Over the weekend, on Saturday April 14, 57 delegates from throughout the Republic of Macedonia gathered in Skopje and established Slow Food Makedonia as the umbrella organisation bringing together all Slow Food convivia and food communities in the country.
This formal step takes place 10 years after the establishment of the first Slow Food convivium in Macedonia. In the time since then, the network has been steadily growing, and today represents one of the backbones of Slow Food in the Balkans and in Europe. What impresses is the diversity of people and projects that the association was able to bring together: University professors working alongside farmers, school teachers joining with chefs, shepherds collaborating with young activists. “This diversity is our richness” explains the newly elected President of Slow Food Makedonia, Nikolce Nikolovski, “we all have a lot of interests and contribute with a lot of different skills. None of us has the charisma of Carlo Petrini, yet there is a little of Carlo Petrini in all of us!”.
SF: What started the push for a national organisation?
NN: The first Slow Food activities date back to 2008. Ten years on, we are a consolidated network with hundreds of activists, thousands of supporters and many ongoing projects. We needed to impose a new level of coordination.
SF: What kind of projects?
NN: Supporting small-scale farmers and food producers has always been our priority. We work thoroughly to map our food biodiversity, and today we have over 40 products on the Ark of Taste. We are constantly supporting our 5 Slow Food Presidia in Macedonia (Wild Fig Slatko, Mavrovo Reka alpine cheeses, Bukovo Peppers, Stanushina Grape, and the Macedonian Honeybee), and one more we are currently developing: the Macedonian goat.
SF: How about education?
NN: It is the other side of the coin: we have been training the youth with our school gardens by Slow Food Vodno, and we pioneered the implementation of the Masters of Food to educate adults to good, clean, and fair food.
SF: What is the current context of civil society in Macedonia?
NN: We have gone through an era in the Balkans – the 90s and 2000s – during which civic engagement has been chaotic with a plethora of civil society organisations, all searching for funds and projects but with very limited capacity. We often joked that in Macedonia there were more NGOs than people. In the Balkans, the era of finding CSOs everywhere like mushrooms, is now coming to an end, and if we want to be a serious and credible player, THE food organisation in Macedonia, we need to unite and speak as one at a national level, with the media, the public, and the authorities.
SF: What made you decide that you were ready for national coordination?
NN: We have worked hard for this for years. Between 2013-16 we partnered with Slow Food in a project aiming at building the capacity of local civil society in south-east Europe to become credible actors in food policy and the rural development sector. We took this task seriously and continued to work on it well after the completion of the project. We have held seminars and workshops to define both our strategic plan, and the best suitable structure.
SF: What does Slow Food Makedonia aim to achieve now?
NN: We now have a tool to be more successful when advocating for change. We want to change legislations to create enabling environments for our farmers to thrive. We are already drafting proposed new regulations for raw milk production. If adopted by policy-makers, it would be the greatest such result since the establishment of our Milk Diversity campaign in 2012.
SF: What initiatives are growing at grassroots level that you believe can inspire the whole Slow Food network?
NN: Access to markets is still a major issue for our small-scale artisan farmers. Our member Mirjana Dimitrov created a Facebook page named “online green market”. The concept is easy: farmers post pictures of their produce with prices and leave their phone numbers. The initiative started for fun, but in just few months it has gained over 2,000 followers, contributing to the livelihoods of many farmers across the country.