Red Terrae: the network of municipalities working for sustainable land use

Author: Nora Maristany Bosch, XCN

1) Objectives and highlights

Red Terrae (Network of AgroEcological Reserve Territories) is an inter-municipal network of about 40 local authorities throughout eight regions of Spain. Red Terrae’s main role is to strengthen members’ capacity to respond effectively to nowadays challenges: biodiversity loss, climate change, lack of generational renewal, increasing intensive land use, etc. The network is thus responsible for the implementation of demonstrative and educational activities related to fostering employment in rural areas, waste management, local supply chains, local community currency systems, etc.

One of the most relevant actions carried out by Red Terrae is fostering the set up and proper management of agroecological municipal land banks. Land banks help identify and register available plots, connect land offers and land demands, and enhance the effective relationship between landowners and potential land users. Throughout the years, Red Terrae has established a solid conceptual and methodological framework for the implementation of municipal land banks, with the specific goal of supporting the development of agroecology. Local authorities who are members of the network adapt the framework and strategy to the local reality. This has allowed restoring farming activities on abandoned lands and has unlocked social, landscape, ecological and productive values.

2) Stakeholders involved

The different local authorities composing the Red Terrae network (40 in total) are located across the Spanish territory, with presence in the following eight autonomous communities: Andalucía, Extremadura, Castilla-La manca, Castilla y León, Madrid, Canarias, País Vasco, Comunidad Valenciana. Besides individual local authorities, there are also constituted networks representing the collective, grouping them in different fields.

Red Terrae’s members are only by local authorities, but there are other stakeholders that are involved directly or indirectly in the functioning of the network and its land banks. For instance, the local authorities deal closely with private landowners and actors who are interested in obtaining or working lands and participating in the land banks.

3) Context and levers

Red Terrae was started in 2010, in a context where the lack of rural jobs, shortage of local food supply and deficits in human capabilities in rural areas were the biggest challenges to address. These challenges were present in many areas of rural Spain, which explained why many local authorities in different autonomous communities joined the network.

In this generalised context, a few levers that facilitated the implementation of the Red Terrae project. They were the following:

  • Some landowners are more prone to cooperate if the land bank initiative can offer implementation references throughout the country. This has been possible through the network, which produced a land bank model at multi-municipal level.

  • Since the land bank is managed and fostered by local authorities, rather than by landless farmers or outsiders, some landowners are usually keener on collaborating.

  • The networking and multi-municipal collaboration in the design and implementation process has reinforced the results, which would have probably been less relevant if each municipality had undertaken the setting of a land bank on its own.

  • The agroecological perspective, not specifically targeted by other land bank initiatives in Spain, has helped consolidate the narrative and network concept. The fact that Red Terrae land banks are centred in the restoration of environmental values has also been key to reach out to certain stakeholders (e.g. landowners with environmental concerns, municipalities with ecological motivations, etc.).

4) Actions led

One of Red Terrae’s main action to tackle rural and agricultural issues, besides the creation of the network of local authorities, is the creation and management of rural land banks that span across all the network’s members. Land banks linked to Red Terrae usually focus on marginal land of low agronomic value. They aim to foster the recultivation of land which is abandoned or likely to be abandoned. Red Terrae is thus maintaining a landscape that would be lost if land was worked solely for productive goals. The beneficiaries that Red Terrae targets are specifically unemployed people who can get first a training in organic gardening for self consumption. Once they have gotten experience in farming the land, a second stage consists of a longer training to enlarge production and direct it it to local markets and direct sell.

A central element associated to Red Terrae’s model is also the training of the DILAS (local agroecological facilitator). These are usually public advisors or elected officials from the municipality who take care of the land bank design and management process. Firstly, the facilitator elaborates the principles on which the land bank will be based. This document, named Local Agroecological Policy (LAP) exemplifies real local engagement with Red Terrae and serves as a guideline for further steps. Once this is defined, DILAS help integrate plots in the land bank (whether public or private land); interview and monitor potential land users, explore potential interest from restaurants and local food retailers to purchase food from the small food entrepreneurs; raise resources from regional institutions for farmers’ training; etc.

The Red Terrae network, on its end, manages the database with all the information on land demands from farmers requiring land and from landowners offering it. It also offers reports and advisory services to provide key land information to local authorities. For instance, Red Terrae made an inventory of abandoned or degraded public land in the region of Extremadura, assessing its agronomic potential and main actions to undertake in order to foster the development of agroecological farms in the region. If a public landowner and a land user decide to cooperate, a contractual agreement between them is settled, based on the principles recommended by Red Terrae. However, when it comes to private land, Red Terrae is not able to influence the process beyond connecting offer and demand.

5) Limits and perspectives

This case study is a great example for how local authorities can act as regulators (through establishing LAPs), as landowners (through integrating public plots in the land banks), and as facilitators (through connecting land users with owners and retailers). In this regard, the network has designed a blue print model for all its members to be applied in their territories.

Some of the main limits that were identified when implementing this action where the following:

  • A continuously unsatisfied demand. There are more food entrepreneurs than land offers. This is one of the main challenges that municipal councils involved in Red Terrae are trying to solve.

  • The agroecology perspective is still trivial and overlooked in many public policies.

  • There is a lack of human resources to implement the different actions.

  • Since local authorities cannot transfer the land management to a productive project on the long run without opening a public call, the result of land bank agreements is usually on a short-term basis. This, together with the type of land that is offered, means that land banks have limitations in supporting long term and professional farming activities.

The advantage of the network is its great potential of experimentation and innovation. Once the agroecological land bank system has been consolidated, the network could move on to create a blue print model for other initiatives, like an inter-municipal systems for farm incubators for instance. In addition, the Red Terrae model has proved it is transferable and adaptable to different contexts, provided that there is public and private land available and political willingness to articulate such a strategy at the local level.

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