The overall objective of Work Package (WP) 4 of the PRO AKIS project is to provide comparative analyses and assessments of successes, strengths and weaknesses of specific knowledge systems through case studies. This report, as part of the topic 3 of WP4, explores the role of rural networks in enhancing innovation processes, questioning the features of the agricultural/rural networks could enhance farmers’ ability to co-innovate in cooperation with other actors. The prospect of this investigation is also to provide interesting and significant experiences that constitute examples for the ‘European Innovation Partnership’ by increasing farmers’ capacities to create, test, implement and evaluate innovations in cooperation with other rural actors.
To this end, this report focuses on the emerging rural innovation network in the so-called Land of Fires, an area between Caserta and Naples provinces in the Campania region (Southern Italy), known for the socio-economic and environmental impacts of more than two decades of waste crisis. The network involves cooperatives that work on land confiscated from the Mafia. It includes environmental activists, associations, public and private actors (citizens and companies) fighting against dispossession and contamination of territories, and against Mafia culture.
We analyse the "economic heart" of this emerging network and its formal components: the consortium of social cooperatives NCO (Nuova Cooperazione Organizzata, New Organized Cooperation). Confronting the present crisis of the European welfare state, the NCO cooperatives combined ideas around social inclusion of disadvantaged people (mentally ill people, former prisoners, immigrants and unemployed) in agricultural work, with the ambition of becoming sources of “ethic economic wealth”.
The value of this experience concerns the innovative use of agriculture as means to achieve important economic, cultural and social changes according to the vision of a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy of the Europe 2020 strategy.
The ambitious project of NCO could be considered as a real social innovation that "meets several social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and creates new social relationships or collaborations" (Murray et al. 2010). These processes mobilize, create and combine multiple sources and forms of knowledge and in turn create new knowledge needs that pose very complex challenges to the traditional AKIS, because innovation processes involve different aspects, sectors and types of knowledge (practical, scientific, technical, organisational, etc.) in an interactive way. Consequently, this case study presents an "interactive innovation model" consistent with the new European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) approach.
We investigate in depth this anti-mafia network, that we consider as a knowledge network, via interviews, literature review and participant observation, adopting an ego network approach (Wellman and Hogan 2006).
The case study highlights the synergistic effects between strong formal and informal ties in enhancing the NCO network to develop not only new skills, products and/or practices, but also new attitudes and values. This experience suggests a novel pathway of sustainable place-based community development (Magnaghi, 2000) that is shaped by network building. The co-innovations developed in this network are strategic in promoting sustainable agriculture, as well as revitalizing rural societies and improving rural development.