Organic Farming and Social-Ecological Resilience: The Alpine Valleys of Sölktäler, Austria

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"Farming in the Austrian Alps is small in scale and involves a high degree of manual labor. In the face of structural changes in agriculture, alpine farms are finding it increasingly difficult to remain economically viable. Organic farming presents a promising alternative for alpine farmers because it receives considerable financial support under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of organic farms in Austria in general, and in alpine areas in particular. Using data from an empirical study carried out in the alpine area of Sölktäler, Austria, this paper examines the issues of how closely the regulations and principles of organic farming match farmers' perspectives on sustainable agriculture and whether or not organic farming is capable of building social-ecological resilience for local farms. Qualitative interviews and a series of workshops were used to learn about farmers' "desired system state" with regard to their region, disturbances to this system, and their perspectives on organic farming. The desired system in Sölktäler as formulated by the farmers depicts a vivid farming community that manages a diverse traditional agricultural landscape and performs a number of ecological services. The desired system and the principles of organic farming have several aspects in common, and many management practices and features of the social system support social-ecological resilience. The vulnerability of farms increases, however, when farmers must deal with structural changes in agriculture, the erosion of traditional ecological knowledge, and societal transformation. In conclusion, organic farming is a tool that can be used to build social-ecological resilience for Sölktäler farms, because it secures economic funding for the area and makes it possible to sustain environmentally benign practices. What remains is the question of whether the farming community is capable of reorganizing the social system under the pressures of modernization so that the desired system state can be reached."
Alps, organic farming, social-ecological systems, resilience, sustainability, agriculture, vulnerability