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Evelyn Nguyeka. How to feed the world: lessons from the farmers and women in Zambia

Economy / -

Evelyn Nguyeka
CC 2.0 Schweizerische Bauernverband

In her capacity as leader of the Zambia National Farmers Union (Znfu), Evelyn Nguyeka has stated for years that introducing new crops in Zambia is vital, as is empowering women, and educating from scratch small-scale family farmers who cultivate the land. Now, as President of the World Farmers' Organisations, attending the World Agricultural Forum held at Expo Milano 2015, she explains to us whether these ideas can also work on a global scale.

The World Agricultural Forum on June 4-5 saw a high attendance. It was an extraordinary gathering, with over 350 delegates from around the world, with more than 100 countries represented, over 50 ministers of agriculture and no less than 27 non-participant countries at Expo Milano 2015 who came to discuss, and to demonstrate the diplomatic force of this Universal Exposition, able to foster relationships through its ability to attract, not least due to its content. Among the speakers was the president of the World Farmers' Organisation, who after years of trade union activity for the farmers in Zambia, has now taken on an international role.
 
You represent the World Farmers' Organisation. We would like to understand the small farmers' perspective. What is the main point we should act on? Is it infrastructure, water, energy, know-how or people?
I think that from the perspective of the smallholder one thing that is very important is to be efficient. And efficiency comes with technical know-how. It comes with innovation. It comes with funding. And therefore it comes with infrastructure. The size of the farm should not be the defining factor of whether or not our farmers should be able to survive, but the farmers should have ability to have access to information, to technology, and to finance to be able to make a living from what they do.

President Lula said that small rural farmers and big agro business can live together. Do you agree and what are the conditions for that?
Yes, I strongly believe this, because this is what the World Farmer Organisation does. We represent the smallest farmer in the world and we represent the largest farmer in the world. At the end of the day we are farmers. We produce food and therefore we can co-exist without any contradiction.

You’re a woman. Which do you think will be the role of women in the next ten years?
First and foremost, I would like to appeal to a lot of women out there. A lot of women are doing much work to be able to feed the planet. But we need to stand up. We need to be strong. We need to be united as women and be able to stand up to the challenge as the world needs us more now than they ever needed us before. I believe that we are the drivers of agriculture. And therefore, with the efforts of the women, we will be able to feed the world.
 
 

Five questions for Mofa. In Mongolia nomadic herders become the environmental guardians of their rangelands

Innovation / -

Distese a rischio desertificazione. Il Moia interviene con efficacia

The Green Gold Project has allowed us to empower herders to preserve rangelands at risk of desertification. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Mofa) of Mongolia explains the program put in place and the benefits derived from it.

At Expo Milano 2015, visitors will be made aware of Mofa of Mongolia project thanks to the video screened in Pavilion Zero. What message would you like to convey with your approach to the issue of food security?
Herder families in Mongolia have been empowered with the recognition of their role in ensuring sustainable use of their traditional rangelands, which means recognizing their capacity as not only as a user, but also as environmental steward of their lands. Working to create an environmental stewardship to conserve and cherish their homeland, herder families have been enabled to restore their traditional systems in collective rangeland management and halt its degradation.
 
What difficulties have you encountered while working on your project? How did you overcome them?
There has been a lack of cooperation and thus gap and mistrust created between the nomadic herding community and local government stakeholders. Therefore the Green Gold Project had to spend more time than planned on the creation socially conducive atmosphere and took the role of mediator and catalyst to bring two parties together to work through the problems and find win-win solutions jointly.
 
Since the submission date, how has your project developed to date?
Green Gold has extended its support to over 1.000 new Pasture User Groups (PUGs), involving about 40.000 nomadic herder households, and together with marketing cooperatives established by these PUGs, we are working to a create sustainable livestock production code of practices that includes maintaining healthy rangelands as an integral element of the code. This will result in a future where herders will receive remuneration for their contribution to maintain environmental integrity.
 
