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“La Terra dei Fuochi”. A delicate situation, a wound to be healed

Sustainability / -

terra dei fuochi imm rif
© Salvatore Scialò

The ‘Land of Fire’ consists of a clearly defined geographical area in Campania, Italy, poisoned by thousands of tons of toxic material and waste buried beneath roads and land, as documented by Roberto Saviano in his famous book “Gomorra”. This deadly wound will only be healed by fostering a debate between various institutions, the citizens and the associations devoted to environmental protection.

Expo Milano 2015 is a kind of window looking out onto a new world, and one which is capable of bringing about change, and improvement. Discussing urgently pressing issues can not only lead to learning, but also to renewal, and to developing new models of nourishment. 
One part of this can certainly embrace the world of celiac sufferers and vegans, and all those who suffer from food intolerance and are in search of alternative sources of food.
 Expo can become a unique experience that not only promotes and protects the Earth, womb of so many extraordinary resources, but also the human mind which over the millennia has developed the ability to create and transform food to the point where it can become a work of art.

 
The illegal dumping of toxic waste in the area between Naples and Caserta
The Expo context provides a profound framework of significance in which to set one of the most “burning issues” in Italy in recent years: the “Terra di Fuochi”, or Land of Fire. A territory of 1076 sq.km, where 57 towns are situated...33 in the Province of Naples and 24 in the Province of Caserta. 
The area in question, where illegal toxic dumping has taken place, is precisely identifiable. In many cases, huge mounds of waste which have been illegally dumped in open countryside or beside roads, are set alight, creating extensive fires whose smoke spreads lethal substances (including dioxin) for miles around, in the soil and in the air. 
High tumor rates in women and children
Huge bonfires of industrial waste have for years been a feature in the areas around Succivo, Aversa, Caivano, Acerra and Giugliano in Campania, and the result is a statistical wave of extremely high cancer rates, hitting especially young women – breast and thyroid particularly – and children. This phenomenon was denounced for the first time in 2003, in a report by the Legambiente environmental association, and was then brought to the attention of the world by Roberto Saviano in his book Gomorra, then made into a film.  “The Land of Fire” became first and foremost an acutely dangerous dilemma to resolve at a regional level, and then spread to become a debate, with rebellion, proposals, ideas, and legitimate worry on the part of institutions and individuals. It has a become a geographical site which breeds fear, obstacles, acts of violence and crime, and even today the brutal habit of setting fire to toxic waste and damaging the eco-system, environment and human health.
 
A stage occupied by criminality and corruption
Although the area affected occupies only 1 percent of the Campania Region, today we can truthfully say that it represents a major problem in need of constant monitoring, and a huge wound to be healed. A wound which for some time will take constant treating and careful controlling in order to at least limit damage to the environment and to agriculture, food and human health. Damage that extends outside the Campania Region, to the rest of Italy and beyond. The Campania Region wishes to say “no” to pollution, to the code of silence, to the indifference which has dragged on for too many years in relation to this deadly situation. Since 2006, Legambiente’s Campania Ecomafia Report (coordinated by Peppe Ruggero) has thrown light on the situation in the “Terra dei Fuochi”, describing the degradation of the territory perpetrated by criminality and corruption.
 
The relation between environment and tumor rates demonstrated by science
The aspect of the whole affair which brings to mind by bitter contrast the ideals of Expo Milano 2015 is the damage to agriculture, food and human health. In recent years the illegal dumps have grown by 30 percent, as have the tumors found in the local population, which continue to rise, causing deep worry in Italy and abroad.
 
Another deeply committed opponent of the rape of The Land of Fire, alongside Legambiente, is Antonio Giordano. Oncologist, pathologist, researcher, university professor and writer, Antonio Giordano was born in 1962 and is the Director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine in Philadelphia, President of the Scientific Committee of the Human Health Foundation NPO, and Professor of Anatomy and Pathological Histology in the Department of Medicine, Surgery and Neuroscience and the Biomedical Technologies and Experimental Oncological Laboratory of the University of Siena.
 His many research activities are driven by a mission of activism in denouncing environmental factors as causes of increased tumor rates in populations. A pupil of Nobel Prize winner James Dewey Watson, he has discovered various key factors in the regulation of cell cycles, combining his role as a researcher with that of a scientific divulgator, committed to proving and publicizing the links between environment, toxic waste and tumor increase in Campania.
 
An emblem of the tragic situation south of Naples is little Checco, a victim of The Land of Fire at the age of four, a focus for various committees to organize visits and protests in the area which Italy’s President described as “an emblem of degradation.” Checco is just one of many, too many, children in the Land of Fire area to be struck by tumors and lose their lives for no reason other than the misfortune of living in the “triangle of death”.

 
As the philosopher Feuerbach wrote “We are what we eat”, and together with Expo Milano 2015 and its mascot, Foody, we too can identify with that single face made up of eleven elements, each with different characteristics and personalities but together representing the synergy between all the countries of the world called upon to meet the challenges facing our planet.
 
This article has been written with the collaboration of the Chef Marco di Lorenzi.
 

Plantation syndrome

Culture / -

imm rif tratta atlantica
© Sebastien Desarmaux_Godong_Corbis

The African slave trade is an historical phenomenon that still conditions the present day in many countries. The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade provides an occasion for reflection on the subject

Millions of people worldwide start their day by pouring a cup of coffee, adding sugar, stirring, and taking that first sip. A set of automatic gestures that rarely leads one to think of the history that informs our actions. The same could be said for tea, or hot chocolate. These commodities have become part of the pleasures of the average day, they help us to socialize, and represent a fundamental aspect of many cultures worldwide.

