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Maurizio Canavari

Full Professor

Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences

Academic discipline: AGR/01 Agricultural Economics and Rural Appraisal

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The Social and Environmental Value of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)

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CSA initiatives are local food supply chains that have gained popularity in recent years thanks to the voluntary commitment of their members. They aim to contribute to the development of more sustainable agricultural models by reducing costs and environmental impact. This is achieved through the reduction of synthetic inputs in food production and shortening the supply chain.

While these initiatives are appreciated by citizens and institutions, defining their social value in economic terms is not easy due to the lack of objective sustainability indicators in agricultural systems. This issue makes it challenging to adequately evaluate their performance and hinders effective communication with stakeholders in the food system. To address this problem, researchers have developed a cost-benefit analysis model based on the Social Return on Investment (SROI) evaluation.

SROI is a methodology that measures the social impact of a project, program, or initiative. It allows quantifying the social benefits generated relative to the costs incurred, providing a detailed analysis of the effectiveness and efficiency of actions aimed at creating social value. SROI takes into account both direct and indirect impacts, offering a comprehensive assessment of the positive effects that a particular activity can have on society and the environment.

The study thoroughly assessed the social and environmental outcomes associated with five different CSA initiatives. A participatory approach involving CSA representatives was adopted, leading to the inclusion of various ecosystem service (ES) indicators identified from existing literature. The results revealed that the analyzed CSA case studies demonstrated a limited but positive socio-environmental performance, partly due to the small scale of the initiatives, compared to conventional food supply chains.

The study highlights how CSA initiatives can indeed create tangible value in terms of social benefits and environmental impact mitigation.

The work titled "An analytical framework to measure the social return of community-supported agriculture," authored by Marco Medici, Maurizio Canavari, and Alessandra Castellini, was recently published in the international journal Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

Those interested can obtain the full article by contacting the authors.