In times of increasing challenges of the social and economic viability of European farms, especially those in mountainous and remote areas, an option worth considering is multifunctional farming. By diversifying their activities, farmers can secure different income sources while at the same time promoting the cultural and natural heritage of their territory.
Promoting multifunctional farming and conserving Europe’s agricultural landscapes
FEAL, short for multifunctional Farming for the sustainability of European Agricultural Landscapes, is an ERASMUS+ project. It has been running since 2016, and partners recently presented their conclusions during the final conference on May 6, 2019 in Brussels.
The core aim of FEAL is to create a win-win situation: guaranteeing the social and economic viability of farms through multifunctional farming, while also maintaining and promoting European agricultural landscapes (EALs). Agriculture has a fundamental role in the creation and maintenance of EALs. In turn, these landscapes offer many ecosystem services (e.g. biodiversity) and present a rich array of cultural and historical values. When EALs are managed sustainably, they provide added value to the farming activity through the services and products deriving from them. These mechanisms have been researched at length by the European Horizon 2020 project PEGASUS, standing for Public Ecosystem Good and Services from land management – Unlocking the Synergies, of which Euromontana was a partner.
Examples of multifunctional farming are presented in the following image, and include quality labels, tourism and social services. Agrotourism for instance can be a way to promote natural heritage of mountain areas as well as traditions, know-hows and mountain products. This can also revitalize remote mountain areas while developing sustainable tourism options in these territories.
Addressing the knowledge gap through open-access education
Despite the opportunities offered by multifunctional farming, the FEAL project identified an important knowledge gap: on the one hand, farmers are often unaware of ecological, cultural, social and economic benefits of EALs. On the other hand, many do not know how to maintain and promote these landscapes through sustainable multifunctional farming practices.
Hence, FEAL addresses this knowledge gap. The development of open-access e-learning tools enables farmers to learn without having to leave the farm. The learning tools target young farmers, rural entrepreneurs, and family farmers, and are available in 7 languages on FEAL Eduweb. The e-learning platform proposes 5 training modules including both theory and self-assessment questionnaires. The modules cover principles of multifunctional agriculture and EALs; entrepreneurial concepts and elements of business planning; and communication for cooperation and collaboration.
Why is multifunctional farming important for mountain areas?
With issues such as rural depopulation, acute climate change and low incomes pressuring farming systems, multifunctional farming is especially important in mountainous and remote areas. Through positive synergies between the landscape and farming practices, the farm can become economically and socially viable, whilst also environmentally sustainable.
- The Farm Vrhovc, in the pre-Alpine hills of Western Slovenia, is an example of how to combine a broad set of activities into one farm. The farm has existed since the 18th century and was based on livestock production up till 2010. The owner then decided to diversify towards tourism-based activities using the surrounding landscape. However, offering food and accommodation was not enough. Now the farm has a sports fishing pond, offers various home-made culinary specialties, a picnic and social games area, a children’s playground, and a football field. The location also allows other activities such as hiking, cycling, and skiing.
- Another example is the Sibillini Ranch in the Sibillini Mountains National Park, Italy, illustrating resilience in the face of disaster. In 2016, the area was hit by earthquakes. While most people left, the owners of this ranch decided to stay. To ensure their economic survival, they opted for diversification. Nowadays, the ranch produces several crops representing the region’s agrobiodiversity, such as the famous lentil “Castelluccio di Norcia” (PGI); purebred horses for riding schools and trekking tours in the spectacular highlands of Castelluccio di Norcia; and rears local bovine, sheep and swine races, to produce products like steak from the Chianina breed (PGI) and Norcia ham (PGI). Overall, the ranch makes admirable use of the area’s cultural and natural heritage.
Multifunctional farming addresses at the same time various issues occurring in mountain areas. The above-mentioned examples demonstrate how such projects can participate in boosting the vitality of a territory, promoting sustainable tourism and gastronomy as well as including farmers in the social life of the area. For more inspiration, take a look at the FEAL Case Studies or PEGASUS case studies.
14 May 2019