The state of the art of multifunctional farming in Bulgaria

Positioning Care Farming and Green Care in the frame work of multifunctional agriculture requires a clear understanding of the concept of multifunctionality. OECD (2001) defines multifunctional agriculture as the delivery of non-commodities or non-tradable outputs when producing food or fibre.

Within multifunctional agriculture, the different function can be categorized into five colour categories. First, the white functions represent a contribution to food security and food safety. Second, green functions represent a contribution to nature, the environment and the landscape. Water management by farmers and the creation of energy on farms are respectively categories as blue and red functions. The final category is the yellow functions, which have a more social focus Care farming belongs to the group of yellow functions.

Considering this colour-based definition of multifuncionality, many farms can be labeled as being multifunction. Provision of care on a farm can be one of the functions of multifunctional agriculture but when its economic aspect starts to play a role, it becomes a form of diversification.

Multifunctional agriculture is a relatively new concept in the CEE countries and especially in Bulgaria. Empirical findings show that the notion of multifuncionality is rarely used in Bulgaria. The government in the country does not implement the concept of multifuncionality in the National Plan for Rural development but use relative concepts such as “economic diversification”, “rural development” or “alternative activities” and etc. A positive moment in this situation is the existing opportunity for the financing of such type of activities through the Programme for development of rural regions – criterion 311 “Diversifying to non-agricultural activities”. A check up at the authorized institutions on this criterion showed that up to this moment this opportunity was not used.

A rural municipality in Bulgaria is one with population density below 150 persons per square kilometer and administrative center with less than 30 000 inhabitants. Rural areas have many problems that limit the human development in Bulgaria – poverty, interrupted education, low access to health care, ethnic segregation, limited opportunities for disadvantaged people  and problems related to environmental protection.

Conceptually, the gap between the rural part of the overall theme of inequalities in development takes central place into the concept of human development. Practically, people in rural areas are a target group in terms of reducing poverty, improving education, health and environmental protection.

Many problems can be avoided through Care or Green care farming, which is achieved through multifunctional conversion of conventional agriculture. An example is the combination of livestock and farm equipment to produce biofuel from animal waste, or combination of farming and rural tourism, food processing, direct sales, aquaculture, handicraft and others (Table 1).

Table 1. Number of farms by type of other non-agricultural activities

Planning regions in Bulgaria

Contractual work, using equipment of the farm

Processing of farm products

Wood processing




Renewable energy production

Other activities










North Central






















































Non-agricultural activities play a very important role for Bulgarian farms. Farmers often have off-farm activities, for instance contractual work (providing services with their machinery equipment), transportation activities and contraction work  (South Central, North Central and South West of Bulgaria) and different handcraft activities (North-West and North-East of Bulgaria). Processing of farm products and wood processing are other activities that have great importance for some farms in North Central and South West Bulgaria. More over, another activity, such as creating and distributing renewable energy also is important for some farms Bulgarian, farms have long traditions in quality production and direct selling of some products such as wine, fresh vegetables and fruits.

Therefore, there is wide range of multifunctionality activities in different planning regions in Bulgaria. In this situation it is difficult to implement the general definition of multifunctional agriculture at the farm level. 

Multifunctionality represents much more that economic aspects and income opportunities. It has also strong socio-culture aspect.

The case study shows that farm size has an important role for implementation of the different multifunctional activities. In Bulgaria, the large commercial farms are involved in growing up traditional crops and/or livestock production and agro-tourism. This model is accepted by larger number of commercial farmers and supported by administration. The small farms implement different model of multifunctionality. Some small farmers often divide their time between on- and off-farming activities because of lack of financial resources, while others implement different activities on farming. Usually, small farmers are more interested in farms activities linked to environmental preservation than large farmers.

The research of the Bulgarian farms shows that the development of the social farming is in extremely initial phase. The positive thing in this case is that although in a small scale, some existing examples can be shown. The negative is that the possibilities and the advantages of the social farming are not well known on the society level, as well as on national managing bodies level. As a consequence of this there is no common, purposeful and consistent policy to popularize and to develop this type of activity. The existing in the practice examples are realized as a result of a private initiative on a free principle without any protection, consultation or coordination of the activities from the governing bodies. 

