Recommend academics apply

We recently completed a research project see Exploring rural food and farming microbusinesses, writes Dr Charlotte Chivers, from the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI).

This research, funded by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) following its first open call for proposals, involved working closely with the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA), giving us a great opportunity to build capacity for longer-term collaboration.

The second round of NICRE funding for projects is now open for proposals until 15 December, and we highly recommend applying if you have an interest in researching ways in which rural businesses and communities can be better supported.

Our research involved conducting focus groups and an online survey of rural microbusiness owners across England to ask them about their current activities, business planning, resilience in the face of challenges such as Covid-19, and how they could be better supported. We found that most of the microbusinesses we spoke with operate under a wide-ranging portfolio of diverse activities across the food system, generally within localised, short supply chains; 90% of the businesses we spoke with sell most of their products within 25 miles of their holdings.

Valuable contribution

As a result of examining the key challenges shared by our participants, we have been able to make 10 key suggestions as to how rural actors could better support these enterprises - Developing rural food systems, sustainability and innovation. This project has made a valuable contribution to research, as its findings are relevant to state, private, and civil society; we hope that these recommendations may inform their actions going forward.

As a result of our report Exploring the socio-economic dynamics and innovation capacity of rural food and farming microbusinesses and the publication of a press release, we were able to share our findings live on Sky News TV and BBC Radio Gloucestershire, resulting in great coverage for our research, CCRI, NICRE and the LWA. In addition, we are now in the process of drafting a peer-reviewed publication so that the wider academic relevance of this research is fully realised.

We are pleased that we were successful in applying for NICRE funding to carry out this research and would encourage fellow academics to submit a proposal to carry out their own study into rural enterprise – up to £15,000 is available for each project.

This research was carried out by Dr Charlotte Chivers, Caitlin Hafferty, Dr Matt Reed, and Sofia Raseta of the Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire.