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Camilla Baresani. I discovered women’s strength in Ecuador

Culture / -

Camilla Baresani intervista

The writer and Ambassador of Women for Expo, guest at the event organised by Oxfam and IO Donna during the Women's Weeks, talks about her journey among women in rural communities of Ecuador.

“We need to start from women to break down barriers and poverty”: this is the main theme of a meeting organised by Oxfam and IO woman during the Women's Weeks. Last year she collected the voices of the women of rural communities in Ecuador in which Oxfam operates. How, in your opinion, can women be the engine of economic and social change?
I think we need to start from women for everything, not only to break down barriers and poverty but in general, because the world has been malfunctioning, so far; it is a jammed mechanism that needs to reset. In particular in areas like the ones I visited with Oxfam, where there is little or nothing and men do not collaborate and wage war, drink, and cause more harm instead of being useful, and only women can take charge of their lives and those of their children and start  creating the conditions to live in an acceptable way. It is a reality that Oxfam has made possible for many small communities. Of course, it should be applied on a larger scale, but it is in small communities that it can germinate and spread. Women can teach other women to cultivate and then nourish their children and themselves and sell what they grow.
How crucial are training and access to education for girls in this kind of context?
It is fundamental. What I learned by travelling with Oxfam is that female illiteracy is a huge problem. Until the past generation, girls had no access to education, and only boys studied and then there is the problem of violence against girls, who risk being raped when crossing fields to get to school.

We need to make it possible for girls to access education even to learn how to count, to manage their household accounts as well their harvests when they grow up. This is the real problem of mothers, you can give them better seeds and tools to learn how to cultivate, but they also need to be able to count, to keep a small budget of what they do. What remains is that all the mothers I have met have one dream: that their daughters can study and change their lives because they were never able to do so.
Women represent 43% of the agricultural labour force, but they are often the poorest and most vulnerable subjects in many parts of the world. According to you, what are the priorities to be addressed to rectify this contradiction?
Unfortunately we have to talk about priorities in the plural form: education, not only schooling, but also in the field of agriculture is one of these, and also the cultivation techniques and having access to better seeds. Then, unfortunately, but this is a longer task, it would be essential to have more women in the police forces and judiciary system. In these countries, where there are mainly men, a woman enduring violence has no rights, no defense and is always the victim, it is written on her forehead. Their abusers, regardless if  husbands or neighbours, are hardly ever imprisoned.
The short film by Maite Bulgari, “Hungry for waste”, will be presented in a preview during the “I have seen women ...” meeting organised by Oxfam at Expo Milano 2015, a reflection of hunger and waste, two sides of the same coin, two extremes of a global paradox. In your opinion which are the concrete actions to take in the fight against food waste?
I think schooling is fundamental. Parents are unable to educate, to teach because they themselves had no schooling. On the issue of food, there is great ignorance even in our developed countries and there is no awareness. If we think, for example, about what we are triggering when we eat meat indiscriminately and therefore to the C02 emissions and the pollution of aquifers. There is no awareness on the importance of the variety of the plant world. If we divert the resources reserved to breed animals for slaughter to cultivating, there would be more food for everyone. Schools should devote an hour a week to civic and food education, teach how to preserve things for others. When I was little we were aware of the many children who nothing to eat, today children grow up thinking they can eat anything at any time and their idea is that food resources are infinite. It is not so, unfortunately, they are not distributed properly.
Among the women you met in Ecuador, is there is one who changed your way of looking at this type of reality?
It was the sum of meetings that hit me, not just one. In one week we visited three different places, one in the Amazon and two in the Andes. In these places, where there is a small rural economy, men have depopulated the countryside and now there are only women, children and old people. Men are a calamity here, when they return they rape, beat, and drink and spend money not for the family, but for their pleasures. Everything is placed in the strength of these women who are willing to learn, to grow and pick up their lives without having to depend on others. The women I met are extremely satisfied and proud when they learn, when they do so hiding away from their husbands, when they meet in the community and this is the possible paradox because the men have left, Oxfam was able to operate there because there were no men.

Camilla Baresani is Ambassador of Expo Milano 2015. Read her biography and interview on the website.
On the occasion of the Women's Weeks of Expo Milano 2015 she was among the writers, film makers and Italian entrepreneurs who participated in the event organised by Oxfam and IO Donna at the Cascina Triulza on June 29.


Roberto Moncalvo: Italy’s agriculture, unique, local excellence

Sustainability / -

Roberto Moncalvo
Roberto Moncalvo © Coldiretti

On the occasion of the publication of the latest data on the Italians’ diet by Coldiretti, the Federation of Italian Farmers, we asked Roberto Moncalvo, their president, about changes to agriculture in Italy, and what farming represents in terms of Italy’s economy and development. We also discussed upcoming challenges to this sector, which is offering a number of interesting new challenges.

