Topic: Social innovation in rural areas for sustainable and inclusive food chains: a case of socio-economic ‘restorative agriculture and justice’ in Puglia (Italy)
Keywords: accountability; decent growth; migration; rural areas; social inclusion.
Inequality is rampant in the global economy and the agri-food sector is not an exception. At the top of the pyramid supermarkets and food giants dominate the global food market by squeezing production chains to make profit; at the base we have a constant erosion of the bargaining power of small-scale producers and workers in many of the countries where the products grow. Moreover, in the last decades, in various rural areas of Italy, farming sector has grown increasingly dependent on a steady supply of workers who have entered the country illegally, ending up for feeding exploited labour rows and influencing the socio-economic and rural-urban aspects of several societies.
By providing a case study from Cerignola, rural area of Foggia, Puglia (Italy), this article investigates about the phenomenon of labour exploitation in agriculture and offers insights into the adoption of innovative processes in rural contexts, by reflecting on the acquisition of practices aimed at ensuring more sustainable and inclusive paths. In line with a deep and pertinent analysis of the existing literature, information have been directly collected from a range of farmers and farm labourers, key stakeholders and experts, through semi-structured interviews and field visits. In particular, we look at the role that social innovation and small farmers cooperation can play in providing a distinctive and innovative contribution to the food system of a reality whose socio-economic context is partly affected by an overall passive attitude and from a deep-rooted mafia fabric and whose farming production is strongly dependent on outside-region processing industries, which unavoidably compromise the real valorisation of local products and potential farmers’ income, making them vulnerable and dependent on price fluctuations. By networking, some local farmers tried to reverse this stuck environment, by offering a legal alternative to the traditional modus operandi, basically founded on environmentally and socially unsustainable productions, and by contributing to a local decent economic growth. By producing, processing on site and selling directly, they aim to counteract the phenomenon of ‘caporalato’ and downward auctions: organic and high-quality products sold at fair prices which give an ideal proof of how labour exploitation can be fought with agriculture itself.
The creation and dissemination of knowledge of innovation phenomena and virtuous processes can be a useful tool for the realization of new models of conscious development, production and consumption, which pay attention to sustainability and social dynamics.