Background and context

Farming land use extends onto 50% of the EU’s land area, making agriculture a significant part of human activity that impacts environmental quality and the bio-cultural diversity of landscapes. It is an integral part of the cultural identity shaped by generations of rural communities. Therefore, the integration of farming practices with the environmental characteristics of particular landscapes, coupled with the autonomy of locally embedded communities, constitutes an important foundation for human culture at local, regional, and broader scales. From an ecological perspective, the durability of agricultural land use secures the long-lasting, characteristic pattern of (zoo-)anthropogenic disturbances, shaping the structure and ecological processes of landscapes while fostering biodiversity. A particularly important role is played by many-generation, smallholder farmsteads engaged in multifunctional agriculture, preserving a very diverse, “fine-grain” structure of cultural landscapes - an irreplaceable biodiversity “condensifier” and “sustainer”.

Global mechanisms favouring industrial agrobusiness have precipitated the disappearance of self-sufficient, multifunctional farms in numerous regions worldwide. In Poland, where such family farms were the nation’s primary food supplier three decades ago, there is still an ongoing and noticeable decline. Along with agricultural abandonment, we are witnessing very profound changes in rural landscapes. Some areas, subjected to field aggregation, transition into homogenous industrial monocultures, while others are sacrificed to the fight against climate change and transformed into photo-voltaic or wind farms, vast fields for biomass or biofuel crops, and yet others are invaded by developmental sprawl. Although some of the abandoned farmlands undergo spontaneous ecological succession, it is anticipated that over many decades they will more likely evolve into shrubby feral wastelands rather than fulfilling the idealised vision of a “wilderness”.

In any case, the abandonment of smallholder, multifunctional farms leads to the loss (often irreversible) of the biological richness of the landscapes and the cultural values embedded in local communities. This phenomenon undermines food sovereignty and security - a trend taking place in the whole world. Nevertheless, most agricultural economists claim that such smaller farms ought to vanish, with only large, industrial farms deemed capable of ensuring substantial income for their owners and meeting the world’s food demands.

Despite the key significance of agriculture for multiple aspects of human life and the environment, solutions to major environmental and ecological challenges are often sought outside the realm of agriculture, or, more commonly, positioned against it, considering it as a major culprit. This tendency stems from a lack of recognition of the positive role of husbandry in provisioning and sustaining landscapes rich in biodiversity.

Agriculture requires a holistic approach, taking into account its crucial functions across various dimensions,  including the natural, socio-cultural, and economic realms. Therefore, the primary objective of the conference is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experiences, as well as to foster connections and cooperation between those cultivating and using the resources of agricultural landscapes. The conference aims to bridge the gap between scientific research and practice.