Green Care as important opportunity for diversification in Austria

With an increasing public interest in green care, publicly funded platforms such as Green Care – Where people flourish, and Green Care FOREST foster the implementation of innovative ideas while preserving traditional values of Austrian small-scale agriculture and forest management.


Nature is a strong component of the Austrian identity. A survey conducted by the Austrian Federal Forests shows that Austrians define their identity primarily via mountains, forests and lakes. With mountains in first place for 98 percent of respondents and forests with 97 percent of respondents, it becomes apparent that nature plays a key role in identifying their sense of home and comes even before sights and cultural attractions.
Almost half of the Austrian territory is covered by forests which corresponds to a forest area of about 4 million hectares. 82% of the Austrian forest is privately owned, 50% of which is owned by smallholders. Those 50% of forest owners who have less than 200 hectares each, own an average forest area of 9.2 hectares. This number illustrates the importance of traditional small-scale agriculture and forest management.

However, Austria’s agriculture and forestry sector is characterised by structural change. This is most visible in the number of people employed in the sector, which is decreasing annually by roughly 2%. Agricultural and forestry enterprises and smallholders have to adapt to market changes in order to ensure their economic survival. One strategy to accomplish this is by expanding their range of products. Smallholders and forest owners have started to recognise green care more and more as an opportunity for diversification. Establishing green care as a novel approach to diversification is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism. This endeavour is also met by an increasing public interest in green care.

GREEN CARE IN AUSTRIA
The efforts to collaboratively create green care initiatives with smallholders, institutions and public organisations are coordinated by Green Care – Where people flourish (Wo Menschen aufblühen), the registered brand of the Green Care Austria Association (see Green4C case study). It is funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism within the framework of the rural development programme of the European Union and aims to sustainably establish green care as a new branch of diversification for smallholders by facilitating between the educational, social care, health and agriculture fields.
A study recently conducted by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO) highlights the importance of green care initiatives as a means to diversify the income of smallholders and small-scale forest owners. The 39 certified Green Care farms surveyed contributed 12.6 million euros to regional value creation through investments and 11.3 million euros through ongoing operations, thus indicating that green care plays a crucial role by creating jobs, value added and quality of life in rural regions.

The significance of green care initiatives was recognised at the governmental level, which led to the expansion of green care being integrated in the government programme. Additionally, the University College for Agricultural and Environmental Pedagogy offers a Green Care Masters programme and targeted training courses are offered at agricultural training institutes, providing support in creating green care initiatives or products. The Austrian forestry sector saw an opening in the 1990s when forest pedagogues first started to work as facilitators in the education field, thereby promoting the understanding, use and application of sustainable forest management in a playful and pedagogical way. The increasing public interest in green care and forest-based care interventions and the need for diversification has further contributed to bringing attention to this topic.

GREEN CARE FOREST
In 2014, the Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW) established Green Care FOREST which has since then actively shaped green care initiatives in the forestry sector by implementing innovative ideas and pilot projects, exploring potential opportunities and mediating between the forestry, social and health care sectors, and the interested public. Forests and work, forests and social affairs, and forest and health have emerged as core areas. Against this background, BFW and Green Care FOREST contributed to a number of publications, among others Green Public Health – Benefits of Woodlands on Human Health and Well-being (Cervinka et al., 2014), Human Health and Sustainable Forest Management (FOREST EUROPE, Liaison Unit Bratislava, 2019), and published handbooks on various topics such as forest kindergartens, forests and therapy and social forestry. Focusing on forest-based care initiatives, the BFW Ossiach Forest Training Centre offers a course that supports participants in the implementation of their ideas. This is achieved by sharing knowledge about forests and their benefits on health and well-being, funding opportunities, project management, marketing and by showcasing projects and best practices.

GOING FORWARD
Stakeholders in green care tourism are aware of the public interest in nature and forests and connect them to wellness, general well-being and health when creating alternative tourist destinations and products. In recent times, the COVID-19 pandemic and with it the implementation of lockdowns have shed a new light on the importance of forests for public health. Following this interest and insights from research, BFW aims to establish standards for high-quality, evidence-based offers, among others, with the creation of training courses. BFW additionally strongly advocates for the realisation of green prescriptions in Austria. Internationally, BFW contributes its expertise to various projects such as the Health and Tourism in Forests Network (Netzwerk Gesundheitstourismus Wald), an INTERREG project, as well as Green4C and Forests For Health, both co-funded by Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.


Partner and author’s names:

Monika Humer
Dominik Mühlberger
Barbara Öllerer
Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW)

Photo credits:

  • Austrian landscape. Credits: Pixabay/Denny Franzkowia
  • Two people in the forest. Credits: BFW/Anna-Maria Walli
  • Child balancing on a tree trunk. Credits: Pixabay/Rudy and Peter Skitterians
  • Hands on a tree. Credits: BFW/Silberfoto.at

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