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The Republic of Guinea, the water reserve of West Africa

Culture / -

© Jane Hahn_Corbis

The Republic of Guinea is a fascinating country with a varied and complex territory, which includes mangroves, savannas and forests, and also the mountains containing the sources of the principal rivers of West Africa. It participates in the Universal Exposition from the Fruit and Legumes Cluster and celebrates its National Day on Friday October 2.

The Republic of Guinea is West Africa’s most important water reserve, to the point of being nicknamed “Africa’s water tower”. The country is often called Guinea Conakry, from the name of its capital. An extraordinary number of major rivers are born within its territories, including the Senegal and Niger rivers… mighty arteries whose flow brings life and wealth to numerous nations. Facing out onto the Atlantic Ocean and curving inland in a half moon towards the south-east, the Republic of Guinea contains various different geographical environments, from the coastline to its plains, the mountains in the center, the savanna to the north and the dense forests in the south east. Each landscape has its own ethnic and cultural identity, and its own kind of agricultural potential.
 
Source of West Africa’s resources
A journey through the Republic of Guinea passes through various totally different kinds of territory. In the coastal areas to the west, the Atlantic insinuates itself into African soil via estuaries and gulfs, creating a brackish environment where dense mangrove swamps swarm with countless fish and bird species. Further inland are the plains, richly cultivated with tropical fruits which are essential to the country’s exports. In the center of Guinea, the earth thrusts upwards to form the Fouta Djalon Massif, with highland plateaus and rocky peaks that reach over 1500 meters. This contains the sources of two of the world’s great river systems, the Niger and the Senegal, which set off inland from here on journeys of thousands of kilometers and through territories and countries inhabited by countless tribes and peoples, swelling to majestic proportions until they eventually find the Ocean. From the mountains the traveler can descend to the north towards the savannas which fade away towards the Sahel Desert, or southwards into the immense forests that lead to the great green lung in the heart of Africa.
 
The goal of Food Security
On various occasions, FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) has drawn up reports indicating the Republic of Guinea’s immense agricultural and food potential deriving from its coast and its vast cultivable areas, both of which are still seriously underexploited. Its economy is predominantly agrarian, but its agricultural system is still based on subsistence farming, which struggles to provide enough food to feed the nation. Over the last few decades, therefore, the country has taken on a major strategic challenge: to develop its agricultural system in order to achieve full food self-sufficiency.
 
This commitment has various fronts, above all an expansion of rice production, the basic element of the country’s diet along with maize, cassava and yam, and also the development of fruit and vegetable horticulture. Another strategically important front, however, is the reinforcement of exports in order to finance structural investment, and this means also working to boost the plantations of tropical fruit, coffee, cocoa and palm products. Export income is vital for financing infrastructures and development programs including literacy and education policies, which have stimulated UNESCO to choose the city of Conakry as World Book Capital for 2017. Other key food sources are raising livestock and fishing: the northern part of the country offers rich prairies for grazing, while the Atlantic and the country’s abundant rivers hold large quantities of numerous prestigious fish species.
 
 
 

Landscapes, our edible monuments

Sustainability / -

IMM RIF Lab E GIAHS
© Keren Su/Corbis

Culture, unique landscapes and food for 2 billion people: traditional agriculture is central to the identity and food security of entire populations. FAO has a plan to leave a legacy to future generations: the GIAHS - Globally Important Agriculture Systems. Of the 200 around the world, one is Italian: the lemons of Sorrento and Amalfi.

An agricultural landscape is like an ancient monument, it combines centuries of history. The smooth curves of a rice field clinging to a hillside, homogeneous surfaces of a mountain pasture, the straight lines of the channels of an oasis in the desert: these forms teach us about the efforts and passion of the people who designed them, stroke by stroke of spade and hoe. As an intersection between culture and nature, not to mention beauty, rural landscapes produce in large quantities, according to FAO data, with traditional agriculture feeding about 2 billion people every day. In other words, nearly a third of the world population depends on ancient farming techniques, handed down by half a billion small farmers, of whom 350 million belong to indigenous communities. In 2014 the UN has dedicated the World Food Day to this microcosm, focused this year on family farming.
 
