Rural areas cover 56% of the territory in Europe and its ecosystems are the source of most essential ecosystem services (ESs) demanded by both urban and rural populations. However, the drastic change from rural towards urban societies, involved the transformation of land cover with the expansion of industry of cities such as Madrid, migration flows from rural to urban areas, and farming intensification in the more productive areas. The conversion of multi-functional landscapes into more simple, productive, and mono-functional ones, threatens the agroecosystems preservation and many intangible ESs, but also the social, cultural and economic viability of rural populations (lack of employment opportunities, ageing population, loss of local knowledge, loss of cultural landscapes). This is a key challenge affecting Madrid, one of the largest cities of Spain with an important metropolitan area and an evident urban and rural gap.
The study area selected called the Valley Region coincides with a flood plain located in the south-east of Madrid Province (Spain), involving three main rivers (Tajo, Tajuña and Jarama). It is a fertile valley with optimal climate and water conditions for farming, being the main crops olive orchards, vineyards, cereals, together with horticulture. It has been known as the “orchard” of Madrid in the previous century for its agrarian character and its suitable distance to the capital (52 km on average). The area involves 21 rural municipalities which cover around 1000 km2 (13% of Madrid region extension) and with nearly 70.000 inhabitants (in 2015). Traditionally, its economy has been based mainly on agriculture production and related agro-food industry. During the newborn of urban societies (during the 60s-70s) and the housing bubble (90s-00s), the building sector leaves farming as a second place. Currently, a tertiarisation of the economy is taking place.
After the crisis and since 2009 it seems that this trade-off is reversing. Young people are starting agrarian movements and projects in the periurban areas of Madrid. This is motivated by a combination of factors such as the concern of a part of society of finding more sustainable and healthier food models, reconnecting with nature at rural but also at urban areas, finding new ways to be more environmental friendly, an interest on organic production, and a demand of local produced products. On this regard, and together with the research conducted for the full region, we are running a research-action project in one of the municipalities, where a participatory farming experiences in being conducted as a way to strength the farming sector in the area (www.agrolabmadrid.com