low-carbon activities but also ones more open to chance encounters with neighbours and other shoppers.

    Food in the wider urban family

    A short hop from Turin, Milan has almost 30 square kilometres of agricultural land within its municipal boundary. On the back of its 2016 Food Expo, there is a variety of food-related activity in the city. Their URBACT Good Practice focuses on peri-urban agricultural activity, exploring the role of the food sector in driving entrepreneurship, innovation and employment. The city is also among the first wave of Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) cities, with this project building on their growing wealth of food-related experience. The potential crossover between this and some of the URBACT projects is clear, helped by the fact that this UIA and URBACT’s Agri-Urban project both have support from the same expert, Miguel Sousa.

    In the initial cluster of 18 UIA cities, two others also have a food dimension. Pozzuoli, in the greater Naples metropolitan area, focuses on encouraging zero-kilometre food production in a part of Italy that is the victim of its own gastronomic success. Local producers are more likely to export their mozzarella to New York than produce it for the local market. The domino (pizza?) effect is that the food for sale locally is often imported from North Africa. This may reflect an effective market at work – but it’s an environmental own-goal. Addressing this imbalance, with the aim of stimulating local production and consumption, is one of Pozzuoli’s UIA goals.

    And the UIA focus on food doesn’t stop at the Alps. In the north of France, the city of Lille is also embarking on an approach that puts food at the centre of its anti-poverty activity. Their intention is to transform a well-known local brownfield site, Fives Cail, into a variety of food-related initiatives. Their proposed Halle Gourmande will be a hub of food-related activities, providing opportunities to learn, share and enjoy. In doing so the project’s transformation of this old heavy industrial site will be emblematic of Lille’s post-industrial shift.

    So, when did food and cities hit it off so well?

    Why the big buzz around food? One clear reason is food’s role as a social connector. In an increasingly polarised world, where tribal behaviour and bubble living keep us apart from those who may think differently from us, food can act as a bridge. The inspiring Zipbob social dining project in Seoul, for example, brings neighbours together through food. This is important in a booming megacity where traditional neighbourhoods are fast disappearing with socially unsettling effects. Back in Europe, early findings from an ongoing OECD study on migrant integration in EU cities have underlined the importance of creating shared spaces where locals and new arrivals can meet. Sharing food is an obvious way to do this. For example, it is exactly what Options Food Lab does, linking migrants with cookery skills with Athenians willing to host food sharing events in their homes. As well as the evident social benefits, this has also created a pathway into employment for a number of new arrivals in the city.

    In this same space, we can also see initiatives like Conflict Kitchen using food as a platform for the building of mutual understanding and respect. This project, which initiated in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, runs a restaurant offering the cuisine of a country with which the US is at war. Over the years, the culinary offer has included Iran, Cuba and North Korea. Currently, it is focused on Palestinian food and the restaurant also provides a platform for cultural events including poetry and theatrical performances. The overall idea is to give Americans an insight into cultures that are often widely misrepresented in the mainstream US media.

    Afters: How do we maintain this momentum?

    One of the best things about this new urban food movement is its organic spontaneity. Innovative projects, often run on shoestring budgets, are popping up all over the place. Energetic young people with an interest in food and a commitment to social change are developing many of them, like Options Food Lab. Spark York is another example - a new social enterprise on a temporary site, modeled on London’s Pop Brixton. This will create an attractive pop-up facility where a diverse range of food outlets will each have a strong social purpose.

    We have also seen some of the biggest names in the food industry getting involved, investing their own funds and attracting support from others. The UK’s Jamie Oliver is one well-known example. Another is the French chef Thierry Marx, through his Cuisine Mode d’Emploi. Perhaps most impressive of all is the inspiring work of Modena super-chef Massimo Bottura, with his ambitious attempts to feed the homeless in his Reffetorio Ambrosiano in Milan. Superstar chefs can’t drive the structural changes our cities need, but they can draw attention to the issues and mobilise support across the political spectrum. This includes underlining the food sector’s long-standing role as a route into the labour market for people facing multiple barriers.

    The Botturas of this world don’t need much municipal support. But most social entrepreneurs do, and city administrations can help in lots of ways. They can ensure their cities have space for agriculture, as Bristol has done, through their innovative Food Plan. They can also help by supporting access to premises, even on a temporary basis – particularly when so many spaces lie empty in our cities. And, of course they can provide the financial and business support that all enterprises need.

