A new challenge for the Slow Food network: increasing the resilience of mountain communities and supporting sustainable production practices

Guatemala, Lesotho, Nepal, and Rwanda: these are the countries involved in the UNOPS project, resilient environments where sustainable production practices and the protection of agrobiodiversity can serve as avenues to improve dietary diversity and quality and, in turn, generate income for sustainable smallholder farmers while simultaneously aiding in the restoration and preservation of the ecosystem. 

 

One of the world’s greatest challenges is to secure access for all to adequate supplies of food that is healthy, safe, and of high quality, and to do so in an environmentally sustainable manner. To achieve the necessary improvements, sustainable management of natural capital must be at the forefront of the major goals of food production systems.  

Agriculture provides an essential tool as one of the most important livelihood models and one of the most crucial activities that foster economic regeneration and job creation in rural and mountainous areas. In general, increased agricultural output and productivity tend to contribute substantially to the overall economic development of a country; this is due to the number of actors that work in this area and the countless economic realities that are indirectly based on the agricultural sector. Producers, transformers, distributors, and retailers all play a part in the food system. The impact of investments in the agricultural sector, however, depends significantly on the kind of interventions carried out and on the type of food system that is promoted. 

 As part of a new project in the Mountain Innovation Program, financed by the UNDP and the Mountain Partnership, Slow Food has started its work in Lesotho, Rwanda, Nepal e Guatemala to enable a community-driven food system that provides the best possible outcomes for producers and consumers.  

This model is characterized by the fact that consumers and producers are connected through short, transparent, and direct value chains, and it has a double impact on the income of citizens. Producers have an incentive to develop or conserve quality-based production models that are then rewarded willingly, through a price premium, by consumers. Conversely, consumers can access culturally adequate, safe, nutritious food at affordable prices. 

The countries included in this initiative were chosen as pilots due to the similar challenges faced by small-scale mountain producers in these areas. While each country is characterized by its own agricultural biodiversity and local food systems, the difficulty in reaching and accessing markets, especially urban markets, remains similar in each of the contexts. This initiative can be an important pilot where lessons learned can be then leveraged to scale up and out the initiative to other communities and countries.  

In the framework of this call, the primary objective of Slow Food has been to provide technical assistance geared toward increasing the resilience of mountain communities and supporting sustainable production practices by enhancing agro value chains and by helping to link these producers to national and international markets.  

Specifically, Slow Food had the following objectives: 

  • Provide support to the SGP and MPS in the coordination and grant-making process of the initiative.   
  • Strengthen value chains of high-value mountain products and enhance the capacity of producer organizations to promote mountain products; and 
  • Enhance branding and market linkages for the selected producers.  

The focus of the activities is the producers, who are receiving the knowledge needed to measure and improve the sustainability of their production systems and the tools needed to strengthen the value chains of their products and who will be linked to at least two global networks. Selected producer organizations will also have developed at least one narrative label tailored to their products and the products of the selected beneficiaries will be showcased in at least one global event. 

“Partnerships with organizations like UNDP – Caroline McCann, International Councillor for Southern Africa, comments – allow the most marginalized communities to have their voices heard. But even more importantly, this gives the millions of small-scale farmers access to markets they otherwise would not have access to. It gives respect to these silent food heroes and ensures a full livelihood for them and their families”.  

An in-depth mapping has been carried out in order to better understand the nature and the ecosystems of the selected producers in every country, working with them on identifying the main challenges and opportunities they are facing, as well as the different characteristics of their production systems and the qualities and strengths of their products. After careful analysis, according to each case, a series of tested methodologies and approaches used by Slow Food to increase the social and environmental sustainability of small-holder farmers (as Ark of Taste, Presidia, or Slow Food Travel methodologies) was proposed.  

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