Bringing back our farmlands. Those close to us and those across the globe.

18 March 2019

Lucio Cavazzoni, 18 March 2019   Food and words are two elements that revolve around us — and it’s incredible what little importance we tend to afford to the prior. While we are easily prone to absent-mindedly downing a number of foods which have been modified, words that are baseless do hurt and bother us. Instead we should pay attention to the food we eat because it is what makes and unmakes us. It can keep us well, or make us unwell. The topic is far more global: it impacts those who produce this food and revolves around how the animals are treated, the lands they live on… the environment overall is what generates the food we eat, the industry is what transforms it.   One can die from a lack of food, from too much food, or from bad quality food. It’s astonishing that that today nearly a billion people risk dying from hunger while fertile land is disappearing due to climate change caused by our own indifference and tendencies to go over the top. What’s more, the fact that agriculture — alongside food transformation — is still being characterised in the 21st century by unsustainable and unjustifiable use of fossil inputs such as fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides full of additives, preservatives and flavouring which have no place in adding nutrition to food.   Those tending to our land are those same ones who are harming it: spread out between those working on a contract-to-contract basis and agricultural entrepreneurs who work intensively on large plots — both pushed to maximise production at ever more competitive prices, with so many farmers fighting to be autonomous and even to survive in an increasingly deprived and over-reliant environment.   The earth is not just a superficial cultivable substrate, similar to the first part of a production chain ensued by energy, drive, work units pushed hard, financial resources, etc.   The earth torn way from its natural territory becomes a mere production unit aimed at replenishing unfamiliar markets and locations while often up against increasing competition who do not play fair. But an earth tied to its natural territory affords it a level of importance that it deserves for its relationship — via agriculture — with nature. This ensures it retakes a fundamental role in terms of production and also when collaborating with other economic sectors, the community as a whole, and the environment in general.   This agricultural undertaking, integrated with natural territory — something stated within its agro-ecological ‘balance sheet’ — becomes a type of pusher for a flourishing environment, culture and awareness of both the planet and healthy food. The centre of an economy that brings ecology and healthy lifestyles to the fore — something that can successively spread to other sectors. A tale of restoring value.   To make this possible it’s necessary to ensure that at least some of the produce are rendered in local territories, and that raw materials are transformed as geographically close as possible. Today’s agroindustry is frequently located far from where the raw materials originated from, a fact often used as an excuse to remain competitive. Experimenting with factories which are geographically spread out could prove a way to combat this trend. At least for initial production stages to ensure added value to those local ‘peculiarities’ such as preservation and a certain reverence towards the human eating and living in a healthy manner, along with respect towards an environment characterised by farming methods seen and adopted exclusively on a non-industrial scale.   A type of agriculture and food production well away from those typical markets which need heavy marketing campaigns aimed at distracting and confusing the buyer, but instead intended for local communities. Local as in a manner of speaking — because even those further away can play a role given that they are communities made up of people, and not markets. This type of vision, which idealises the needs of communities starting with the nearest ones, has the capability of changing existing working models and practices. If the buyer is on a first-name basis with the producer and builds up a strong, friendly relationship they are more likely to pay greater attention to the end product, which will benefit accordingly.   Such a project has got off to a start in Italy: bio-districts are popping up, representing geographical areas — big and small — and fully aligned in putting farming first in the larger scope of environmental and social sustainability. An extended interaction between stakeholders — from sectors across the economy including industry and tourism down to schools and cultural institutes — will help stimulate participation and engagement, safeguarding territories’ make the most of their assets. Not just land, water and roads but a boost to the local economy and services.   Like neighbourhoods and derelict areas are given a second chance, the same should go for these lands, safeguarding their future thanks to an innovative vision for a future based on three basic fundamentals: the good, the healthy, and the beautiful.   Farmers fresh to the scene and the ‘entrepreneurs of nature’ (who have a particular understanding with nature, rather than simply exploiting it) need to take on the responsibility of improving the quality of these natural territories which are the property of each and every one of us.   A range of factors, from the quality of land and how it is run, farming methods, the variety of plants grown down to the labour force involved, irrigation systems and use of digital tools, should be looked at to guarantee their use in the interests of a socioecological and cultural asset: it is not anyone’s property, but is administered. Such a process is unthinkable in large supply chains but it’s the opposite case in a community-based environment where producers are leading voices. Discarded lands often occurs due to a community falling apart — so the aforementioned new farmers have a key role to play. The conditions need to be rendered workable. The key to success in developing differential production of goods and services derives from the capability to establish and organise collaborative, cooperative processes that transcend different worlds.   If the 1900s was the century of cooperation — one between equals: farmers amongst themselves, but also a range of other groups including fishers, consumers and even beekeepers — then the 2000s should signal the start of a new cooperation, between different, diverging, transversal groups. Between these, those who firmly believe in fairness and cohabitation and above all hold the nature and the planet close to heart.