FAO Shows How

25 Oct 2005

To commemorate the founding of the FAO (October 16, 1945), the UN agency for food and agriculture each year celebrates the day with a series of events which it has directly organized, participates in, or gives support to.

Unlike many people, I believe it is important to have a set date to think about particular issues. It is important—provided that the celebrations are not intended as a purely formal exercise— because it obliges us to undertake a proper reflection and move forwards in our understanding.

Last year the World Food Day theme was ‘Biodiversity for Food Security’. The implications of this short slogan were of huge significance. Think about GMOs for a start or the protection of small-scale agriculture.

This year’s theme was ‘Agriculture and Intercultural Dialogue’. Let’s once again remind ourselves where this innocuous sounding title comes from. It starts with agriculture and it tells us who is involved in battling against hunger in the world at an institutional level. But that is not all. We need dialog too. And the crucial thing about dialog isn’t the people who are talking, but that there is someone listening.

Guided by these considerations, the University of Turin and the University of Gastronomic Sciences at Pollenzo, in collaboration with the Slow Food Study Center, organized a small seminar in Pollenzo on Friday October 14. Its title was ‘Rural Development: Economics Lessons from the Periphery to the Centre’.

This title was also deliberated for a long time. We wanted to talk about food and therefore agriculture—as suggested by the FAO, represented by Eve Crowley, responsible for strategies to combat poverty. And it is the development of agricultural strategies that is the particular focus of the type of development being envisaged.

The economic perspective is very much to the forefront and it is no surprise that proceedings were chaired by Enrico Luzzati, Lecturer in Economics at the University of Turin. But what we wanted to do was examine a different conception of economics, one which seems to prevail where there are positive examples of rural development in developing countries. It is a conception of economics which focuses on people and not money. And it presumes that money should help people to be better off and not to unproductively help others make more money, while the lives of ordinary people—workers and their families, even those consuming the goods produced—gets worse.

Four leaders of peasant organizations presented their visions of rural development: Valter Rodriguez Vargas of the APPTA (Asociación Pequeños Productores deTalamanca), from Costa Rica, Samuel Karanja Muhunyu of the NECOFA (Network for Ecofarming in Africa), from Kenya; Maya Yani of the NAVDANYA Association from India and Giorgio Ferrero, President of the Italian National Farmers Association in Piedmont were also present, because here too we were again talking about rural development.

Not that the seminar sought solely to create a dialog between geographically distant cultures. It also aimed to promote dialog between different spheres of knowledge—after all, it’s high time we linked them together and boosted a greater interchange of ideas between them. I’m talking about the world of traditional peasant knowledge and that of official science, of the institutional custodians of knowledge, the universities. Antonino Colajanni, Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Rome La Sapienza, will to some extent represent the intersection and interdependence between these two worlds.

Ours was a small seminar but provided a great opportunity to think and understand. The small village of Pollenzo in the province of Cuneo is showing it can nurture great dreams.

First printed in La Stampa, on October 10, 2005

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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