Italy’s bio-districts represent clearly defined territories that encompass organic agriculture and food production, promotion of local community initiatives, cultural heritage, and traditional crafts. Bio-districts foster collaboration between farmers, local residents, tourism operators, local authorities, and other cultural and historical institutes and organisations. Italy has 30 bio-districts.
Bio-district della Via Amerina e delle Forre is a nonprofit organization that includes the territories of 13 municipalities in the province of Viterbo (50 km north of Roma), with a population of approximately 70,000 inhabitants, and represent an area where more than 300 organic farms are active.
The main aim of the member-based association is to promote sustainable development at the territorial level with an agroecological approach. Other thematic areas included are sustainable tourism, renewable energy, environmental protection, and circular economy principles. The Bio-district aims to support the local community to transition to a zero-emission model of production and promotes the use of renewable energy. The bio-district is the key actor at local level in creating better conditions to facilitate the sustainable development on a territory level as it involves collaboration between the local public authorities, food producers and civil society organizations.
“Governance is an essential part in the agroecology process and participation is fundamental to guarantee the rights for all – to live in sustainable place, to have sustainable livelihood, to enjoy the environment and for the producers to have access to their natural resources. We build a dynamic where our citizens recognize the bio-district as a tool to protect and enhance the quality of their territory. This is a never-ending work to mobilize and to put together people to talk, meet and discuss in inclusive methodology of constant engagement. We define this process as innovative experience as we think collectively new ways to develop our territory sustainably.” – stated Andrea Ferrante, producer and coordinator of the International school of agroecology “Schola Campesina”.
In the Bio-district della Via Amerina e delle Forre the farmers and producers grow and sell diverse products: wine, olive oil, hazelnuts, vegetables, cheeses such as mozzarella and sheep’s cheese, beef, sheep and pork meat and saffron, chocolate cream, and furthermore operate an agri-tourism, business, school farm for children and develop an international agroecology school. Many of the products from this area are sold in the main markets of Rome or in smaller local markets, and are also distributed to local families through the use of direct selling schemes. This kind of model is a strength of the biodistrict’s small-scale farmers – they are not constrained to one particular market and so they can easily adapt to different situations.
As an Agroecological territory in central Italy, the Bio-district della Via Amerina e delle Forre proved to be innovative case in time of COVID-19 lockdown by boosting the sales of local organic farmers to respond to the increase in demand of quality, safe and nutritious food in urban and peri-urban areas. In the COVID-19 crisis period, an increase in sales of approximately 25% has been reported.
“Local governance and legislative framework recognizing the local dynamic are key components to influence the political choices for the local development. The Bio-district is an example how to build local food system and how crucial is its role in crisis. We witnessed that the local food system have incredible capacity to answer to emergency shocks with family farmers at the backbone of the local food systems.” – reported Andrea.
At the same time, the Bio-district is a tool to face different emergency that arise in the territory as the hazelnut monoculture promoted by strong economic forces. Faced with such challenges the community mobilize collectively to achieve sustainability in the territory.
The small farmers and producers who live and work in Biodistrict della Via Amerina e delle Forre are agroecology innovators. They have adapted their traditional farming methods to the demands of the modern world and emergency crisis while remain focused on sustainability. As maintaining strong social and cultural bonds and by working together at territorial level, the community behind the bio-district movement goes beyond the ‘single farm’s success’ to create a holistic and integrated sustainable community on territorial level.