    In the URBACT Good Practices, municipalities have played a key role which can inspire others. The URBACT Festival, in Tallinn on 3-5 October, will showcase these – and all the other good practices. URBACT will also be supporting a new generation of good practice transfer projects and, who knows, there may be some food projects amongst them.

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  • How the food sector can help reduce youth unemployment in European medium-sized cities

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    V Lizboni se bodo 13. in 14. septembra na URBACT Festivalu mest srečali izvoljeni predstavniki, urbani praktiki in strokovnjaki iz vse Evrope, kjer bodo sodelovali, razpravljali o ugotovitvah 20 akcijskih omrežij ter proslavili 15. obletnico programa in vse večji vpliv mest kot nosilcev sprememb v Evropi.
    Circular economy

    It’s the feeling in the Agri-Urban network that no one - national governments, donor agencies, sectoral associations, or the knowledge community - is doing enough to defuse the ticking time bomb of youth unemployment in European medium-sized cities.

    Europe’s agri-food industry provides 46 million jobs in 15 million businesses, accounting for 6% of the EU’s GDP. In 2015, around 10 million people were directly employed in the EU agricultural sector, representing 5 % of Europe’s workforce. In most member states, agriculture is still dominated by family farms, where the bulk of the work is carried out by members of their family. At the same time, the farming population in the EU is rapidly getting older. Recent figures show that only 6% of the total farm managers in Europe were under 35 years of age. Agriculture as a source of employment is declining in Europe. Between 2000 and 2015, around 5 million full time jobs in the sector disappeared (source: Eurostat).

    This article intends to give a flavour of what Agri-urban cities are doing to reduce youth unemployment.

    Farming and food industry in small and medium-size cities: context

    Farming and the food industry sustain a significant proportion of employment and income in many small and medium-sized towns throughout Europe. However, this complex of activities from both the primary and secondary sectors is categorized as a mature industry which has reached peak employment and business levels. Indeed, in recent decades, a number of trends in Agribusiness have reduced the capacity of those activities to sustain employment in towns.

    Unemployment rates are generally significantly higher in rural than in urban regions. In rural areas, it is estimated that “hidden unemployment” (involving underemployed farmers and farm workers) is higher than in urban areas.

    The economic structure of rural regions is in transformation: the share of the primary sector in GVA declines continuously, while the share of the tertiary sector grows. This is a general trend in all regions, but it is more pronounced in rural regions. The growth in tourism illustrates the growth of the tertiary sector. It is increasing in all regions (especially in Southern European countries) and is found as a main driver for growth and employment. Thus, those urban economies in transition to more sustainable models are finding opportunities in re-thinking the agri-food production, which is especially relevant in the so-called agro-cities of the European area. More widely, a number of tested initiatives which are dealing with job creation in agribusiness in urban and suburban contexts are already showing their potential, e.g. community vegetable gardens, local markets, municipal land banks, farming spaces for young entrepreneurs, e-commerce, technology parks in the food sector, rising of short distribution channels, green markets, agro-ecological suburban belts.

    Agri-Urban cities have in common the fact of being small and medium-sized cities with strong links between the urban and the rural environment. For this reason, they are exploiting the opportunities offered by rural areas to create jobs in the agri-food sector and improve the overall sustainability of their ecosystem, while injecting in their urban fabrics elements of rurality such as food production. These cities and towns are creating the conditions to offer real opportunities to foster job creation in farming and agri-food production as a beneficial impulse for the urban unemployed population.

    Why the local economies of rural towns have become narrow

    There was a time when each rural community had its own diverse local economy. Food would be produced and processed; non-food products from agriculture, fisheries and forestry covered a great range of needs; goods would be made and repaired locally by a range of craftsmen; services would be provided locally. Changes since then have tended to discourage local processing of food, timber or other raw materials, replacing rural craftsmen with distant urban industries, and causing services to relocate to larger towns.

    These developments have also resulted in a brain-drain from small medium sized rural cities. Thus, the local economies of many rural cities have become narrow and relatively weak, with an overdependence on economic decisions made in distant cities. Without incentives to create alternative employment, the brain-drain of young jobless will continue.

