The Convivium: Helping to resolve the disonance of entrepreneurship in agriculture

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I would stay, but should I go

Living near remote natural surroundings while being able to benefit from easier administration and mobility, provide the perfect conditions for development of rural entrepreneurship. This is what you find in small towns in rural settings. In the specific context of Velika Plana, the short distance from the capital is an important advantage providing the opportunity for living life simultaneously in two different environments, rural and urban. This creates the right conditions for further professional and personal development of the rural entrepreneur. And the benefit works both ways: The rural entrepreneur with a unique perception of freedom and the ability to create networks around him- or herself brings new innovative ideas to the community.

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The result is that one person is enough to make a snowball effect in the village: the enthusiasm catches on and the excitement builds to explore new businesses in agriculture. Enthusiastic young entrepreneurs might find themselves as a driving force for development, delivering innovative ideas and expanding networks within and beyond the community. But the snowball effect does not take hold if entrepreneurs are not able to constantly adapt to their situation and inspire others to do the same. Despite good organization and planning skills, on the road to growth and development, challenges and solutions emerge unexpectedly. Besides enthusiasm, knowledge and experience, resilience is the core element that makes one individual, group or community sustainable.

Change the “or” to an “and”

Transferability of people is followed by transferability of ideas. Lack of infrastructure and public transport are seen as the greatest obstacles to keeping rural areas attractive. Despite the actions of individuals and groups who recognize those problems, it remains difficult to find donor institutions to support initiatives on a regional level. The underlying challenge is understanding what community development is and how it happens. Who is responsible and who should initiate and complete actions which lead to development of an area or a region? Should it be local government officials, public institutions, CSOs, private sector or entrepreneurs? The answer might be hidden inside the question. When “or” is replaced with “and”, transition is made towards models of common action. Cooperatives were the central model 50-60 years ago. Since then, they have lost their influence and new models have appeared. At the same time, there is a feeling that cooperatives are experiencing a renaissance.

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The Convivium and finding the niche

Rural communities have already started to recognize and promote their unique value and products. Rethinking traditional models and adjusting them to modern environments, along with contemporary concepts and initiatives, allows a particular area and region to find the most appropriate model for community development. Slow Food Convivium is one of the models. Independent from any institution (municipalities, regional authorities) Convivia have the ability to understand and facilitate long-term promotion of the community. The classic problem is that institutions can provide space for consensus, but are not good in decision-making. The decision-making process can be a breaking point for sustainability, as in order  to act really sustainably collective action in decision making is required. The group creates standards and protections for goods and services which are used to promote the area or region. This is good, as it safeguards against members who do not meet the bottom line, which is not profitability, but quality of the product.

But what is often not recognized is what is autochthonous in the area or region. Being proactive helps an individual or a group to recognize different niches in the area and the region and which are unrealized potential for new entrepreneurial endeavors. A good example of this is the case of Macedonia, where many chefs are becoming farmers. This happens when young people are ready to learn and travel, allowing them to experience situations where villages become fun for youth. Selecting one authentic product or service from the local community and gathering a group of proactive, self-confident peers ready to learn and travel is my first recommendation for the young rural entrepreneur.

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Act (as) One

Wild nature, the village, the small town and the big city are all very different environments. One model for community development existing in all those contexts is the Slow Food Convivium. The advantage of organizing in the Convivium is its flexibility despite formalities: minimum number of people, members, and activities. Overcoming economic and noneconomic obstacles (for example, setting quality and hygiene standards for products) is easier when stakeholders meet around one goal from the beginning, knowing the concept clearly (community development) and participating in the development of the standards and regulations.

One of the core ideas of Slow Food is connecting gastronomy with agriculture, and to successfully do so, the role of chefs emerged as one of the driving engines for the association in the global context, but also locally. The chefs are the linking point between the raw product produced on a farm, and the final consumer who wants to enjoy it and find pleasure in it. What made chefs become farmers? They got out of the box and experienced the outdoors. What made farmers become chefs? Maybe their visit to a fine restaurant in the big city.  Any direction young people take, their fulfillment and perceived freedom should be the bottom line. What keeps them rooted to the ground is always quality of life.

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT logoThis blog post by Miloš Dilkić, one of the leaders of Slow Food Convivium Velika Plana, was written on the occasion of the event “Dani polja Superiora Terra Madre Morava 2017”. It is part of our Partner Spotlight this week on Convivium Velika Plana. Held in Velika Plana, Serbia, on 29th July 2017, Terra Madre Morava 2017 was a conference about opportunities for youth in the rural context co-organized by YPARD Serbia and Convivium Velika Plana, and hosted by Superior Seeds company, all partners in GFAR. Among the contributors were small-scale producers, representatives from CSOs, private sector, Slow Food Convivium and Presidium, Regional Development Agency for Braničevo and Podunavlje region and the Slow Food coordinator for Balkans and Turkey. Read more about the event here, here and here. 

GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and collective actions of Partners in GFARwho share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!

Photo credits: Convivium Velika Plana


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