Critical Issues Discussed at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre

28 Oct 2012

World hunger, indigenous rights, seed freedom and the overfishing of the oceans were just some of the issues being discussed on Friday at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in Turin, perhaps the only event in the world where food is dealt with from so many different angles: gastronomy and cuisine, but also the burning topics that will shape the future of the planet and human civilization. Only by having this kind of holistic approach can we truly start to envisage a sustainable food and farming system and resolve the problems afflicting humanity today.

Fishermen, academics, activists and institutional representatives came together at the “Guardians of the Oceans”conference to raise a loud voice against the devastating effects of overfishing and called for action on behalf of policymakers and consumers alike. The complex character of the issue, but also the simple solutions, were discussed by the panel of experts. Aquaculture, for instance, is often promoted as the solution to overfishing, but actually exerts additional pressure due to the quantity of small fish, such as anchovies, needed to feed farmed salmon or trout. Ensuring consumers know where their food comes from, allowing them to make sustainable choices, is an efficient solution. Tasha Sutcliffe of Ecotrust Canada explained how innovative social media technologies can foster exchange between fishermen and consumers: through the website, fishermen can upload information on their catch and receive direct comments from consumers who, in turn, can access detailed information on the fisherman and the fishing area by looking at the label. On the other hand, marine biologist and Slow Food Italy Environmental Coordinator Silvio Greco denounced how the big fishing industry does not want to promote such systems. Brett Tolly of the North West Marine Alliance from the USA underlined how a key factor in the change towards a sustainable fishing system is the creation of a network of fishermen and consumers. This is what inspired the organization to set up CSFs, Community Supported Fisheries initiatives. All participants underlined how the power for real change lies in the hands of consumers: reducing the consumption of fish, as well as choosing only the most sustainable and lesser known species, can ensure the survival of the marine environment in future years.

The rights of indigenous peoples to choose what to grow and eat was central to the conference “Indigenous Peoples and Local Food Sovereignty – A Struggle for Self-Determined Development.” Indigenous speakers from North America, Argentina, Malaysia, East Africa, Russia and the Pacific spoke about the circumstances of indigenous communities in their home countries and the threats and difficulties they face as they struggle to become the masters of their own destinies. The audience also heard about inspiring projects to preserve indigenous cultures, such as a project in Argentina to improve women’s health through education and a forward-thinking NGO in Papua New Guinea that uses film and television to increase awareness of local indigenous food culture. “With good intentions, those with technical power and knowledge have dominated indigenous people for a long time. Meanwhile, these peoples have been silently fighting for their rights,” said the coordinator of the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty Phrang Roy. “We are still alive, our traditional wisdom and culture is still alive,” echoed Galina Tunekova from Russia’s indigenous Shor People, “but for it not to disappear we need your help to preserve it.”

“We can’t talk about food without talking about seeds. Even the animals we eat rely on seeds.” So began Cinzia Scaffidi, director of the Slow Food Study Center, at the start of “Seeds: Where Do We Start?” In a packed room, farmers, activists and academics from countries as diverse as Iran, Italy, India and France shared their vision. Seeds are key to food sovereignty, health, ecology and the real economy, said Fabien Moisant, a French grain farmer and baker. “The new battle for life,” is how Marcello Buiatti of the University of Florence described the current situation, in which seeds are patented and soils “doped” with chemicals, causing the decline of biodiversity and complete dependency on a handful of multinationals. “Seed monopoly is the new colonialism,” said Ahmad Taheri from Iran. “There are very severe laws against doping in sport,” he added, “so how come there are none when it comes to the soil where our food grows?” A presentation of Seed Freedom, the campaign launched by Vandana Shiva, Indian activist and Navdanya president, offered the best possible conclusion to the conference. She insisted that the solution lies in a combination of seed-saving initiatives plus battles against immoral, unjust and illegitimate laws. She added that recent European law changes as well as the lawsuit against organic seed distributor Kokopelli are the best examples that “we used to have landlords, now we have lifelords.”

“The Presidia are Slow Food’s most important project,” said Piero Sardo, opening the conference “400 Presidia: A New Model for Agriculture.” The gamble on a new type of agriculture had been won, he said, and with a new report on the economic, sociocultural and environmental sustainability of the Presidia, presented at the conference, the efficacy of the projects to promote and protect traditional products around the world has been scientifically demonstrated. Cristiana Peano of the University of Turin was one of the collaborators on the study, which assessed a sample of European Presidia, based on 50 indicators. Direct evidence came from Margherita Longo of the Ustica Lentil Presidium in Sicily and Soliko Tsaishvili from the Georgian Wine in Jars Presidium. Both of them described how the Presidium helped producers form an association and attract more young people. Renato Grimaldo from the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Pia Bucella of the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission provided more political viewpoints, explaining that the Presidia offered an exemplification of how to conserve biodiversity.

The right to food is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, as José Esquinas-Alcazar of the University of Cordoba said, “the right to food is the most important right because without food, we wouldn’t be here.” Yet close to a billion people still live in constant hunger. Every day, 40,000 people in the world die from hunger, mostly women and children. This blasphemy, “the greatest tragedy and shame of the world,” according to Father Alex Zanotelli, was discussed in the conference “Enforcing the Right to Food: How?” The speakers outlined a number of problems, chiefly access to food, given that more than enough food is produced to feed the world’s current population. “Only 10% of the deaths from hunger are related to armed conflicts or natural disasters,” said Carola Carazzone, a lawyer from the Italian NGO VIS. A lack of political will, land grabbing, speculation on food commodities causing price volatility, waste and a reliance on imported food were also listed. Though the current situation seems to negate any hope for the future, some possible solutions were suggested. Didier Chabrol from the French research center CIRAD described the potential of local products, protected by Presidia and geographical indications. Esquinas-Alcazar said that the number of countries who have introduced the right to food into their constitutions is small but growing. He believes a global parliament is the only solution. Carlo Petrini said that we needed a holistic approach to food, a recognition of its true value (not just its cost) and said that women, the elderly, farmers and indigenous people, long marginalized, would be leading the way forward in the future. Zanotelli, meanwhile, was very clear: “Poverty is created, hunger is wanted. We need the courage to declare poverty illegal.”

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