    The Agri-Food Production: an opportunity

    Agri-food production still plays an important role in terms of GDP, employment and environmental sustainability. When implemented successfully, a local food system can have a positive impact on three critical levels: environmental sustainability, economic viability and social equity. Acting on these three critical levels generates opportunities for young workers to start up new business, create qualified jobs, improve their quality of life and wellbeing, strengthen their sense of belonging and integrate them into the community.

    The recent alarms regarding the health risks for consumers or the negative effects on the environment stemming from certain intensive production practices have resulted in new demands for quality food products and regional specialities. A decentralisation of food processing, packaging and marketing functions could bring new employment to rural cities creating local value-added.

    The main economic challenges for young entrepreneurs and small farms are access to farming resources (such as land and capital) and access to markets, particularly in terms of bargaining power in the food chain. A food system is a complex web of interconnected entities that takes food from its source to our plates. Heavy and complex supply chains give a competitive advantage to large wholesalers instead of smaller, local farms with small quantities of products. Many small farms also lack the entrepreneurial skills to improve their business models, or to identify new business opportunities.

    The new communication technologies and infrastructures, like the Internet, have made numerous jobs independent of the place they are performed. These technologies also give access to knowledge, consultancy services and to the world market. Rural cities, or individuals living in rural areas, can thus offer their products, skills and services to a broader market.

    An increasingly important sector of services concerns tourism and local gastronomy. In many countries, successful initiatives of wine and gastronomic fairs and festivals have brought new life to entire regions, promoting local cultural (e.g. music, costumes, dances) and gastronomic traditions. Such developments are reviving market towns traditionally providing important services and employment for their rural hinterland.

    Leisure activities, such as fishing, hunting, walking, skiing, cycling, horse riding, golfing, etc, attract an increasing number of people to spend their holidays in rural surroundings. The creation of nature reserves, or sites of special scientific or historic interest, and areas of outstanding natural beauty, have added interesting products to the countryside as an area for recreation and learning. The necessary maintenance work creates new employment for countryside stewardship and a range of other activities surround these new "products".

    Some small iniatives have a huge potential for boosting employment

    More recently, small initiatives with an important potential for boosting employment in the sector have begun to emerge. We, at Agri-Urban, are collecting evidence of this transformation at different levels:

