A way of life: Economic-social implications in rural integration enterprises.

Text: María Llanos

How do we create sustainable livelihoods for migrants and locals in rural areas?

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Maria Eugenia Vega (works in Provivienda in socio-labor insertion of migrants) and I facilitate the conversation.

We invite a group of people who have personal experience in the world of agroecological entrepreneurship and activism from producer and consumer associations, ecottores, local producers, people who work in the integration of migrants and migrants. Isa Haro (El Encinar), Romualdo Benitez (El Ecosuper, La Retornable), Marta Lozano (Hortigas), Antonio Prieto (Finca Dos Hermanas), Charaf El Makkaoui (La Bolina), Ibrahim (Participant in La Bolina courses), Pilar Martinez ( work in Provivienda) and Janna Herzig (Anthropologist and Master in agroecology with case study of La Bolina).

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Some of the questions that guided our conversation were: What challenges do people or groups who want to launch a vital project in rural areas find, creating sustainable livelihoods related to agroecology and in a social and solidarity economy? Can stable jobs be generated, employed in the framework of agroecology and social and solidarity economy? What does this require?

These were some of the reflections.

"Agroecological enterprises are ways of life."

We started the conversation by talking about the challenges we experience. One of the difficulties is that in small businesses there are activities for which we do not have funds, or skills and / or knowledge in many cases.

Marta Lozano points out that "the producer not only has to take care of the land, but also commercialize, carry out communication and marketing, market research, accounting" ... This multiplicity of tasks are not paid for the majority, due to the low profit margins, and in many cases we lack the skills to carry them out effectively. Furthermore, “it is essential to work on consumption. Educate and make visible, show everything that is behind the arrival at the store of our products. They are fragile markets and we must continue to raise awareness to open and strengthen our market . Isa Haro.

"More than 80% of people still buy in large stores both in the city and in rural areas." Another challenge therefore is to reach the local rural market. “We sell in the city because we do not know or know the ways to open markets elsewhere. It is essential to start working and sensitize the local consumer ” . (Marta Lozano)

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We all share these experiences and ideas. Janna, who worked creating the foundations for Bolina's eco-basket project, now works in Germany where similar problems seem to be living. Janna adds "the lack of land, difficulties in finding money for the initial investment, and legal status are also recurring problems in this type of venture" Janna Herzig.

These three problems interact and influence each other. If we work public or private lands in a concession mode, there are many public financing such as LEADER that cannot be accessed, thus blocking access to initial investment. On the other hand, in many cases to get initial support you need a legal figure, to establish yourself as an autonomous, association, cooperative. This implies expenses that in startups with little or no profit in the beginning, are unsustainable.

To this we can add that registering means losing some aids that are essential for the survival of some small producers. This issue, which can be controversial and debatable in ethical and moral terms, is an imminent mathematical reality in many cases, a paradox of the system. As they are not registered, small producers cannot apply for public or private subsidies, which reduces the possibilities of taking off and developing this business and its possibilities of regulating itself as a business. This casuistry affects the ability to develop agroecological initiatives in rural areas, where most of these initiatives are by small producers.

This reflection leaves us with some questions such as what legal forms can facilitate rural and collective entrepreneurship? What role can an association like La Bolina play?

When we ask ourselves if stable jobs can be generated, employed in the framework of agroecology and the local, social and solidarity economy? There is a silence full of intention.
Isa says “Economic sustainability is complicated. Our projects are located within a capitalist market economy but we work under frameworks and principles that are not from that market ” . Romu according to Isa points out " our principles lead us to work in a slower and more careful" participatory way, we produce according to the season, under principles not only ecological, but also social and economic "and then other products, wrapped in plastic and polyethylene of Outside of Spain and out of season and with dubious treatment of workers, they are in our same ecological category. There should be a way to recognize that comparative difference. "

These kinds of distinctions are not reflected. It is difficult to quantify the environmental, social and economic impact of agroecological projects in rural settings. If we take La Bolina as a case, in numerical terms there is no relevant impact. La Bolina has generated 3 jobs in production, marketing and events and communication. La Bolina invests an average of 2000 euros a month in local producers. Thanks to the project, 8 people now live in the Valley and we have regenerated half a hectare of land; We have rented up to 3 homes, which is an additional income for people from the town. As we can see, the impact in economic and quantitative terms is reduced, however qualitatively the change is fundamental. There is an impact that comes from carrying out cultural activities in the squares and streets, attracting people to the Valley to publicize their products, customs and places, planting flowers and attracting bees and birds, attracting young people from different backgrounds to the streets of the town and work the dirt. This project has created networks and groups of agroecological producers and serves as an example of a rural company established in the territory.

These impacts are difficult to quantify and therefore to value and support according to the frameworks through which we give importance to things. This invisibility is compounded by ignorance in the final prices of the negative externalities of the products we call conventional. Not only are the great local benefits of agroecological agriculture ignored, but also the environmental costs of transport, of the production and recycling of plastic wrap, of the desertification of the lands where it is cultivated in intensive monoculture are ignored in the price of the conventional. , the drying of the aquifers that irrigate it, and the social ravages of the inhuman conditions of the workers of these large estates. These negative externalities that are not in the price of tomato, someone is paying for them. They are usually the migrants with their rights, the land with their health and the states with the taxes that we all pay to mitigate the impacts.

Although tomatoes seem cheap at Mercadona, it is becoming much more expensive for society as a whole.