 
What developments do you expect in the long term for your idea?
Experience shows that it is not effective to address rangeland management issues without economic incentives.  Leaders of the Pasture User Groups see many possibilities in the marketing cooperatives to link opportunities to increase income with natural resource management objectives.  The Green Gold Project is supporting PUGs to capitalize on existing and emerging marketing opportunities of livestock products.
 
Do you intend to replicate the project in other countries or in other contexts?
The Green Gold Project has been asked to share its experiences from neighbouring countries with similar social and ecological context to Mongolia, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There has been a special interest on work in mobilization and in empowering the herder community themselves to ensure their participation in sustainable rangeland management practices and promoting their role of environmental stewardship.
 

Simonetta Agnello Hornby: Food is a friend that tells family stories

Culture / -

Simonetta Agnello Hornby
© Cosima Scavolini Splash News Corbis

At home they referred to eggplants and sweet peppers as much-loved objects, almost as dear friends rather than mere vegetables. Simonetta Agnello Hornby, writer, lawyer and WE-Women for Expo Ambassador, talks to us about how food has helped her stay close to her roots in Sicily, and why even just the fragrance of bay leaves is enough to transport her back there, wherever she might be.

She went from one island to another, keeping the flavors and traditions of Sicily firmly in her heart. Writer and lawyer, Simonetta Agnello Hornby was born in Palermo, yet has lived in England since 1972 where, for eight years, she was part-time president of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. She is Ambassador of WE-Women for Expo and, on February 7, took part in one of the discussion tables at The Expo of Ideas, the first stage for the Charter of Milan. Here, she talks about women’s role in the Charter of Milan and how, through food, she has been able to narrate her family history.
 
What contribution does WE-Women for Expo bring to the Charter of Milan?
Our contribution is to bring to the table not only women, but also gays and transgender people, on the subject of food and what can be done to avoid waste, so that we can live in a better and healthier way. Women account for 42 percent of the workforce in food production, a huge number. We Italians find this hard to comprehend but, in the third world this is the reality. The woman is always seen as the person who knows less, who is less cultured, and who has less access to all the things needed for creating a world without hunger.
 
What challenges need to be overcome for you to achieve your goal?
I think the biggest difficulty is to be taken seriously. The mother is loved, but she is always the one who is pushed aside, who always says “Yes”, who loves her children and who suffers. This is what I have seen in my work as a children’s lawyer in England. The woman is strong, but at times her strength becomes her weakness, because she succumbs to her husband, her father, her son, because culturally that’s what she’s been used to doing. It’s no longer the time to say "just keep going”. The moment has come to say "enough is enough", and this is for the good of both men and women.
 
Both your latest memoir, Il pranzo di Mosè, which has been made into a television series in Italy, and your autobiographical novel Un filo d'olio, reveal your love for the family estate in Mosè, near Agrigento in Sicily. It is where your entire family used to stay each year from June to October, set among the Saracen olive trees, in the countryside, an atmosphere of conviviality, all eating together around the table. Can you tell us about your memories of those times at the table, and of the place in general?
I had a very “old life”, as we say in Sicily. I stayed at home, I studied and spent the summer months at our country house, near Agrigento. It was there that we would all get together, my uncles and aunts, my sister, my paternal grandparents. We would eat whatever the land produced. We would cook together, talk about what we would eat, what we were eating and, a short while later, we would already be deciding what to eat the next day. Our lives revolved around food, food as family history. We would cook with my mother and my Aunt Teresa who recounted stories of their mother, my grandmother, Maria. We spoke about eggplants and sweet peppers as much-loved objects, almost as friends rather than mere vegetables. "This eggplant is sick," we would say when one had some dark spots on its skin.
 
