SCORAI Working Group on Community, Collective Action, and Alternative Pathways calls for new participants

By Flora Sonkin, Jordan Treakle and Robert Orzanna,

A diverse group of scholars participated past summer in a series of special sessions on the theme of “Re-embedding the Social: New Modes of Production, Critical Consumption, and Alternative Lifestyles” that was part of the annual conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics held at the University of California Berkeley. In the aftermath of the conference there was considerable interest in trying to maintain momentum and extend the circle of participation. Continue reading

Interreg project Rural Alliances: final report

ra_eu_logo_stackedThe Interreg project Rural Alliances brought together 12 partners from North West Europe to tackle the challenges of demographic change in rural areas. These challenges included: young people leaving rural towns and villages; the elderly becoming increasingly isolated & in need of social and medical care; shops, post offices, pubs, public toilets and telephone boxes closing; and increasingly difficult environments for setting up and running sustainable businesses.

The project tackled these challenges by actively bringing rural communities and businesses together, capitalising on their two distinct attributes: rural businesses with their “make it happen” attitudes, with the values of rural communities of loyalty, pride and self-esteem to create over 76 Rural Alliances. Together they have reshaped their areas to make them friendly, buzzing and vibrant, creating a more stable future for all their residents.

Ina Horlings from the Rural Sociology Group was a member of the Policy and Advisory Panel of Rural Alliances. The project developed handbooks on rural governance and financial engineering, inspiring videos, a skils plotting exercise, and various fact sheets and policy papers, all available on the website. For communities who want to know how vibrant their community is, a new tool was developed to measure rural vibrancy.The final report can be downloaded here.

Edible public space eaten by whom?

Growing food in public spaces can be a great awareness raising campaign. A beautiful example is given here from the city of Adernach which was in the news this summer at various German tv stations (quite appropriate that the Dutch call the news in the summer “cucumber times”). There are also projects in England such as in Leeds or in The Netherlands such as the one in my neighbourhood (see earlier posts here and here). Continue reading

Urban Ag – Stadslandbouw

Grow your own is emerging as a trendy urban activity. Although allotment gardens often exists for over 50 years, their image is drastically changing. Until recently, these spaces were ignored by any city with promotional aspirations. Rather, they were tolerated at fringes or near railroad tracks. Quite different from the central place ‘community gardens’ are conquering now, increasingly heralded as ‘healthy’ spaces in and for neighborhoods. For a closer connection to nature, for the educational value of food growing, for the connection to better diets, for improvement of the social fabric of the ‘hood’.

What is policy aspiration and what is real in this? An interesting question for sociologists trying to understand contemporary society. Colleague Esther Veen is studying various forms of allotment/community gardens throughout the Netherlands. She is making her research accessible through the blog; www.onderzoekerstadslandbouw.wordpress.com. In Dutch.

Moreover, there are opportunities for students to study specific gardens in The Netherlands, recently a Master Thesis on an allotment garden in Ede was completed. A new research question comes from a garden in Sliedrecht (see blog in Dutch) and also the city of Rotterdam is interested in a city-wide study on the functioning of their community gardens.

For more information on Master Thesis possibilities in this field, please contact Els Hegger; Els.Hegger@wur.nl

Presenting my Colombian case study area

During the last two weeks, I was in Bogotá to talk to experts from the IER at the Javeriana University as well as the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to find out about public support for joint capacity building in rural Colombia. Now, I am back in the department of Santander to start my field work.

In order to be able to do an in-depth study of a) how support for joint capacity building in rural areas is organized and b) how this support is evaluated by its beneficiaries, I narrowed my case study area down to one municipality: Floridablanca.

Main square in Floridablanca

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Excursion to Los Maklenkes nature reserve

Last Monday (21st of November), I participated in a field trip to Los Maklenkes nature reserve on top of the mountain La Judía in the municipality of Floridablanca, close to Bucaramanga. This nature reserve is managed by the peasants living around the reserve and, amongst others, sponsored by the Dutch state lottery. The field trip was part of the festival for urban-rural dialogue, in which I participated the previous weekend.

Los Maklenkes Nature Reserve, Floridablanca, Colombia

The day started with a gathering of all participants to make our way up the mountain to the nature reserve. It was an adventurous drive with 16 people in one Jeep, going up steeper and steeper mud-paths. I dared not to look to the right where the mountain was falling as steep to the ground as the road was crawling up.

Upon arrival at the entrance of the park, we were greeted by the local peasants and informed about the history of the nature reserve and its aim to protect biodiversity and water reservoirs. Following the introduction, we switched into our rubber boots and commenced with a three hour hiking tour through the reservoir.

Getting ready for our hike

Here, we saw the organic agro-forest farming activities which are being initiated under the facilitation of Fundaexpresión, a local NGO for promoting participatory research activities and education in peasant communities. I saw plantain and banana trees, coffee plants and avocado trees.

Banana tree

Following our hike, we settled in the communal house of the reserve to discuss nature protection activities in the high Andes and their impact on the livelihoods of peasants. At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that the provision of information and the creation of knowledge at local level was the most crucial point in enabling local peasants to deal with the resulting pressures on their livelihoods. The provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building were, however, regarded as poor. It was agreed that more attention must be given to the provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building at local level should peasants be enabled to deal with pressures on their livelihoods resulting from nature protection activities.

