Setting-up an agri-business incubator that aids local economy by creating new enterprises, improving competitiveness and responding to local agricultural market.
The project aims to support the local (circular) economy by creating new small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and employment; improving competitiveness through the use of qualified professional guidance and applied science; making a better use of agricultural land, and establishing creative local community relationships. In this regard, the project intends to act as a response to Sofia market demand for local vegetables, fruit, and traditionally processed food and, the preservation of local agricultural species.
Local Task Force
The main facilitator of the project was the Sofia Municipality TURAS team together with a large number of participants coming from a wide range of backgrounds such as, Sofia Green System, Ecology and Land Use Directorate, Novi Iskar District Administration, Institute of Agricultural Economics, Joint Genome Center (JGC) between Sofia University and Agricultural Academy, and the local firm EVRIS Ltd.(flower growers). Several others were invited to join in such as the Union of Fruit and Vegetables Processors, the National Union of Gardeners in Bulgaria, among others.
The project was based on the BIC Lazio-Bracciano example, which has been widely disseminated by the press and electronic media. The overall process included three workshops:
The first one was held in 2015 and was mainly targeted at local stakeholders. The main objectives were to gain political consent at the local government level in order to create the incubator and get allocated a convenient terrain (under the jurisdiction of the municipal administration).
The second one was held in 2016 and led by Novi Iskar authorities. It was targeted at a larger range of stakeholders and aimed to search potential partners and individuals that could become involved.
The third one is still in preparation and aims at setting up a general business plan.
The project built on a long-term program for the development of the Northern Territories of Sofia municipality, which is one of the specialised programs for the implementation of Sofia General Master Plan, and aims at the revitalisation of settlements, sanitation of the territory and, the preservation of open space natural areas.
The project had to face several drawbacks such as the lack of financing, the lack of state support for the agricultural sector in Sofia region; as well as the lack of experience in business incubation at the municipal level. In response to this, a local task force group with a small budget was formed at the municipality, and an external consultancy was carried out to structure an adequate legal framework and set-up an action plan for the step-by-step process.
Due to the lack of financial support, human resources were partially available. In addition, the project counted with the municipal land allocated by the central administration, the political consent from the municipal authorities and, the trust and goodwill of the local community of Novi Iskar.
Strokes of Luck
The commitment and involvement of the Sofia Administration (the Green System, Ecology and Land Use Directorate and, the Novi Iskar district administration), as well as the allocation of a 38 ha municipal terrain, were key factors to guarantee the project moving forward.
Spatial planning can positively affect local economy by creating initiatives, providing spatial opportunities and finding targeted partners for the success of such initiatives. In this context, the larger initiative group at the municipality was formed and the idea was spread by media and very well accepted by the local community. Thus far, the two measurable indicators are related to the number of people involved in the initiative group and the quantity of arable land allocated; while the main change that has taken place is related to the way of thinking on local agriculture at Sofia city periphery.
In the long-term, the project is expected to have economic, social and ecological positive outcomes. Sofia society is already prepared and waiting for results since people now can appreciate the meaning of healthy food and estimate the traditional local agricultural products at risk of extinction. Additionally, even though still there is not available public funding to aid young SMEs, this is supposed to be changed in the future in order to enhance social and economic resilience.
Key lesson learned - Boika explains
"Besides obvious necessities such as having a strong idea, involving local communities and authorities in the whole process (up to implementation), and having experts drawing up the plan, it is essential to engage local businesses by providing them the needed resources for piloting such an endeavour and collaborate with local NGOs for better results and social effects."
Boika Kadreva, VFU