In Il pranzo di Mosè, there are recipes made with "les beaux restes", or leftovers. What does wasting food mean to you, and how were you raised in this respect?
In our house we wasted nothing, and I mean nothing. Not being peasants, but a family of landowners with certain values, we fully embraced the culture of the countryside, where anything could prove useful and nothing gets thrown away. There were never any leftovers at home, they just became that evening’s dinner or lunch the next day. There’s a real art to knowing how to use what’s left over. And it’s an art that’s in my family’s blood. Sometimes we even cook more just to create leftovers, for example cooking extra pasta for lunch so that, in the evening, we can fry the remains and make fried pasta.
 
In Un filo d’olio you wrote: "For years I wanted to copy down my grandmother Maria’s dessert recipes that she had transcribed into a notebook with numbered pages and an index, just like a real book". Did you rediscover certain foods or ways of cooking that had been forgotten?
Here was a book of recipes, only desserts, from my grandmother Maria. It was really more of an aide-mémoire than a cookbook. From my grandma’s recipes I learned about 'ounces', as this was how measures in some recipes were expressed, not in grams. There were recipes that called for leaf lard, or sugna as it was called, which is no longer really used. I discovered cream of tartar, a type of baking powder that we used religiously, and how to create the colors for pasta reale from spinach.
 
In the same book you wrote, "Just the fragrance of bay leaves and the rich aroma of lemon zest immediately transports me back to Mosè, wherever I might be". What do those bay leaves mean to you?
Warm water with bay leaves is the best drink I know. Not for the taste, but because of the way it elicits so many memories. When my mother was sick, she sat down and drank this bay leaf infusion. The water was boiled with a couple of bay leaves and a little lemon peel, it was then poured into a teapot and always drunk from a good china teacup, because the water and bay leaf, as my mother would say, "deserve this, because they make us better". We took it for stomach aches, for colds, when someone was sad, and when there was nothing else to take, because it was basically good for everything.
 
When I went to America at the age of 19, the first time that I spent a year away from home, I thought "What can I bring with me from Sicily?" And the answer was clear: some bay leaves. Because bay leaves are light, keep for a long time, and a little water you can find wherever you go, and, with a little luck, also some lemon. My children also take water with bay leaves. My grandchildren, who don’t speak Italian but eat Sicilian, say to me, "Grandma can you make me some warm water with bay leaves?" And they drink it from coffee cups as a delicacy.

You’ve lived in London for many years, before which you lived in both the United States and Zambia.  Has anything changed in the way you cook, eat and entertain?
I’ve lived abroad for almost 50 years, and I cook Sicilian because I don’t know how to cook in any other way. But I have, in my cooking, introduced a number of things that my friends have taught me, such as using ingredients from Indian cuisine. I don’t know how to cook English food, apart from a few desserts, because English desserts are really good, but I'm a lazy cook, so I usually go back to what I know best.
 
I entertain as a Sicilian, although I do know how to entertain as the English do, which is totally different. For example, the cutlery is laid in a different way, dishes are presented differently, they eat the sweet before the cheese course, as they do in Russia. What I've learned from living abroad, not from the English, but from life in general, especially from Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the father of gastronomy, is that the guest must be respected in every way. Brillat-Savarin says, for example, that those who make guests wait until the last one has arrived is not worthy of having guests at his house. For me, if a guest arrives late, I go ahead and serve the meal at the appointed time and, when they arrive, I seat them at the table, but we don’t go back and start from the beginning, they have to take whatever is there.
 
In an interview with Exponet, Shirin Ebadi said that the defense of civil rights improves education and this can lead to an improvement in diet and lifestyle. Do you agree?
Education not only improves the way you eat, it improves the way you see things. Education means knowing things so we are able to relate to the world in a better way. With food, where we are told so many wrong things, or we think they are right only to find out they are wrong, education is critical. We all need educating because we now live in a world where we have lost the concept of seasonality. I recall with horror that I used to give my children fresh orange juice every day, while I, as a child, drank it only for two months of the year, because after that the oranges were gone. A dentist told me that there is a real problem in Britain, because orange juice erodes tooth enamel if you do not not rinse your mouth afterwards with water. Often the wealth that we have leads us to a frightening level of ignorance.
 

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