By Clara Blasco
XCN – the Catalan Nature Conservation Network (formerly XCT) - is a not‐for‐profit organisation working to foster land stewardship as a conservation strategy for the natural resources and values of Catalonia. Most of XCN’s members are land stewardship organizations developing land stewardship agreements for the conservation of the natural heritage and biodiversity of a public or private estate.
Farmland, and the practices associated with it, have a strategic place in XCN’s conceptual framework, since they interact with the nature conservation goals of the organisation:
• Several habitat types depend on or can gain advantage from certain agricultural activities (mainly grazing and mowing), which are continuously disappearing due to both the intensification of agriculture and abandonment of unprofitable land.
• Those ‘agricultural habitats’ which have been assessed as having a significantly worse state of conservation when compared to non‐agricultural habitats, due to the current global farming practices.
• Going beyond the ‘agricultural habitats’ and focusing on denaturalized farmlands (i.e. orchards, crops, groves...), it is noticed that the current global farming model is also having a negative impact on biodiversity and on natural resources conservation state.
As a consequence, the promotion and strengthening of agroecology has always been a key activity for XCN, much related to lobbying public policies and the development of educational learning materials. Meanwhile, different affiliated organisations have undertaken a more practical and grassroots approach, according to their local needs. Agrarian land stewardship organisations reach agreements with farmers in order to help them combine nature conservation with farming. About 130 land stewardship agreements in Catalonia take place in a farming context, covering around 8000 ha. Agrarian land stewardship projects mainly ensure that the targeted agro‐ecosystem is resilient, but also give an added value to farming products, increments alternative funding opportunities and fosters local community involvement.
Once agrarian land stewardship was consolidated as a strategy for nature conservation and agroecology promotion, a different set back arose: for agroecological forms of farming to develop they must have access to land, the primary requirement for food production. This is how access to land for agroecology has been embedded within XCN and other organisations’ strategic approaches. Different experiences have emerged in Catalonia, with different organisations such as Terra Franca and Ecosuma.
Terra Franca is a non-profit organization that aims to mediate between farmers and farm owners who want access to the land for agroecological projects. In addition to mediation, it guides, advises and accompanies the people involved, with a view to facilitating access to the land for peasants (http://www.terrafranca.cat/). EcoSUMA’s main goal is to recover farms that have been left derelict as a result of the urban growth of Lleida city and the progressive abandonment of the land. EcoSUMA contacts the owners of these lands and farmers willing to work on them to facilitate agreements with an agroecological approach.
Additionally, XCN is now taking part in a farm incubator network project. XCN’s role is to align the development of the farm incubators with the conservation goals of the sites where they are located. Although the overall project does not contribute to new access to land (since the farm incubator to be set up will be permanent and on public land), this project represents XCT’s first practical approach to fostering the success of farming projects. XCN is also involved in a Horizon 2020 project, RURALIZATION, focused on rural development and through this will be able to develop public policies recommendations aligned with access to land for agroecology