What is the message that you would like to convey in this exhibition that forms part of the Coffee Cluster?
The planet has one big problem. There’s lots of talk, lots of conferences are held, but little is being done on the practical level. Too little is being done by people amongst themselves, which is where things really get achieved.
The images that make up my exhibition show the people who are actually producing coffee. There are about 24 million families engaged in this process, and they have been doing it in the same fashion for the last century. Indeed, very little has changed in the interim.
This exhibition in the Coffee Cluster is aimed at prompting people to understand what lies behind the everyday cup of coffee. Coffee has become a popular product, with an upmarket image. I want to show the concentration of income and technology that underpins coffee production.
I was overcome at the inaugural ceremony for Expo Milano 2015. The Pope’s speech concentrated on a new kind of love for others, a different way of sharing, and of respect for the earth. Change is needed.
The great hope is that, an event as major as the Universal Exposition, which has considerable public acclaim, and which is likely to get tens of millions of visitors, can serve to engender real sharing. This would create a different world, not one based on exclusivity as we have had before.
At the inauguration, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, said the same, that we need to move away from a habit that is too common in the developed world and among intellectuals: that of using good words, and shift into engaging in good actions.
In order to create this reportage, you had to meet the coffee farmers and those that work the crops. But do these people taste the finished product? Do they know what coffee tastes like?
Yes, they do. They don’t drink their coffee roasted the way we do, but they do drink it.
Everyone that produces coffee, loves it. I had to spend a lot of time with the coffee farers when I was making this reportage, I had to get close to them, and to be with them. It was a great pleasure to be there, and coffee came to play a major role in my life too.
We became very close: these are very simple people, very human, honest and dignified. They live in their own communities, as can be seen in the images. They’re not poor. They pay for their children’s education, for social services, for medicine, and they all have their own homes. They do work from morning till night, though, and they may not be adequately remunerated for all the labor they put in. I hope that Expo Milano 2015 will provide the chance for people to be more honest in general, and that this will lead to people’s contributions being recognized in an appropriate fashion.
We need solidarity: there is a sore need for solidarity on the planet. I would like to think that Expo will provide the chance for people to start talking and putting solidarity into practice.
Your images promise to take visitors on a journey “from the soil to the cup”. Can you give us some background on just two of the photos?
There’s one that shows a member of the Massai people picking coffee beans in the north of Tanzania. The Massai have their own community, their own land, their own livestock, but they choose to work as laborers in the larger plantations. That said, they take their culture and their own traditions with them. In this image, we see someone wearing the typical Massai jewellery.
In this second picture, we have women in Ethiopia working in a place where coffee is selected for the export market. The coffee beans are collected, cleaned, and then sorted, one by one, by hand.
I believe that this image teaches us a lesson: that when we drink our coffee, we should bear in mind that every single one of the beans that have gone into creating that welcome cup have, without exception, been touched by the human hand, from the person who grew the beans, to the one who cleaned them, to the one who selected them.
Your commitment in terms of protecting and safeguarding the environment is well known because of Instituto Terra, the civil, non-profit organization, that you founded in 1998 with your wife. As you traveled to make this reportage, where did you see the greatest evidence of the consequences of climate change?
Everywhere. In the specific case of coffee, during the rainy season. Rainfall patterns are changing, and this impacts when the flowers appear, and also affects the pace of the production cycle, and the habits of the farmers. Everything is changing so quickly and the world of suffering as a result of climate change, not least coffee production.