Nestled in the heart of the Balkans, the Troyan-Apriltsi-Ugаrchin (TAU) region in Bulgaria stands as a pilot for transformative initiatives. Covering Troyan, Apriltsi, and Ugarchin municipalities, this area spans 1,650.2 km² with a population of 33,858. TAU is positioned strategically, just 150 km northeast of Sofia, with a pivotal role in connecting the capital to the Black Sea.
Transition Focus: Socio-economic and Demographic Shifts
The TAU region faces socio-economic and demographic challenges, with depopulation at its core. The informal economy, job nature, and ethnic segregation contribute to this issue. Despite rich natural resources, the region struggles to capitalize on them for economic and social development.
Living Lab Challenge: Navigating the Unknown Potential of Rural Food Systems
The primary challenge identified in TAU revolves around understanding the untapped potential of the rural food system to address socio-economic and demographic transitions. Data gaps in the linkages between food production and consumption, as well as the lack of cooperation between local actors, hinder progress. TAU aims to foster rural food systems, bridge gaps between vocational schools and local businesses, and tackle issues like unfair payments and undeclared jobs in the agri-food sector.
Rationale: Spotlight on Food as a Unifying Force
Food emerges as a pivotal focus for TAU, transcending differences and offering a lens to examine public and private practices. The lack of policy support in this domain highlights a significant data gap. By concentrating on food systems, the experiment aims to delve into demographic change and social inequalities.
Policy Relevance: Paving the Way for Rural Food Policy
TAU lacks a comprehensive rural food policy. The Rustik experiment strives to fill this void by providing knowledge, data, and models for its development. Aligning with regional and local policies, the experiment could address depopulation concerns and promote sustainable economic growth through food-related initiatives.
Research Questions: Unveiling the Dynamics of Rural Food Systems
The experiment seeks answers to crucial questions:
- How does the rural food system impact local entrepreneurship and depopulation trends?
- What role do family gardens play in local economies and socio-economic inequalities?
- How do rural food systems interact with urban economies, and which urban economies influence them?
- Can the preservation of local food traditions contribute to community resilience and a sense of identity?
- What factors make the local food sector attractive to newcomers and tourists, promoting sustainable local economies?
Emerging Data Needs: Bridging the Knowledge Gap
The experiment faces a lack of data on various aspects, such as the local population’s access to fresh, seasonal, and local food, cooperation between vocational schools and local agri-food businesses, and the role of family gardens in sustaining local food traditions. To address this, new and existing sources are being explored to create a comprehensive rural food map.
Data Availability: Sources to Fuel the Experiment
The experiment relies on a mix of available data sources, including registers of farmers, food processing enterprises, social kitchens, and more. However, limitations arise due to the non-public nature of certain datasets, hindering a granular analysis.
Challenges and Capacities: Navigating the Road Ahead
Challenges include limited access to crucial datasets and the absence of registers, such as that of family gardens. However, partners involved possess the necessary competencies to overcome these challenges, with additional capacity available if required.
As the Rustik experiment unfolds in TAU, it promises not only to uncover the potential of rural food systems but also to pave the way for informed policies that can foster sustainable development, address depopulation concerns, and contribute to the region’s resilience and identity. Stay tuned for updates as TAU embarks on this transformative journey.