On Monday the 21st of November, the seminar “Biocultural Heritage and Sustainable Business Models” by Vincenza Ferrara was held at Hollands College in Leuven.
A room that recalls times long past, in which religion and ethics were discussed – priests were educated here – has welcomed a positive, multidisciplinary debate on sustainable business models for the agri-food industry. Vincenza Ferrara is the manager of a small-scale olive farm in central Sicily, and a PhD candidate at both Uppsala and Stockholm University.
Vincenza’s experience as a farmer teaches us the importance of sustainable entrepreneurship. Sustainable entrepreneurship is essential to boost resilience and respond to the most compelling climatic challenges. Protecting socio- and environmental values is a key requirement, as well as an opportunity for farmers to stand against ecological degradation and the strict market constraints which usually praise quantity over quality. On her olive farm, Vincenza turns these principles into practice by applying a “from tree to bottle” approach and bringing nutrients back to the land as much as possible.
In her research, Vincenza applies the concept of historical ecology, an approach that goes beyond the human dimension in studying an ecosystem. This approach focuses on the interaction through time between societies and the environment and the consequences of these interactions. This way, Vincenza aims to understand the formation of contemporary and past cultures and rural landscapes. Among other things, she researches how spatial patterns in landscapes correspond to historical times, the reason behind the evolution of these patterns, and what we can learn from them. As it turns out, our landscapes are made of layers of human practices, reflecting the evolution of the relationship between humans and their environment.
Farmers are the first guardian of rural areas which, as Vincenza showed, have been shaped by human activities over the centuries, and are an important part of our heritage. In order to allow them to remain in these areas, it is important to create an environment in which they can thrive. This means going beyond the logic based only on production and yields, and embracing a multi-activity approach. COCOREADO can support farmers with the tools needed to create a strong network, based on shared values and collaboration among each other. The project can also be helpful in raising farmers’ awareness of how to strengthen their position and let their voices be heard.
The KU Leuven COCOREADO team, as well as the FOX team (another EU project), was well represented at the seminar. Also, the Belgian ambassador Antoon Vanderstraeten attended the seminar. Furthermore, three farmers and several researchers participated in this event. Such interactions are most valuable and contribute to bridging the gap between research and practice.
Marco Moretti – KU LEUVEN