These are the stories of the products to be told, and the distinctions that the food system and its regulation should learn to make.

In summary, we find agroecological subsistence ventures that offer low wages and unpaid overtime to cover roles, participation, training and awareness among the population. With these circumstances , why projects like these?

During our conversation we talked about employment, stable jobs. However, this is more than a job, and sometimes, it is anything but a job. It is important then to ask what are these agroecological rural enterprises? They are a way of life. A way of expressing values, of giving life to a paradigm of thought, a vision of society and the future. They are ways of living through which our beliefs, dreams, and capabilities take shape. It's a job, it's activism, and it's personal fulfillment.

It is a work understood from another economic model. From the Buddhist economy, work is “an opportunity to use and develop the faculties; it allows us to overcome self-centeredness by joining other people in a common task, collaborating and appealing to the knowledge and power of the collective; and provides the goods and services necessary for existence ”(EF Schumacher Small is beautiful). This comprehensive vision also corresponds to the feminist economy and the green economy.

These initiatives and their concepts of "company", "work", "salary" cannot be understood from the capitalist framework of thought where work is an expense to reduce part of the employer and time sold by the worker, creating an irresolvable tension .

Who participates in these projects?

In the zoom we find a group of people who live in Granada and yet no one is from Granada. This is a recurring reality in projects of this nature that are led by the principles that lead people to promote them. People who usually have a practice and understanding of the collective, the assembly, the social, the political and the economic.

Can we work from these projects with migrants?

From La Bolina we have tried that our agroecological initiative will create livelihoods for migrants. Offer "work", to regulate their situation, under a participatory, horizontal, empowering model and a regenerative and sustainable agriculture.

It has not been easy to find migrants who wanted to work in agriculture and live in rural areas.

When we asked Charaf and Ibrahim what a job in rural areas has to have to be interesting. Charaf comments “For me the basic things are to have access to a house, to have minimal services, a supermarket to buy things you don't have on earth, a health center, and also transportation. This is key. If you have to transport people or tools it is complicated (without a license or without a vehicle) and also to leave or enter El Valle. However, if there is work that is the most important thing for me ”.

Ibrahim: "In the village it is easy to live because it is cheap, but without work you cannot do anything ."

Pilar who works with Provivienda accompanies her comments from her work experience with people who have migrated “Many people don't care where they live as long as they have a job. And support for integration is important ”.

Agroecological entrepreneurship usually offers “precarious employment” seen from a capitalist and exclusively economic point of view. This has led us to face two difficulties regarding the integration of migrants in this type of initiative.

The first has to do with the ability to create a job that serves the migrant person. A full-time paid job for at least one year. Under the criteria of the economy of the system, let's put the minimum interprofessional salary, around 1000 euros. Which is a partnership investment of 1,300. This job is difficult to create and sustain.

This creates tensions in the project regarding the need to increase and sustain a market, creates uncertainty regarding the involvement of the person, whose fundamental need is to have a well-paid contract and whose participation emerges from the motivation for said work. And finally, in case of being able to sustain said employment, how do we solve the extraordinary tasks and roles that usually fall on people working in agroecological enterprises and are not paid, such as marketing and communication, training and awareness, participation and others?

Secondly, and in relation to the last question, from our experience working with people who have migrated in agroecological projects of rural repopulation implies the investment of energy and tasks that must be made visible in relation to:

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  1. Economy of care. Support networks that offer emotional, relational and personal support do not exist and therefore must be created. These are more important if possible in the rural environment that has fewer means and resources, for example transport. Likewise, support in administrative procedures.

  2. Activism economy. As we have mentioned, the extraordinary work that is done on issues of education and awareness, communication, participation and networking, which in many cases is done unpaid, does not tend to fall on migrants due to language, motivation, empowerment and capabilities. These tasks therefore fall on the support persons of the association.

  3. Support related to training for the performance of work. In order to incorporate people into work in agroecology and marketing, there is a very long-term training and mentoring and support process. This training, support and mentoring falls on the support people that make up the association.

These tasks must be made visible, accounted for and find ways to sustain them. The invisibility of these economies and activities can create burnout in supportive people and inequality in relation to roles within the organization, an inequality that is difficult to sustain over time. It is essential to seek and allocate additional resources for structural support to be able to sustain these tasks. This diversity of economies and activities leads us to understand ourselves as a hybrid organization, which is both a company and a social organization.

How are agroecological and alternative economy initiatives sustained?

Associations, collaboration and participation are key. Isa mentions “Working in a network, creating alliances, such as the ecothops network in Granada, can be a way to create economic sustainability”. Collaborate to reduce expenses, market collectively.

"Generate market opportunities in initiatives such as seedlings, manure, slurry, by ensuring purchase and sale and thus strengthen the local and circular economy" adds Romu.

Toño highlights “ Associationism as a crucial element. Unite to share resources, grant advice, share tools, machinery, marketing, awareness ”. These are the ways to build resilience for these projects.

In summary. There are potentialities and opportunities in agroecological ventures that we must take advantage of. Networking, the resources that we find in rural environments in underused assets and associationism offer, especially today, great opportunities for agroecology, we also face structural limitations that hinder fair competition in the market and the impulse for the lack of opportunities for initial investments and facilities for regularization.

However, as Marta Lozano points out, “we are in a good moment, if we take stock, there is a growth curve, equally driven by a trend, equally favored by the pandemic, but we must take advantage of the pull. We have to create more agroecological people ”.

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