Marco Della Gala
Marco Della Gala

SOFIA – Situated Learning Opportunities (SLOs) fostered by ICT applications in Alternative Agro-Food Networks – is a training-through-research project funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions – individual fellowship (call 2015).

The fellowship was awarded to Marco Della Gala from the University of Calabria, who is working under the supervision of James Kirwan, with support from Matt Reed and Rob Berry. The aim is to create ICT based tools, in particular mobile applications, to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between farmer and consumer networks and help people access local food.

The project began on 1st June, 2016, and will run over 20 months.

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Background:
Over recent years, our Agro-Food Systems have become increasingly industrialized, capital intensive and globally extensive, thus causing a uniformity in agricultural production and significant ecological impact.

Moreover, the concentrated control of product markets, with a small number of big organizations and the information asymmetries, has led to a detrimental effect on the economic sustainability of farmers who are subjected to a continuous imbalance of their bargaining power and to a crisis of trust in mass-produced ‘placeless and faceless’ among consumers.

Recently, the agro-business system has been challenged by more sustainable ways of doing business by many grassroots initiatives based on collaboration among farmers and consumers networks, which have become known as Alternative Agro Food Networks (AAFNs). These AAFNs propose new and alternative business models characterized by the minimization of intermediary in the food supply chain and by a re-connection or close communication among producers and consumers. AAFNs enable the development of new forms of relationship and governance of the actors’ network, enhancing a re-distribution of value for primary producers and also reinforcing social capital of local food systems, thus representing a viable sustainable path for development of rural areas.

These innovative alternative food networks include Direct on Farm Sales, Pick Your Own, Farmers Markets, Box Schemes, Community Supported Agriculture, Collective Farmer Shops and Collective Buying Groups.

man with basket of food suschain 270pxThe project:
As the use of mobile devices continues to grow, mobile applications have become an incredibly effective way of providing information and resources to a wide audience. Through a multi-case study analysis of local food systems and rural areas and a web review of ICT tools for Alternative Agro Food Networks (AAFNs), the SOFIA project aims to create, design and develop a mobile application to support the context awareness and information/knowledge exchange among farmers and consumers adhering to AAFNs. Moreover, it will endeavour to create innovative, facilitatory and safe cooperative communication environments and to foster intellectual, social and relational capital flows among AAFNs’ partners.

It will analyze innovative organizational models and explore the value of the use of ICT tools (in particular mobile and ubiquitous services) to increase SLOs in AAFNs, through a multi-case study analysis of local food systems and rural areas, and a web review of ICT tools for AAFNs.

The expected impact of the research is to define a set of reproducible methodologies, models, tools and technologies that can improve the competitiveness of a selected area, leveraging its potential in terms of materials and intangible resources.

In addition, the study will aim to identify, analyze, and classify ICT tools supporting the management of information flows both for decision-making and for operational processes in the identified collaborative networks, in order to improve mutual understanding and collaboration between value chain stakeholders, thus contributing to sustainable development pathways of a local food systems and rural areas.

Research methodology:
The achievement of the overall objective of the project will be ensured by the accomplishment of three specific objectives and through the research methodology described below:
1. Characterization of rural areas, identifying main components (social, economic and environmental), distinctive characteristics and processes that can contribute to the development of sustainable local food systems through an empirical analysis based on exploratory case studies. The aim is to encompass the full complexity of the real world by proposing a descriptive model to identify rural areas with high potential for sustainable development, by providing easily a way to understand social, relational and
infrastructural factors that positively impact in the rise of successful local food systems and relationships between such component.

2 Collaborative based organizational models design, in order to assist the choice of the one that offers a better chance of success in relation to the application context. For this purpose AAFNs processes, actors, relationships and information flows will be studied to support local collaborative networking by analysing data gathered by multiple case studies analysis on different AAFNs forms and an empirical investigations (i.e. questionnaires and interviews to main actors of AAFNs).

3. ICT collaboration tools for rural area development. i.e the identification and classification of mobile and ubiquitous services supporting collaboration processes and increasing SLOs in an AAFN. Multiple casestudies analysis and TAM (Technology Acceptance Model) methodologies, and a survey, will be carried out to model SLOs in AAFNs and to understand specific needs in terms of learning content domain and knowledge information sources in different AAFNs forms. The ER will extend the exploratory study on mobile services offered by 126 real world mobile apps dedicated to AAFNs carried out through a web survey on the main digital application stores, to study and classify, under a user perspective, main functionalities and services offered. Apps and app functionalities will be classified on the basis of their information flow direction (reporting, informational, interactional) and the function scope (social oriented, decision support oriented, task automation). Results of these studies will be exploited to conceive and
develop mobile services that better fit users’ needs, supporting collaborative processes among local food systems’ stakeholders.

About Marco Della Gallo:
Marco’s background is in management engineering, in which he graduated from the University of Calabria, Italy, in 2004. He also gained a Masters in knowledge engineering in 2006. Since then, he has collaborated with companies in the ICT and agro-food sectors carrying out processes and functionalities analysis, designing informative systems and databases, and designing and developing mobile applications. His latest research interests lie in mobile technologies and AAFNs, by studying the impact of mobile applications and mobiquitous services in augmenting learning opportunities for actors engaged in AAFN.

Marco is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Calabria. His research project is titled “Business models and ICT services to support the development of agro-food and touristic sustainable local systems”.

European_UnionThis project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions – individual fellowship (call 2015)