    • Cooperation between farmers: Often the challenges of the local food model outweigh the benefits when farms work independently. By developing strong partnerships, local producers can engage in 'cooperation', or the sharing of resources from equipment to ideas while operating as competing individuals. The city of Fundão, created the Fundão Producers’ Club in the scope of the work developed by the municipality of Fundão, in broad partnership with a group of farmers and entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector. The brand aggregates a set of endogenous products of excellence in the region. The strategy includes participation in national and international fairs, creation and development of new integrated products, opening shops, training plans for entrepreneurs, business missions, inverse missions and the development of partnerships, among many other initiatives.
    • Alliances between farms and food businesses: The highly consolidated industrial food markets make it difficult for small-scale producers to enter. Alternative marketing strategies will entail developing partnerships between traditional retailers and local producers through alternative channels, policy incentives and word-of-mouth. In Cesena, the main industry sectors are companies focused on the production, manufacturing, processing and distribution of fruit, vegetables and meat products (mainly poultry). Besides this important sector, which is positively impacting on the employment in the city and province, there are a consistent number of small family owned enterprises. They are the evidence of the agricultural background of the territory linked to the agribusiness production and today they represent a sector which is suffering from an economic point of view, due to the abandonment of lands, sprawling urbanization and the straggling effect of the large retail/distribution sector.
    • Raising skills and competences:  offering a combination of academic and on the job training which provides the skills necessary for advancing the industry and meeting the expectations of young people who are looking for career opportunities. Starting with the skills necessary for agriculture and food manufacturing, but going further to address the wider challenges facing the sector, including a growing global demand for food in a limited space and the threat of climate change. At LAG, a non-profit organization that promotes employability, called Devenirs, offers training about organic gardening for unemployed people. This training lasts one year. During this period, the trainee is invited to find a work experience placement in a vegetable farm or in a greenhouse. Another programme is the CAP Job in the Liège Province, financed by the European Social Fund. The project provides training for market gardeners and high graduates (Masters in Agronomy) on different topics like greenhouse management, growing planning, agri-ecological method, etc.
    • Capitalization on local competitive advantage: There are many attributes available in local urban products that industrial food products lack, including freshness, seasonality, variety, and healthiness. Farmers must promote theirs as "value-added" products with a story to tell, highlighting the contrasts between their products and those of their industrial competitors. Pyli is characterized by a mountainous or highland (percentage 87.38%) landscape. Furthermore, a minority of the area is managed for food production  (9.9 % cultivated and 12.6 % grassland, while woodlands cover 75.95% of the total area. The area has special cultural features that attract thousands of tourists annually. Local economy and employment are mainly based on agriculture and forest products and its interdependence with the livestock production in the mountainous areas of the region, by creating a strong relationship for the productive sector of the local economy. The local competitive advantages of Pyli are the mountainous areas that can provide important solutions for creating job opportunities and promoting social cohesion by contributing to the preservation of the natural environment and the cultural heritage of these areas.
    • Nurturing talent: Farmers incubators:  In June 2013, the LAG launched the first incubator for young farmers in organic gardening in Wallonia. It offers a field (from 10 ares to 1 hectare), greenhouses, and access to water for irrigation. The young farmers are coaching by Creajob (for business planning, marketing, accounting, and so on) and a truck gardener (a mentor) for technical advices. The goal is to promote self-employment in agriculture and support the entrepreneurs in growing their business.
    • Engaging with policymakers: Policymakers are important players in designing food policies, which are closely related to many other urban challenges and policies, such as poverty, health and social protection, hygiene and sanitation, land use planning, transport and commerce, energy, education, and disaster preparedness, it is essential to adopt an approach that is comprehensive, interdisciplinary and inter-institutional. Some good examples can be found in the city of Mollet del Vallés, the city of Södertälje that are implementing innovative public policies aimed at introducing organic and local food in nursery schools of the city as well as in a special education center. It is a complex process that the municipalities had the opportunity to learn during their participation in the project DIET FOR A GREEN PLANET, led by the city of Södertälje in the framework of the URBACT II Programme.

    Towards inclusive, coherent and reflexive urban-rural food governance systems 

    Agri-Urban is collecting evidence to confirm the potential of thousands of jobs that can be created in the agri-food sector when cities implement smart policies to exploit in a sustainable manner the rich resources of small and medium sized rural cities in order to produce a favourable effect on employment. We intend to generate a better understanding and deployment of all tested tools and initiatives, inside and outside the partnership, which open new perspectives and opportunities for food production in and nearby our cities.

    The search for evidences with impact on job creation cover different themes as; Short Circuits (Urban Markets, Online Shops, On-farm Shops, Food Hubs), Smart Land Use (Urban Land Use, Rural Land Use), Business Development of SMEs (Entrepreneurship & Incubation, Business Skills, Digital Transformation, Awareness Campaigns, Food Tourism) and Public Procurement (public plate).

    So far, the evidence collected makes it clear that reinforcing the links between the urban and the rural environment opens opportunities offered by rural areas to create jobs in the agri-food sector and improve the overall sustainability of their ecosystem, while injecting in their urban fabrics elements of rurality such as food production or the creation of farming spaces.

    In the public agenda, food is no more considered just as a commodity or as a nutritional necessity; it is an emerging multidimensional policy challenge, which crosses ecological, social, economic and spatial dimensions. A sustainable and integrated urban approach is being implemented in Agri-Urban to deal with the main issues that must be addressed: an inclusive, coherent and reflexive urban/rural food governance system; a more solid social and physical infrastructure to reduce the distance between producers and consumers, and to promote circular economy; reliable markets for quality food producers, resulting in new opportunities for SMEs development; the need for experimenting new forms of entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector, and for creating new jobs and skills.

    Employment and job creation, along with competitiveness, is our main focus, in terms of international cross-learning and action planning at local level. Most of the evidence herein mentioned are proving to be useful in terms of job creation, under various forms, especially by encouraging self-employment and creation of small and medium-sized family and social enterprises. Furthermore, these small initiatives, albeit embedded into proximity networks, host a potential for scaling up.


    This article was co-writted by Miguel Sousa, Raquel Moreno and Antonio Zafra.

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