The basic activities, which find application in the country, include animal interaction (mainly with horses) for children, youngsters and adults with different medical/health problems, as well as participation in agricultural activities of adults, having problems with the social behaviour and adaptation (prisoners and minority representatives). Centres for rural/agrarian tourism exist in the country and their activity is oriented to the people from all age groups without specific needs, the goals of these centres are above all recreational.

Five types of actors are engaged in realization of these activities, depending on the type of the activity exercised: therapists, instructors, educators, consultants and farmers.

From the point of view of the organizational forms, in which these activities are practiced, there can be observed: private horse ranches and private farms - situated in different regions of the country; a prisoners’ farm (Prison in Bobovdol) and a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Plovdiv.

Bulgaria is a country with already established traditions in the building and development of the agricultural co-operatives, which together with their production activity had a number of social functions. Unfortunately at the moment the country does not have an established example of a co-operative that is engaged in this sort of activities, even though 1100 agricultural co-operatives function in the Bulgarian villages. The following is illustrative for them: their subject of activity is mainly the production of agricultural output; they unite owners of resources for agricultural output, whose main occupation is outside the agrarian sector; they are registered according to the Co-operative Law, but they function as typical capital enterprises with exceptionally limited or non-existing social activity.

Special attention deserves the fact that the social farming is almost unknown to the Bulgarian society. Single materials can be discovered in the press, presenting the experience of some countries, but as a whole the information is episodic and extremely insufficient to provoke public interest and to turn the attention to this direction. Almost entirely there is a lack of research interest to this problem in the country, which is in compliance with the priorities and the adjustments of the society and the existing practice.

The presented information warrants a general conclusion that the development of the social farming in Bulgaria is in an embryonic phase.  The main problems before its development have their roots in the lack of proper informal and formal institutional environment. On the one hand the society is not sufficiently acquainted with the ideas and practices of the social farming, on the other hand – the state, in all its governing organs, didn’t create any appropriate conditions for stimulating and popularizing of these types of activities. There exists a potential in the country for development of the social farming because of the suitable natural-climatic conditions and the existing traditions in the agricultural output, as well as because of the necessity of such type of activities for solving problems of various groups of the population with specific needs, and last but not least – because of the existing financial resource along the line of criterion 311 for starting and development of this kind of activities.

However, the realization of this potential requires coordinated and purposeful work of the representatives of the state authority, scientists and specialists from the practice, who have to popularize the idea and to reveal its perspectives and opportunities for realization and thus to turn the public interest to the desired direction.

In the future social farming activities will contribute for sustainable development of rural area. It will give opportunity for more stable rural development by reducing poverty and increasing farm income. These activities may stabilize the social and economic life in rural area and protect the environment in Bulgaria.
As a newly accessed country to the EU, it is important for Bulgaria to develop in such a way that on the one hand to be inserted in a proper way in the existing European institutional environment, and on the other hand to use positive experience of the older and more advanced member states, to improve maximum quickly its social-economic development.

Table 2. Kind of activity, users, specific needs and actors involved

Kind of activity

Name of the therapy

Users’ specific targets

Specific needs

Actors involved


Interaction with animals (horses)






Therapist/ instructor

Horse Ranch in Pernik

Interaction with animals (horses)

Riding physiotherapy



Cerebral paresis



Horse Ranches in Pernik and Skravena

Vocational training and/or participation in farm activities

Vocational training and /or socio-therapeutic farm activities

Youngsters /



Educators/ Prison administ-ration

Prisoners’ farm in Bobovdol

Interaction with animals (horses)

Gymnastics through riding

Youngsters/ Adults

Physical disabilities


Horse Ranch in Skravena

Vocational training in agriculture, consulting and help in starting farm activities

Vocational training in agriculture, consulting and help in starting farm activities


Social adaptation problems



Social agro-tourism and leisure activities

Holiday centers for rural and agro-tourism