A cup of coffee
And yet we need only go back in time a couple of centuries to encounter a bitter paradox: sugar, coffee, cocoa, and tea, all of them familiar and comforting products to us, are the outcome of one of the most dramatic tales in human history: the African slave trade towards the Americas and the Caribbean.
 
The development of these staples was only possible via the reduction to lifelong servitude of millions of people, the vast majority of them African.
 
The United Nations’ annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, on March 25, provides an occasion to look back at this period of history.

Slaves west- and east-bound
The transatlantic slave trade operated for nearly four hundred years, from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries. According to historians such as Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, some 12 million Africans were shipped to the plantations of the southern United States, as well as the British, French, and Dutch West Indies and to the Spanish and Portuguese empires while the UN puts the figure at 15 million.
 
The success of the slave trade was made possible by a chain of ‘slavery professionals’, from African kings who specialized in selling off their prisoners of war, via European slave-traders, to the plantation owners on the other side of the Atlantic.
 
Over the same period, some 17 million Africans were shipped eastwards, becoming slaves in the Arab countries and within the Ottoman empire, with another 14 million became the property of other Africans.

No end to slavery: how plantation syndrome hampers development
One special feature of the transatlantic slave trade was that it led to the cultivation, on a vast scale, of what can be considered the first global foodstuffs. Over and above this, though, it led to the development of models of production and commerce that have continued to have economic and social repercussions on entire nations, long after the slave trade was officially abolished by Britain in the 19th century.
 
What could be called ‘plantation syndrome’ has condemned a number of countries in the south of the world to persist with cultivating a single crop, thereby hindering the development of harmonious economic growth. Prime examples can be found in the Caribbean and in Latin America.

Women, slaves three times over
This year’s International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is dedicated to women, to those who have been reduced to slavery, as well as those who have fought for its abolition. Estimates show that one-third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic were female. As such, they were threefold victims of slavery. Not just being forced to work against their will, and being victims of racial prejudice, they also suffered gender discrimination. And yet, it is above all, thanks to these women that African culture was transmitted to the new generations, those who were born free.
 

Food for everyone, even for those who produce it

Economy / -

Andrea Nicolello Rossi, presidente di Fairtrade Italia

Small farms make a huge contribution to feeding the world, but often suffer from hunger. Could this paradox also include Italy? We spoke with the president of Fairtrade Italia.

The next product line of fair trade could well come from Italy and thereby become the first example of local Fair Trade. Fueled by the crisis, in fact, issues such as decent working conditions, fair price, sustainability in supply chains have become part of the 'home territory' and no longer belong only to the southern part of the world. Quite the opposite. In a strange reversal of roles, India, Brazil, South Africa and Kenya have started to consume (and not just produce) certified foods. In the past year, in fact, in these countries there is a part of society, no matter how tough things get, that prefer (and can afford) ethical supply chains; in other words, those that can provide better living and working conditions for producers. Has the world been turned upside down? Not really. But certainly things are changing very rapidly. We spoke with the president of Fairtrade Italia, Andrea Nicolello Rossi..

Your organization just turned 20. Can you sum up the road you have taken so far?
Twenty years ago, the challenge was to make fair trade products accessible, available and different. Did we succeed? The numbers say so. Today, Fairtrade International has a turnover of €5.5 billion (up 15% on 2012), involving 1.4 million people and 74 producer countries. There are now 120 countries that sell our products, and not just food, but also cotton, craft products, and so on.

What was the highlight of the past 20 years?
Without doubt, it was the change in our company status two years ago. For the first time ever, we decided that 50% of the board of directors be made up of representatives of producers, who now sit alongside the distributors. By assuming responsibility in equal measure is of great significance. For the first time, an historic producer of Santo Domingo, Marike De Pena, has taken on the role of president.

At Expo Milano 2015 you will be present as a Civil Society Participant in the Cocoa Cluster. Why did you choose this product?
It seemed like an interesting way to combine the concept of 'goodness' on two levels – ethics and taste – and then it is a product that really appeals to the general public. Of course we will give space to all food certificates, which will also be displayed under the Solidal brand, in the supermarket of the future, and merchandised by Coop Italia in the Future Food District.

Which issues do you wish to stress with visitors to the Universal Exposition?
The initial question that Expo Milano 2015 raises – Is it possible to assure food that is good, healthy, sufficient and sustainable to mankind? – begs a further question: Can we ensure that the food is fair for those who produce it?
 
In fact we see a paradox: 70% of the world's food is produced by 500 million small farms, but of the people managing them, half have nothing to eat and are trapped in a state of poverty, worsened by decades of price volatility, a lack of resources to invest, global inflationary pressures and the negative effects of climate change: an economic hourglass that is squeezing farmers. We want to bring this situation to light and share details of the alternatives offered by Fairtrade.

Today there are many companies, both Italian and foreign, that seem to have taken up your challenge. How do you support them?
Ever since we set up our company, we have always made ourselves available in developing partnerships with the world of profit. To help large groups to apply the criteria of fair trade in their supply chain, we introduced an innovative commercial program, called Fairtrade Sourcing Program (FSP) in 2014. It is a program that allows companies to support, through our network, organizations in Asia, Africa and Latin America that produce cocoa, sugar and cotton. With supply programs for certified raw materials, we support companies in developing a sustainability strategy that involves buying increasing amounts of Fairtrade raw materials.

What are the numbers and the prospects of Fairtrade in Italy?
In Italy, in 2013, we achieved a sales turnover of 76.3 million euro, with 130 Italian licensed companies and more than 5,000 representative stores. And, paradoxically, during the most acute period of crisis, sales increased by 16.7 percent vs. 2012. It is a sign of the growing tendency of Italians to consume less, but better. And the proof is the fact that where our label is organic, the combination works particularly well.
 

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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