Education and social cohesion, environmental sustainability and innovation support the citrus Sicilian sector through "Social farming for the citrus industry of Sicily." Promoted by the Citrus Productive District of Sicily and ARCES School, with contribution from The Coca-Cola Foundation, the project launched May 2016 in Sicily. It aims to create specialized, highly-skilled professionals, who can manage multifunctional agricultural enterprises, rural tourism promotion, industrial and artisan citrus processing, maintenance of citrus plantations, and the creation of cooperatives that can provide services to the industry.

The social farming program, which has four training courses, targets, young people, women, immigrants, and impoverished people. The project includes 240 hours of training for 200 participants across two sessions. It will also offer a meeting point for companies looking for specialized professionals. The course registration is free and will take students through a new, 360-degree sustainable business model looking to revitalize the Sicilian citrus fruit sector, which accounts for 51 percent of Italian production in the agriculture sector.

“This initiative is fully aligned with the institutional goals of the District’s office which aims to strengthen and consolidate the sector by creating business and skilled labor involving vulnerable but very dynamic social groups: women, impoverished youth, and immigrants. With appropriate training, people have an opportunity to find employment, become small entrepreneurs providing services in the supply chain and be a source of growth for the entire sector" said Federica Argentati, President of the Citrus Productive District of Sicily.

Giuseppe Rallo, Managing Director of ARCES, added, "We have joined the social farming project with enthusiasm because we believe the food industry is key for the development of our region and it is directly related to tourism and cultural heritage promotion, areas in which we offer two masters programs: one in food and beverage hospitality management and another in cultural heritage. This new opportunity to offer a highly qualified training for the agro-industry is a natural interconnection to a very active sector, which will undoubtedly grow”.

In fact, the statistics say women and young people are the protagonists of the transformation, which now combines agriculture and a society where almost 17,000 people under the age of 30 have started farming companies in Italy. This results in a contribution of 18.3 percent of new start-up companies in the agro-food sector and 14.9 percent in agriculture. Women are more involved than men in the multifunctional agricultural enterprise model (e.g., educational farms, cottages, and recreational and social activities) and primary processing of agricultural products. According to the IRES-CGIL data in 2013, women entrepreneurs in agriculture in Sicily are 31.18 percent Catanese farmers, and women entrepreneurs represent the 28.67 percent of total businesses.

"The Coca-Cola Foundation believes in the value and the potential this investment has in Sicily, and it will support the project at the Citrus District of Sicily as well as ARCES to foster the development and empowerment of the most vulnerable," said Vittorio Cino, Director of Communications and Institutional Relations, Coca-Cola Italy. "Coca-Cola, which in Sicily buys orange juice concentrate directly, wants to help to create ever more capable and experienced professionals with the help of the Island companies."

These are the four training courses provided by the social farming project:

·       Multi-functionality of the agricultural enterprise (farm, rural tourisms, and diversification) with an integrated relational tourism approach: training activities will focus on agriculture and tourism, including gastronomy (Sicilian culinary traditions associated with citrus fruits).

·       Conservation and processing of citrus fruits and their derivatives: specialized training for the processing of citrus fruits into added-value products, such as jams and fresh juices, but also essential oils and distillates the cosmetics industry.

·       Technical farming of orchards: expert training in the care of citrus plantations oriented in particular for young immigrants, providing specializations in pruning techniques, watering, fertilizing and harvesting with the goal of quality and environmental sustainability.

·       Cooperation in the citrus industry: accompanying the formation of cooperatives formed by stakeholders of education, multifunctional farms management, citrus processing for the food market, natural medicine and cosmetics, collection services, pruning, fertilizing and maintenance of citrus groves. 

For more information on courses visit: www.distrettoagrumidisicilia.it - ​​www.arces.it