The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way of doing business throughout different sectors in the European Union, posing serious challenges to our health and our socio-economic systems (Duquenoy 2021). Notably, the agricultural sector has been impacted quite heavily by the pandemic and all the restrictions put in place by national governments (Duquenoy 2021).

With this premise, several rural communities across Europe have been able to reinvent themselves and come up with new entrepreneurial initiatives that both support the agricultural sector and people in need. The ARDENT Consortium has put together three success stories of community leadership and rural entrepreneurship that serve as an inspiration for our ARDENT community:

1) The Flemish flower growers: from competitors to partners :

In Belgium, as in many other countries in the world, several restrictions, limiting the economic activities of businesses, were imposed at the beginning of March, due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Amongst those affected, there are flower plantations.

In response to this, The Van Biesen rose plantation in Opwijk joined forces with seven (former) competitors to set up a web shop. This allows local consumers to place orders online and to get flowers delivered to their house. Only digital payments are allowed to avoid any type of contact.

In a relatively short time, this initiative became quite popular locally and nationally as it was broadcasted on the national television. As a consequence, businesses that once were competing against each other are now growing their market and sales and supporting the local economy in such difficult times.

2) Italian families help each other and support local food producers:

Italy was the first EU country to be hit by COVID-19. Like Belgium, small farmers and businesses have been negatively impacted by the restrictions that were put in place by the Italian government in an effort to contain the virus.

Taking inspiration from the old habit of paying for an extra coffee that the barista will give to someone who cannot pay for it, the cooperative Campagna Amica in cooperation with the federation of Italian farmers and producers launched an initiative called Spesa Sospesa. This initiative allows consumers to have local food, such as fruit, vegetables, cheese and much more, delivered at their houses. Furthermore, consumers are allowed to pay for some extra products that are then delivered to disadvantaged families that are identified from different municipalities.

The initiative was later launched nation-wide and it has been able to support not only local farmers and businesses but also to bring aid to those families that were mostly affected by the pandemic.

3) Spanish rural hackathon against the COVID-19 crisis:

At the beginning of the pandemic, Spanish farmers and rural businesses hosted an online Rural Hackathon, aimed at finding joint solutions to the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19.

This online event saw the participation of several stakeholders who shared their entrepreneurial ideas and initiatives to tackle economic crisis within the Spanish rural community, both in the short and long term.

People involved in the hackathon gathered to discuss several imminent issues that are affecting the rural community. Businesses discussed problems of financial liquidity and strategies to prevent employees’ lay off. Further, new strategic initiatives to generate sources of income and limit the impact of the crisis were also discussed. Finally, the hackathon also discussed solidarity mechanisms within the rural community and the social effects of the pandemic.

Authored by Mario Ceccarelli

Edited by Jose Villagran Polo

References

Duquenoy, Sandrine. “Rural Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis.” The European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) – European Commission, January 6, 2021. https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/rural-responses-covid-19-crisis_en.

DI Federico, Elena. “Flemish Flower Growers: from Competitors to Partners.” The European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) – European Commission, June 3, 2020. https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/flemish-flower-growers-competitors-partners_en.   

Di Federico, Elena. “Italian Families Help Each Other and Support Local Food Producers.” The European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) – European Commission, April 8, 2020. https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/italian-families-help-each-other-and-support-local-food-producers_en.

Di Federico, Elena. “A Rural Hackaton against the COVID-19 Crisis.” The European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) – European Commission, April 9, 2020. https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/rural-hackaton-against-covid-19-crisis_en.