In rural areas of many developing countries, seniors and people with disabilities are often some of the most marginalized groups. The World Bank estimates that 20% of the world’s poorest people have a disability and are also regarded as the most disadvantaged people in their communities. Due to traditional prejudices and a lack of understanding, they often experience insufficient to become financially productive and support themselves. This means they are viewed by others as a burden on families and communities.
One proposed solution to the economic exclusion of disadvantaged groups in rural areas is an approach called social farming, or care farming. Social farming uses agricultural resources to provide services for marginalized groups. One example of a social farming practice is providing education services to seniors on the farm so that they can participate more actively in its daily operations. Another example is integrating people with disabilities into productive farming activities to enhance their participation in society and help them to learn employable skills. People who participate in these activities often come away with a sense of financial and social inclusion. Social farming has been widely practiced in areas of Europe for decades, and now a few small NGOs are experimenting with the approach in developing countries.
Tanzania House of Hope, a local NGO in Mwanza, Tanzania, is establishing an urban farm in their community where elderly community members will be able to work and earn an income. Emphasizing the ‘social’ aspect of social farming, Tanzania House of Hope is not only providing economic opportunity to seniors, but is also building a community center to provide social services and help the elderly become reintegrated into the local community through both financial and social inclusion. Another social farming project at Swastha Centre for Special Education and Rehabilitation in Kodagu district, India, is working to improve the lives of children with disabilities. The Centre has established a four-acre garden where students can receive training in gardening and agricultural techniques. The school aims to provide children with employable skills that will help them to earn a living, and to influence the wider community to view people with disabilities in a more positive way.
Studies of social farming practices in European countries have demonstrated that financial inclusion is a key to helping disadvantaged groups become integrated into society. Social farming allows people in rural areas to do this through the provision of services and skills that allow them to work and earn an income through agriculture. Through the services it provides, social farming can also help people to become more empowered and to develop a sense of self-worth and purpose, allowing other people a chance to view them more positively as well. While still not widely practiced outside of developed countries, a few small projects are demonstrating that social farming can also be a viable option for improving quality of life for marginalized groups in developing countries.