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Situated Learning Opportunities fostered by ICT applications in Alternative Agro-Food Networks

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SOFIA (Situated Learning Opportunities fostered by ICT applications in Alternative Agro-Food Networks)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2018-01-31

Over recent years, the Agro-Food System, mainly based on economic efficiency and profit maximization, has resulted in negative environmental and social externalities. The increasing concentration in few large, private corporations operating in the processing and retail sectors has led both to the crisis of trust in placeless and uniform products among consumers, and to power asymmetries along the food supply chain. The loss of bargaining power and constant cost-price pressure on commodity production has resulted in a decline in farm numbers, with consequences for surrounding local communities and rural areas as a whole. To overcome limits of mainstream agro-business system, over the last 30 years, driven by consumers’ renewed interest in locally and sustainably produced foods, grassroots initiatives based on the synergic collaboration among farmers and consumers networks, have emerged in many countries. These initiatives, that go under the umbrella term Alternative Argo Food Networks - AAFNs, exhibit a diversity of organizational forms and distribution solutions, but they share the willingness to form a community-based local food system by directly connecting small local producers and consumers. AAFNs include direct-to-consumer sales, pick your own, farmers’ markets, food hubs, box schemes, community-supported agriculture, collective buying groups, etc. Despite their organizational differences, they all provide a space where a variety of information and knowledge related to agriculture, the rural economy, the environment, food production, healthy eating and consumer values, might be exchanged during the face-to-face interactions between main actors adhering to AAFNs.
Nowadays ICTs and in particular mobile apps are able to provide ubiquitous and context-aware services extending such knowledge exchange and to enhance and extend situated learning opportunities -SLOs for producers and consumers.
The training-through-research project SOFIA aims to explore the value of the use of ICT tools to increase SLOs in AAFNs. The rationale of the research is to conceive of new mobiquitous services to improve mutual understanding and collaboration between value chain stakeholders thus contributing to sustainable development pathways of a local food systems and rural areas by reinforcing social capital of local food systems. The objective of the action is to define a set models, tools and technologies that can improve the competitiveness of a selected area, leveraging its potential in terms of materials and intangible resources.
SOFIA’s results have been exploited designing and developing the mobile app MilLarder. The app helps to create innovative, cooperative communication environments and fosters intellectual, social and relational capital flows among AAFNs’ partners.
The project has been a successful training-though research action that allowed the ER to acquire new knowledge and skills diversifying his competences, reinforcing his maturity and independence, and enhancing his ability to exploit his research results converting the knowledge acquired into a concrete product to stimulate innovation in agro-food sector.
According to the project objectives, the ER has:
- Designed a model for better understand Situated Learning Opportunities in AAFNs occurring during face to face interactions among consumers and producers enabled by an AAFNS and a model of augmented SLOs in AAFNs taking into account the role of mobiquitous services in augmenting and extending learning opportunities in AAFNs;
- Developed a method to analyse and evaluate existing mobile apps oriented to AAFNs in terms of their support to foster learning opportunities for their users;
- Conducted a depth review of mobile application explicitly oriented to any AAFNs form and available on any of the two major mobile applications stores [App Store and Google Play];
- Designed and carried out a) two surveys addressed to consumers and producers involved in AAFNs. The surveys aimed at investigating the willingness of main actors involved in AAFNs in adopting a mobile app to foster their learning opportunities. At the same time the surveys were aimed at acquiring information to conceive of and design an app that better address to producers’ and consumer’s needs; b) semi-structured interviews to key members of a promising form of AAFN. (i.e. Food Hubs). The interviews were oriented to identifying main components (social, economic and environmental), processes, actors, adopted ICTs, and distinctive characteristics that can contribute to the development of sustainable local food systems.
- Designed and developed a mobiquitous services aiming at overcoming limits of reviewed apps. The services allow the main actors involved in AAFNs (Knowledge Information Sources) to insert, update, research data and contents related to the main Learning Content Domain identified in the model for augmented SLOs taking into account the context of the interaction
ER exploited his research results developing the app MiLarder (on Google Play and App Store).
MiLarder allows consumers to: find different forms of AAFNs near them on both a map and a list view; get location, contacts, details, schedule, etc., of local sources; search local sources by location; view where they can meet their favourites farmer/producer; find producers attending the next farmers' market; know more (seasonality, production methods, how to store and how to prepare) on their preferred products and where to find them; view the latest news published by producers; post comments and read what other members of the community say on an internal social channel; share information on their preferred external social media channel; add the next farmers' market day to their calendar; suggest a new local source to the community.
MiLarder offers to producers and more in general to the administrators of AAFNs the opportunity to: insert and update data on farms and production methods; add their contacts, and where they are located ; add schedules (operation times); add any particular scheme offered by their farm (pick your own, box scheme etc.); indicate to which farmers’ markets people can find them and in which days; add information on their products and take pictures from the field; add news on particular events/offers.
MiLarder was demonstrated to producers and consumers, that showed great interest in it as a tool to help food supply chains re-localisation. Producers were happy to find a tool easy to use, to improve the marketability of their products, and provide more information to consumers about their produce, including where to buy them. Consumers were also happy to find a tool to help them to be better able to access local fresh products.
SOFIA’s results might allow the re-connection and close communication among agro-food producers and consumers, creating new market opportunities, favourable conditions for cooperation and innovation within the local food system. Research results might help consumers and producers to co-produce shared economic and socio-environmental values, thus having positive impact on the development of a more sustainable local food culture and a resilient community.