Slow Food

Focus on Cheese - Parks and Shepherds: Who Protects Who?

Italy - 23 Sep 07

This morning at 11 the conference Parks and shepherds: who protects who? was held at the Cassa di Risparmio di Bra Auditorium as part of Cheese 2007, the sixth biannual event organized by Slow Food with the collaboration of the City of Bra. Silvio Barbero, National Secretary of Slow Food Italy, recounted Slow Food’s interest in shepherds as guardians of ancient knowledge and people who interact directly with the land. He emphasized that the current situation in the sheep-breeding sector was extremely critical. In our primarily urban society it can be hard to understand the role of the shepherd, one of the oldest trades and one which is indissolubly linked to the rural environment. This needs to be reflected in current development models, which must include this job as a resource, not a residual, tolerable relic of the past. Silvia De Paulis, of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park Authority, is also in charge of Slow Food Abruzzo Presidia. According to him, the next step should be to find the correct balance between safeguarding the land and protecting those who live on it and preserve it, like shepherds. He reminded the audience that the quality of a product is closely linked to the environment which it comes from. Reconciliation between the needs of park authorities, institutions, shepherds and other stakeholders must be the starting point for protecting and enriching Italy’s environmental and cultural heritage, its countryside and biodiversity. Ippolito Ostellino, director of the Turin stretch of the Po River Park Management Authority, also stated that consultation and mediation were fundamental. The mission of protected areas was not to defend only nature, but also to safeguard a land in which protected species, the countryside, plants, shepherds and tradition all co-exist. Nunzio Marcelli, president of ARPO (Regional Association of Sheep and Goat Cheese Producers) and a shepherd and animal breeder, started with a statistic. Over the last three years, he said, the number of shepherds in Italy has declined by 90%. This is an alarming figure which cannot be explained only by the increased presence of predators in protected areas. Instead, the blame lies with political policies which are not concerned enough about looking out for shepherds, the guardians of the land’s ecology. Riccardo Fortina, an adviser to the World Wildlife Fund Italy, spoke about protected areas and how their main goal is to facilitate the relationship between the environment, animals and products, in particular advancing the co-existence of wild and domesticated animals and their proper interaction with plant life. Franco Benaglia, the Technical Secretary for the Italian Environment Ministry, guaranteed the availability of institutions to work together to defend the world of sheep breeding and to confront the needs of shepherds. Marzia Verona, a writer and researcher, exposed some of the false myths surrounding the figure of the shepherd in a provocative discourse. The challenge will be to relaunch the trade of shepherd, raising awareness among consumers, bringing their attention to numerous existing issues and constructing a new modernity around the places and knowledge of the shepherds, concluded Silvio Barbero.