The Barbanza region is an area characterized by population dispersion and a wide variety of uses and forms of land management, which gives it great resilience. This fact highlights the importance of developing an experimental project of research and action that amplifies strategies from which to improve the environmental and economic sustainability of this area. 

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab is a project that looks at the past and present of the local communities in order to promote the sustainable uses of the future. It is a pioneering project in Spain, as there is no laboratory that combines science and society and that is oriented to research and practice in eco-agro-innovation. 

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This project proposal is the result of the coincident visions of recovery of natural inhabited spaces between the Santander Foundation and the Fundación Rede de Innovación Arousa (RIA), which seek environmental conservation and guarantee the provision of ecosystem services. At the same time, sustainable and productive management of the territory by the communities is being promoted by strengthening the economies that are based on agriculture and fishing.

The work of Fundación RIA during the last three years has allowed us to achieve a wide knowledge of the territory of the Ría de Arousa and of the actors who live, work and study this place. The creation of an alliance with the University of Santiago de Compostela, through the HISTAGRA group, represents the continuation of a relationship initiated in previous processes and with which the articulation of an innovative research-action proposal is sought through the creation of the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab.

The agro-livestock communities have historically managed the territory from organic perspectives. This know-how is intrinsically related to the provision of ecosystem services, however, there are few occasions when thinking about natural capital includes the very actors involved in the management of the territory.

It is necessary to generate spaces for society-academia interaction from which to combine research and action methodologies. These spaces are facilitators of innovation processes and are characterized by:

  • Openness in the processes
  • Experimental character
  • Consideration of society as co-creator
  • Responding to ecological and social challenges
  • Boosting knowledge-based experimental communities
  • They are configured as generative spaces

The mission of the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab is to become an initiative that facilitates innovation ecosystems, betting on the interaction between academia and society to become an incubator for eco-agro-innovative projects.

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab, which is not necessarily a physical space, but a way of doing. In addition to being a research project it must welcome proposals that are characterized by the frameworks that identify the Innovative Productive Experiences, practical expressions of the processes of eco-agroinnovation.

The approach of this initiative raises questions for environmental conservation policies and strategies: is it possible to protect a territory when relations with the people who inhabit it are removed? Are protectionist policies a guarantee for the protection of an ecosystem? Can we find concepts such as “circular economy”, “waste recovery” or “sustainable use of resources” in the forms of historical management of the territory?

Through the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab, the aim is to articulate and consolidate eco-agro-innovative proposals that respond to the bioregion in which the project is located, while starting from a whole set of knowledge, both historical and current, with which to propose more sustainable alternatives for the future.

Eco-agro-innovative processes are characterised by:

  • Claiming socio-environmental values in addition to economic ones
  • Commitment to local and joint management
  • Recovery of memory on cooperative or common management
  • “Pluriactivity” versus hyper-specialization
  • Use of own technologies
  • Technological, social and commercial innovation
  • Combination of adaptive knowledge
  • Cooperation networks
  • Resilience capacity
  • Reactivation of abandoned resources
  • Reproducibility

The project is being developed in the Barbanza bioregion, which includes the municipalities of Rianxo, Ribeira, A Pobra do Caramiñal, Boiro, Noia, Lousame, Porto do Son and Dodro. This bioregion of 244.2 km², a territory with common natural, geographical and historical characteristics has a great economic dynamism, but faces a series of specific risks, such as:

  • Population decline
  • Predation on land use and abandonment
  • High number of fires and territorial disorder
  • Loss of primary productive and industrial activities to the service sector
  • Excessive mobility requirements, satisfied almost exclusively through the use of the private car
  • Impoverishment of the community system, reduction of mutual support networks and spaces for socialization

In this context, society has been promoting cooperative, business or neighbourhood association proposals that, based on agro-ecological, artisanal fishing or community forest maintenance projects, are moving towards a socio-ecological transition.

This research aims to identify how much of what took place in the past can be the seed of the future and how we can relate the knowledge of experts and citizens to improve the capacities of a territory. In addition, this phase must serve to generate trust and to weave alliances with key actors in the territory that make active participation in the action phase possible. This phase has two main components:

  • The investigation will allow a mapping of the historical management of the territory. That is, to look at the past to find formulas that, even with the current ways of life, can be replicated in the present and future. This mapping will be carried out through the detailed analysis of three case studies corresponding to communal spaces in Barbanza: the communities of Baroña, Froxán and Brañas de Laíño.
  • The verification is articulated through the methodology of listening, introducing mechanisms of participation of the own neighbours of the place by means of interviews and community events.

The development of this first phase will allow us to build an “atlas of sustainable uses” that will gather the lessons learned through the case studies and proposals that can be replicated today, derived from the historical management of the territory and other ideas that can serve as an example and motivation for citizens.

During Phase 2: Action the process is articulated through the following questions: what processes identified in the territory can be developed? What new initiatives can be implemented in the territory? How can we help in the scalability of processes so that they have a greater impact and level of sustainability?

The action phase will seek to launch seed projects, a series of actions selected during the first phase with the help of an advisory board. The seed projects will receive technical and financial support for their implementation and their progress will be monitored throughout the year. The aim is to evaluate the social, environmental or economic impact of the actions, in order to draw lessons and to be able to compile them in different publications as examples to be replicated in other locations.

The team of the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab would like to thank the generosity of the people and entities that, with their time and knowledge, contributed in a selfless way to make this project possible:

  • Ramón Abuín Gómez
  • Anxo Angueira Viturro
  • Antonio de Arcos Rey
  • Archivo municipal de Dodro
  • Archivo municipal de Lousame
  • Antonio Boo Romero
  • José Boo Romero
  • Aurora Cao Vázquez
  • Eva Castro Lavandeira
  • María Cernadas 
  • Diego Cisterna Arias
  • Concello de Dodro
  • Concello de Lousame
  • Concello de Porto do Son
  • Eduardo Corbelle Rico
  • María del Carmen Creo
  • Rosaura Eiras Rial
  • Joám Evans Pim
  • Francisco García
  • Ángeles González Regueira
  • María González Rodríguez
  • Luis Guitián Rivera
  • Gustavo Hervella García
  • Manuel Iglesias Rial
  • Instituto de Estudos do Territorio
  • Remigio Jamardo Barreiro
  • Manuel Lourenzo Baleirón
  • Duncan Marsden
  • Antonio Otero Castro
  • Juan Pan Montojo
  • Ovidio Queiruga González
  • Benjamín Recarey Rendo
  • Carmen Rego
  • Carmen Soledad Rego García
  • María Rendo Iglesias
  • Ana Rey Cao
  • Felisa Rey Lorenzo
  • Elena Rial Iglesias
  • María Rial Rivas 
  • María Rivas Alfonsín
  • Josefa Rodríguez
  • José Rodríguez Cao
  • Carmen Rodríguez Deán
  • Nuria Valcárcel Sanz
  • José Manuel Varela Abuín
  • Vicente Varela Rey
  • Ramón Vila Queiruga
  • María Dolores Vigo Susavila