II Festival de Expresiones Urbanas y Rurales: Diálogo por la Diversidad y Buen Vivir, Bucaramanga, Colombia

Last weekend (18-20 of November 2011), I was able to participate in the II Festival for urban-rural dialogue in the barrio La Joya in Bucaramanga, Colombia. The festival was visited by peasants (such as fishers, women groups, and farmers), indigenous groups as well as knowledge brokers from all over Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Cuba. In addition, urban citizens from Bucaramanga, and La Joya in particularly, participated in the event. This mix of participants created a valuable learning environment for everyone (including me), and resulted in new ideas and organisations amongst the participants. In a way, this festival reminded me of the rural cafés I visited in the Westerkwartier, the Netherlands.

The overall theme of the event was the environmental conflicts in rural Colombia resulting on the one hand from the numerous (and often multinational) economic exploitation activities (e.g. gold mining, hydroelectric power activities and monoculture) and on the other hand from conservation activities.

Poster presented at festival

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On the trail of regional learning in rural Colombia

Over the last two and a half years, we have been investigating arrangements to support regional learning in various rural areas across Europe (EU-project DERREG). This intense period of field work and data analysis has given me a first idea of just how complex this subject is, how diverse supportive arrangements can be, and how dependent their success is on the regional contexts in which they are implemented.

As if this complexity is not already enough to ponder about, my curiosity and interest in mutual learning for development has urged me to also investigate this topic outside the European Union. I was particularly interested in questioning how rural regional learning is supported in, what is commonly referred to as, “developing” countries. So, here I am in Colombia,

Downtown Bogotá, Colombia

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Working group at 24th ESRS congress in Chania, Greece 22-25 August 2011: Call for papers

Imre Kovách ( Institute for Political Science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest), Petra Derkzen and I are organising a working group on “the governance of semi-subsistent food and farming strategies in the countryside and city- a compartive perspective” at the 24th ESRS congress in Chania (Greece) from 22-25 of August 2011. We would like to invite all interested researchers to submit their papers dealing with empirical or theoretical reflections on the driving forces, structure and mechanisms of semisubsistence food and farming strategies in the countryside and-or cities, both within developed and developing countries. Abstracts may be submitted  to Imre Kovach (ikovach@mtapti.hu) AND chania2011@agr.unipi.it until the 30th of April 2011.  For a more detailed description of the workshop please read further…

Courtesy of European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism

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Rural regional learning in ‘Upper Lusatia’ (Oberlausitz), Germany

Following my visit to Alytus County, Lithuania in October, I travelled to Leipzig, Germany to visit our DERREG project partners Michael Kriszan, Robert Nadler and Joachim Burdack (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography) in their case study area ’Upper Lusatia’. In this blog, Michael, Robert, Joachim and I would like to share some of our experiences.

We first discovered that the case study regions Westerkwartier and Upper Lusatia are very different in their geographical and demographical characteristics. The LEADER region Westerkwartier in Groningen province comprises four municipalities on an area of 374km² and has a population density of 173.4 inhabitants/km² (as of 2007). In 2006, its GDP per capita was estimated at 55,400 Euro and the area has recently witnessed a population increase due to its popularity amongst young families who work in the city of Groningen and value the countryside as their residential area. The Southern part of the Westerkwartier is thus characterized by a high population density and a number of conflicting interests regarding the use of the countryside while the North of the Westerkwartier is primarily used for agriculture.

Upper Lusatia consists of the two Saxon districts Landkreis Görlitz and Landkreis Bautzen that have only been established in 2008 in the process of a reform of the administration units in Saxony. The case study region has an area of about 4,500 km² and has a population density of 135 inhabitants/km². It comprises 122 municipalities- of which 30 are urban centers- and had a GDP per capita of 18,329 Euro (district Görlitz) respectively 19,396 (district Bautzen) in the year 2007 . The region is divided into ten rural development areas, six ILE regions and four LEADER regions. In contrast to the Westerkwartier, the population of Upper Lusatia is shrinking rapidly. Young inhabitants are leaving the area due to a lack of employment opportunities, leaving the elder people behind. Rural development in this region is therefore not only affected by an aging population but also by a shrinking human capital available for development purposes. Through the reform of administrative units altogether four previously distinct districts (Landkreise) and two cities (kreisfreie Städte) have been incorporated into the two “new” districts of Görlitz and Bautzen. The previous Landkreise, however, are very distinct in their physical appearance. The former district Niederschlesien-Oberlausitz for example is characterized by a low population density and shaped through past and present coal mining activities while the hilly district Löbau-Zittau is recognized as a touristic area and winter sport resort. Due to the lack of a common history and the physical distinctiveness, there is no regional identity of the population within both districts.

To evaluate the support and facilitation available for learning and innovation within local grassroots development initiatives in Upper Lusatia, Robert, Michael and Joachim organized a workshop for regional stakeholders.

Workshop in Upper Lusatia, Germany

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