With Coldiretti being Europe’s largest farmers’ trade association, numbers-wise, are we saying that, despite the rise in urbanization and the industrial expansion that occurred in the twentieth century, Italy still has a strong agricultural bent?
Coldiretti is indeed the largest farmers’ union in Europe, in terms of numbers, as well as being the number one in Italy not only in terms of hectares, but also as regards workforce size. These figures confirm our strength as an association, as well as highlighting the importance to the Italian economy of the agricultural sector. Twenty years ago, some people thought that agriculture would become marginal, not least in terms of job-numbers.
The theory was that there would be a few thousand large-scale farming concerns, all very similar to each other. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. Today, two million people work in the farming industry, this due to a recasting of the role of the farmer who has become someone producing high-quality, local specialties. Farms are also key to maintaining the natural environment, and they also play a major role on the social level. As a result, agriculture is the only sector that has seen an increase in job numbers, despite the economic crisis, while being of increasing appeal to the younger generation.

Can you supply some figures regarding new farming ventures run by younger people?
There are currently between 60,000 and 70,000 farming concerns headed up by the under-35s. This is an ongoing trend, with more and more people in the lower age-groups expressing interest in this kind of multi-functional business.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg has given the final approval to the change in the Directive on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which allows member-states of the Union to ban them on their national territory. What is your thinking on this measure?
Italian agriculture and the food it produces are world-wide winners because they are unique, and are closely-linked to local tradition. Our objective is to avoid anything that tends towards standardizing output. GMOs lead to standardization, in that the idea is to grow a small number of varieties in large quantities, which also leads to environmental problems, I might say. We have always been against GMOs, and we were very pleased with the European Parliament’s move to allow each country to decide for itself. We are also happy that the Italian government has confirmed its opposition to GMOs.

The Km Zero, or farm-to-table, initiative was created to convince managers of school and workplace dining-rooms and canteens, as well as chefs, and restaurant chains to tailor their menus to seasonal, local produce. This implies a change of life-style, keyed on respect for the environment. Opinions are mixed on the subject. What does “km zero” mean today?
The Km Zero project started as a way to respond to consumers’ demand to be able to buy local produce and to know, therefore, exactly what they were eating. The initiative has led to the creation of 1,500 street markets, as well as 10,000 shops featuring the Campagna Amica (Friendly Countryside) logo.
To us, the Km Zero concept is designed to allow people to identify quality food, GMO-free, anywhere, even in the largest supermarkets. Other countries in Europe, as well as the United States, are also working along similar lines.
According to the data in a recent report on the impact of local cuisine on the Italians’ choice of where to take their vacations (Vacanze Made in Italy nel Piatto), some 58 percent of the interviewees said they were attracted by the idea of the local, or regional, cuisine of the area they were visiting. What can you tell me about this kind of tourism: people going to places to taste their local specialties made with local ingredients?
A very interesting phenomenon, this. If, on the one hand, Italy is famous for its art and its culture, with plenty of visitors coming here for that purpose, the same is happening to certain regions that are famous for their food. If someone wants to see the Coliseum, they have to go to Rome. If they want to taste a really good Barolo wine, then they have to go to the Langhe area in Piedmont, which, perhaps not surprisingly, has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Food has become a marketing tool for tourism, and is helping burnish our reputation worldwide.

On the subject of UNESCO, in November last, Italy scored a major coup. A traditional technique for growing vines, the so-called ‘head-trained bush vines' method, coltivazione della vite ad alberello, in Italian, employed on the island of Pantelleria, which lies between Sicily and Tunisia was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This was the first time such status has been granted to an agricultural practice.  What does this mean, and what kinds of opportunities can such a nomination offer?
This confirms that food has a social and economic value that derives from our culture and from our food and wine tradition, and follows the addition of the Mediterranean Diet to the same list. Our next candidates will be Neapolitan pizza, which has made Italy’s name worldwide, as well as pesto from Genoa, a food product that is intrinsically linked to its place of origin. These awards open up new export markets and, as we mentioned earlier, help boost tourism too. People come to Italy to experience our quality of life, our food, and the beauty of our natural environment.