FAO’s plan for traditional agriculture
The UN agency which is committed to defending ancient agricultural practices is the FAO, which in 2002 launched the program GIAHS - Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems. It objective: to assess, study and support those particularly important ancient rural systems; in practice to make of agriculture what UNESCO has made of culture, establishing World Heritage Sites. And in these twelve years of GIAHS, at least 200 have been catalogued, scattered across every continent. They range from carp breeding in Chinese paddy fields to oases in the Tunisian desert, from the pastures of the Qashqai nomads in Iran to the vanilla harvesting in the forests of Madagascar, from the cultivation of potatoes and tubers in the Peruvian Andes to the algae prairies in the Sea of Japan. There are examples in Europe, like the polders in the Netherlands and lemon groves on the terraces of the coast between Sorrento and Amalfi, with which Goethe famously fell in love.
 
An evergreen revolution
If humanity in growth cannot do without intensive agricultural production, a large part of humanity cannot give up traditional agriculture. We know that to feed the population boom of the sixties it took a "Green Revolution", a great increase in agricultural production made ​​possible by the introduction of chemistry and new high yield plant varieties. But one of its noble fathers, the Indian geneticist MS Swaminathan, for some years has spoken of the need for an "Evergreen Revolution" whereby sustainable growth takes pragmatic steps to support small rural producers, on which the food security of millions of people depends. The fundamental role of the Globally Important Agriculture Systems for this new agricultural age was recently highlighted by Parviz Koohafkan, Global Coordinator for the FAO’s GIAHS program, who spoke at the Second International Colloquium  of Laboratorio Expo, the program of Expo Milano 2015 and the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli which promotes scientific research on the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life 
 

Maurizio Riva. Pangea, the table that brings the whole world together at Expo Milano 2015

Sustainability / -

It sends out a powerful symbolic message, but is also the tangible materialization of rare artistic beauty, created using very valuable yet sustainable materials. The placing of Riva1920’s Pangea table right at the center of the Universal Exhibition, at the crossroads between the Cardo and the Decumano, gives Maurizio Riva the chance to explain the values it represents, the materials used and tell us some more interesting facts about it.

Pangea, the table designed by architect Michele De Lucchi and created by Riva 1920 for Expo Milano 2015, is on display in the wonderful and very central Piazza Italia area, at the crossroads between the Cardo and the Decumanus. The project was inspired by and takes its name from Pangaea, as the supercontinent was called, comprising all land above sea-level  250 million years ago, eventually drifting apart to give rise to the continents as we know them today.
 
The table top measures about 80 square meters and is made of kauri, a wood which is 48,000 years old and extracted from swamp subsoil in New Zealand. It weighs about 24,000-29,000 pounds and its making required the work of at least ten people for two months. The table is made up of 19 contoured pieces supported by 271 legs made from “briccole”, as the oak marker posts retrieved from the lagoon of Venice are called. The unusual feature of this wood is that it presents natural “lace patterns”, as it has been bored into by shipworms.
 
The advantage of reuse 
Reuse is a word which comes up again and again in this interview: “The wood dug up in New Zealand is being reused”, Maurizio Riva explained to us, “and the legs and supports come from poles which marked out the channels in the Venice lagoon: all the material is reused.  It was very important not to use any wood that required trees to be cut down”. Central to the realization of this project were the respect for the environment and the safeguarding of our arboreal heritage through their choice of wood, which have always been distinguishing traits of the company.
 
Pangea was used for the Bread Festival  at Expo Milano 2015, but what happens after the Universal Exhibition? “It will come back to Cantù”, Riva tells us, “where it was built, to be put in our museum. Anyone can come and see it, and can sit down on Brazil, or on Australia… And in front of it we will have a 1:5 scale model of Pavilion Zero”.
 
 

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