Food Notes & Tousim 02/05/2011

The good side of agriculture has a social soul

We are all called to change. We cannot be prisoners of egoism forever. There are individuals able to create durable relationships, characterized by responsibility towards the common good, but also by gratuity and freedom in their own daily activites. A dialogue with Alfonso Pascale

Alfonso Pascale is a reference in Italy. He is President of the Social Farms Network and is committed to promote a new vision of agriculture. Today we discuss the meaning of social agriculture with him.

Alfonso Pascale

Social agriculture represents a reality which has been slowly coming along, although it is not widely known to the public, yet. How optimist can we be for the future?
The attention for social agriculture and its potential will progressively grow with the dissatisfaction with services to the person as they are currently organized. We live an epoch where welfare systems are in great crisis, not only for the reduction of public funding of social services, but also because it is hard to envision a personalized response to new needs of society and individuals, as life expectancy keeps increasing, if the organization of these systems will not be reformed.
In this picture, agriculture represents a great opportunity because it can offer uncommon resources, such as productive and environmental ones, within local networks of social protection; nonetheless, the ties to communities based on reciprocity would enable to diversify services to the person and favor effective ways to include more individuals in the job market.
In a society which imposes to depend one on the other ever more, because of our diverse needs and unease, the centrality of food culture, the multifunctional dimension of agriculture, the new forms of living, and the new discovery of a sense of landscapes can all contribute to let us choose more freely, as individuals, the way to organize our reciprocal interdependence within communities, and thus achieving a better psycho-physical wellness. These process already happen spontaneously in other realities, and we only have to interpret and accompany them.

If we had to explain what social agriculture is about to those who ignore its existence, how could we present it?
Social agriculture is the whole of practices followed by local communities to take charge of social unease, realizing human promotion and social justice through the contact with plants and animals, the use of agricultural processes, informal ties between individuals in rural areas, and the construction of landscapes as places where an identity, livability, and creative industriousness can be created.
Those who are able to visit a social farm immediately perceive that people involved in its activities, even those with disadvantages, develop a bond between themselves and the territory, based on responsibility for the common good, on gratuity, and on freedom of their daily activities, and reciprocity of advantages and opportunities. The presence of these civic virtues ensures the success of these efforts, and the economic sustainability of productive activities.

A necessary question to wrap up this chat. Agriculture is marginal, both in economy and society: few take it seriously in consideration, intellectuals snub it, or when they deal it, they portray it in a bucolic image, more like a hobby or distraction. At this point, I ask you, if agriculture itself is so marginal, how important is social agriculture?
Our society, based on a contractualistic model, what matters is the strength of numbers, organization and economics, which can be a powerful tool where different interests clash in negotiations. This is the main reason why agriculture, as a business aggregate, has little relevance. Still, this model has long failed to achieve social justice because weaker subjects, sectors, and territories are not allowed to express their reasons and negotiate their interests. In the contractualistic model, weaker subjects receive crumbs, left by strong ones at the end of their banquets.
Therefore, it is not reasonable to expect to count more by lifting walls, claiming autonomies, defending privileges which are against the collective interest, or aggregating corporations. It is instead necessary to act on collaborations and interdependences, increasing the freedom of different subjects to flexibly decide how to establish mutual dependences, and to promote new interests, advantages, and opportunities.
The great contradictions which keep together liberalization of markets, food crisis, failure of welfare systems, technological innovation, energetic issues, climate change, demographic movements, identity factors, can let the new centrality of agriculture emerge, not only as a sector, but as a matter inherent to the community of citizens, who want to be protagonist on decisions and development paths on this theme.

di Luigi Caricato