What work opportunities can farming offer? And how many new jobs can be created in the supply-chain, in terms of value added, and the digital economy?
Despite the wide-spread economic crisis, the farming sector is creating new jobs. If we can increase our exports, then this sector can grow even further, work-wise. The government has set an objective of lifting exports from 33.4 billion euro, which was the figure in 2013, to 50 billion euro.
Achieving that target, would mean adding another 100,000 jobs in the agricultural sector. And that’s not counting the professionals. Food is a strategic sector, on which we can build the next stage of our country’s development.
Coming back to the topic of work, the Sardinia-based members of Coldiretti have signed an agreement with Novamont to grow thistles that will be used in the production of sustainable materials in the new Matrìca bio-refinery at Porto Torres. Can you say something about the impact of this agreement?
This agreement just goes to confirm the job-creation potential, and the income, that can be generated from farming activities. Coldiretti will be boosting the value of a crop that exists in marginal areas, where water is scarce. Novamont has researched the potential of thistles and has identified this species as being appropriate for the innovative materials it is producing, such as bio-plastics. This is a clear demonstration that it is more than possible to implement innovative technology without destroying the territory. Indeed, it is possible to innovate and boost it, at one and the same time, especially when the land is not suitable for food-production. This, as opposed to GMOs, is the kind of research that Coldiretti likes.

What does Expo Milano 2015 represent for Coldiretti?
Expo is a unique opportunity for pushing forward a development model that brings together agricultural production, the unique features a particular location, biodiversity, and tradition. It is a model that can be exported, because it brings together food and people. This could be a good response to the problem of hunger, especially in countries where land-grabbing is a problem.
We have accepted the challenge laid down by Expo. By means of the showcase offered to us by the Universal Exposition, we hope that more ideas will emerge regarding this development model, which we believe is not only the way forward for Italian farming, but also for those countries where the emphasis is on land, tradition, and food.

Senegal and Piedmont: Cooperating Rice-Wise

Sustainability / -

ICEI Senegal

The valley of the river Senegal, lined with verdant fields and rice-paddies, is key to the country’s food security. The Turin-based NGO called CISV has just launched a project to combat not only poverty in the villages in that area, but also “land grabbing”, which is threatening the local population’s future.

Without looking at the geography, etymology tells us that Senegal lives in symbiosis with water: Sunu-gal, in the wolof language, means “our pirogues”. The boats of the Senegalese have plied not just the seas, but also the lakes, as well as seemingly-interminable rivers that provide trails of color on the increasingly bare landscape of the water-starved Sahel.
In the valleys carved out by the rivers, the blue of the waters merges into the green of the lush vegetation, in particular along the course of the stream that gives the country its name, the Senegal. While rising less than 300 kilometers from the coast, this river capriciously curves and bends for over 1500 kilometers and, before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, drifts through lakes, ponds, and wetlands that, during the dry season, restore the water they had soaked up when the rains came.

Land grabbing as a threat to agriculture
Thanks to damming and canal construction in recent decades, the valley of the river Senegal is the most fertile in the land, providing food for about two-thirds of the population, including rice, vegetables, as well as fruit, while livestock is raised in the fields nourished by the river.

In the near future, though, things could change drastically. Along with emigration, which starves the farms of labor, a chronic lack of capital prevents farmers from being able to upgrade their equipment and adopt more efficient techniques, and the amount of land available is constantly shrinking. The latter has been provoked by the phenomenon known as “land grabbing”, effected by European corporations, many of them Italian, to whom the Senegalese government has, to date, granted access to about 20% of the country’s arable land.

The land does not belong to the farmers
These corporations tend to plant crops that are then used to produce bio-fuels, which are later exported to the Old Continent. In Senegal, the land does not belong to the famers but to the state, which has traditionally delegated the task of its safeguarding to the local communities. This, until the temptation of monetizing it became too strong. Protests from the farmers and their families have failed: they are too weak, too disorganized and too unproductive to combat the might of the multinationals.

Italy to the aid of the rural communities
Italy, or the Piedmont, to be precise, has not just been a source of land-grabbers, in the valley of the Senegal river.
For the last several years, members of the Turin-based NGO called CISV have been here too. In January, they launched a new initiative to provide support to the rural farmers in the area of Ross-Béthio, in association with Asescaw, the local farmers’ association.
Over the next three years, they will be working to bring these farmers up to date with the latest horticultural and rice-growing techniques, while also upgrading their equipment; professional training courses will also be arranged in the villages. Their task will also include arranging access to credit, and establishing contacts with the distribution network.
They plan to transfer to Senegal the skills and competencies developed over many years in the rice-fields in Piedmont so as to help the farmers boost their productivity, and the quality of the produce, while explaining the advantages of organic farming. They will be speaking to the families, the small and tiny businesses, often run by women, as well as the village communities, which are the real driving-force behind farming and the rural economies in Senegal.

The objective: protecting the valley that feeds Senegal
Boosting productivity in the rice-fields and in the traditional farms, and bolstering the identity of the local farmers means ensuring an improved standard of living for many thousands of people that are currently struggling, while saving a socially-inclusive productive fabric. It also means contributing, in a tangible fashion, to providing food security and food sovereignty to the whole country, especially as this valley is the main provider of food for the while of Senegal. Moreover, creating an economically viable alternative to a wholesale land sell-off could serve as an example, and have a positive outcome in neighboring countries.

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