Inclusive farm to fork food aid in Florennes, Walloon Region

Author: Françoise Ansay, Terre-en-vue

1) Objectives and highlights

The project (in progress) consists of providing food aid to 400 families in the municipality of Florennes from vegetables produced on the land of the public social welfare institution via a cooperative of citizens and farmers.

2) Stakeholders involved

Local authority/ies involved (and their location/specificities);

  • Public Social Welfare Centre, Centre Public d’Action Sociale (CPAS) - Director and employees, with the support of the municipal college

Other stakeholders involved (and their specific role in the action, e.g. technical support, mediation, funding, etc.)

  • Food aid beneficiaries

  • Employees of the cooperative

  • Terre-en-vue, a citizens' cooperative and association for access to land that is financed by the regional public authorities to support the project

  • Farmers, occupants or potential occupants of CPAS land

3) Context and levers

The Walloon Region (French and German speaking part of Belgium) has about 12,000 farms. More than 50% of farmers will reach retirement age within five years and have no successors. These farmers are also tenants of public land, belonging to public authorities or local governments: municipalities, social action, churches, inter-municipal organisations, regional administrations, etc. This public land represents around 10% of the utilised agricultural area. It is a lever for political action that is often ignored by public owners. Since 2021, Terre-en-vue, in association with CREDAL, a social economy cooperative, has been mandated by the regional authorities to support some 15 public landowners on a pilot basis. However, more than 70 public landowners sought the services of Terre-en-vue and CREDAL to restore their land to build projects and political action. Many more resources are needed to ensure the remobilisation of public land

4) Actions led

One of the tasks of the Florennes Public Social Welfare Centre is to provide food aid to families in difficulty in the municipality. Thus, 400 food baskets are provided each week. These products are mainly primary products, but the CPAS soon added fresh, seasonal products purchased from local independent market gardeners. In addition, the CPAS complements its food aid work by organising cooking and processing workshops for the food aid beneficiaries.

The CPAS then looked at its own agricultural land to see to what extent it could also contribute to food aid. An inventory of the land was made and the tenants were identified. As in the rest of Wallonia, the population of farmers renting land is ageing. The objective of the CPAS is twofold : as the land is freed up by the ageing farmers who have no takers, to encourage - where possible - market gardenning on the one hand, and to help young farmers set up on the other.

Up to now, it is the employees of the CPAS assisted by some beneficiaries, who put together the baskets. This represents a lot of work. Gradually, contacts have been taken with the local citizens' food cooperative, COOPESEM. This cooperative, created in 2017, brings together citizens and farmers from seven municipalities in the Entre et Sambre et Meuse region, in the south of the province of Namur. It aims to gather products from local producers to feed the inhabitants of its territory. Once a week, consumers order their products, which are brought by the farmers to a central point and orders are then redirected to local retail points in the partner municipalities.

The CPAS and COOPESEM have started discussions to act together:

  • the cooperative could be a marketing place for farmers who rent CPAS land;

  • the CPAS food aid beneficiaries could complement the cooperative's teams of volunteers in putting together the baskets;

  • Food aid beneficiaries have access to COOPESEM's offer and baskets at a reduced price, thanks to the intervention of the CPAS.

The CPAS is also thinking about offering food aid beneficiaries, in addition to cooking workshops, the possibility of helping out the producers or even receiving training in agriculture, as part of a socio-professional integration project.

5) Limits and perspectives

The remarkable aspect of this action is the integrated vision of the staff of the Public Social Welfare centre, considering the following principles

  • The health of the citizens is at least as important as the quality of the food offered to them; local and seasonal food is essential to good health;

  • Feeding oneself locally and cheaply requires the use of unprocessed primary products; it is therefore important that citizens can cook and process these products;

  • Social action also consists in supporting the resilience of territories. In this sense, supporting the setting up of new farmers on public land is essential ;

  • Social action is holistic. In this case, the project aims to enhance the value of local economic actors (coopesem), to rely on their expertise (supply and logistics) and to integrate beneficiaries (citizens benefiting from the social action, becoming volunteers of the cooperative).

In addition, the success factors of the project are :

  • a supportive public authority that believes in integrated social action;

  • competent personnel with an integrated vision linking health, training, territorial resilience and partnership;

  • significant investment of human resources in the project;

  • financial means to support the action;

  • a dynamic territory with professional local food producers and actors.

The CPAS is looking for additional funds for its action because the implementation of such an integrated project for its poorest populations is not profitable in the short term. It is however a bet on the future of the mental and physical health and resilience of these populations that the Florennes CPAS is making here. In this respect, its action and that of its employees is remarkable.

To date, the CPAS in association with COOPESEM and Terre-en-vue, has submitted a note of intent for financial aid for "food and poverty" and a plot of land is being allocated for livestock or market gardening. The inventory of plots is underway to identify their potential availability to farmers.

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