Deserted land. (Deserted people)

29 November 2018

Yet land is home. Why lands at risk of desertion — given a perceived lack of compatibility and fertility — represent a tremendous opportunity for an alternative food: home-made food, for Health.

Lucio Cavazzoni   “Il Manifesto”, 29 November 2018     The land we set foot on day in day out, still untouched by cement rollers and with ample fertility to grow the products we eat, has never been privatised by such a number of great landowners. The most fertile and water-rich lands are gobbled up while those that no longer offer ample conditions are abandoned. This is particularly the case when coming to hills and mountains which have not been able to compete against the rise in industrialisation in terms of farming and livestock.   The ongoing acquisition of land, while evident, is difficult to calculate in terms of exact figures. The World Bank, back in 2011, estimated that the process of land grabbing amounted to over 50 million hectares (today it could be double that figure). Millions of people have been forced to migrate away because the land they were living on was taken away from them. Italy has witnessed around 300,000 hectares of abandoned land over the last decade, but it’s the overall trend of small- and medium-sized farming — still extraordinarily important across the globe for environmental and social sustainability across towns and nations as a whole — being replaced by large-sized, mechanically advanced versions. As urbanisation trundles along at a relentless speed, one has the impression that the land has to nonetheless continue to produce — matching the speed of urbanisation — raw materials at low prices in order for them to undergo standardised processing into industrial food. There has been a notable rise in the use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides — all deriving from petroleum. A demanding world population needs to be satisfied, and the market has responded by maximising production on the most fertile lands and farms. This reflects an inability to think beyond simple extraction: farms and animals are subject to an extraction similar to that of minerals like gold, lithium and uranium: the maximum possible in terms of quantity.   Lands and those who live on them are hence sacrificed, forsaking environmental and economic values to bring them elsewhere. Deforestation and single crop farming such as those specialising in palm, soy, corn or wheat often extend for thousands of hectares, prompting complaints from a number of NGOs.   Over 50% of all cereal and legume produced worldwide are intended as food for animals, something that could be defined as the manufacturing of animal meat and production of biofuel. Cows, an ever-present across the world’s ongoing evolution, have historically fed themselves with the most basic of elements: grass. However, they have now become a central player in feeding humans: in order to produce 1kg of meat, a cow needs over 11kg of cereals and legume. Following this trend brings us along a rocky path: a concentration in the number of land, agrochemical and seed owners, in the world of scientific research and especially GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Fewer owners means monopoly: bigger, stronger. The indisputable landlords of food, but also the living and health as we know it.   Such a state of affairs degrades the planet — a planet which exists for everyone — as we know it, downgrading its democratic values and rendering food and its production model less accessible to those who consume it most; the fundamentals in sickness and in health. There is no purported exchange between the aforementioned state of affairs, and nature and the living. Instead, the prior dominates with its palpable aim of diminishing both. A nineteenth century-style way of doing things which devours without regenerating. As we participate in the Anthropocene period — in which human beings have become the main causes of the earth’s physical and biological changes — one comes to the realisation that our bond with nature and imposed level of sustainability, and our ability — and responsibility — to relate to this without compromising or destroying it will be critical in ensuring that the notion of co-existence can come to the fore once more.   Taking a different path isn’t simply an objective but absolutely vital, starting from those lands considered worthless and in the process of being deserted. Lands deserted because they are seen as inaccessible, in mountainous areas, small, rough, water poor. Summing up, incompatible with intensive production even if they are invincible from a historical, cultural and traditional perspective.   They are lands still occupied by typically older but resilient populations. As we strive to obtain a sufficient level of sustainability, these lands are the ones that can and must provide the starting point for a new life, fresh creativity in order to reinvigorate and repopulate them in a socially-friendly kind of way, given that this is a topic that needs each and every one of us on board. These lands can become lively, economically and ecologically sound, ensuring a new deal with nature in terms of biodiversity and a balanced give and take approach.   What’s more, these lands are readily available and set out for producing food in a balanced, healthy manner through a cultivation rich in nutrients (something seen before the green revolution in the 1960s). These will go hand in hand with dedicated farming methodologies based on an agro-ecological approach respecting animal wellbeing and ethological needs.   The production model needs to be based on regional networks allowing direct access to the community in question. Given that these lands are well away from the main industrial process, they have a unique opportunity to become home to farmers who act as ‘custodians’ and concern themselves as much with the health of humans as they do with the environment.   All this is to be combined with a collaboration involving the most pertinent and modern scientific and medical methods, ascertaining a historical cooperation uniting farmers, food processors, science and all those with a passion and heart for health and the environment. The digital ecosystem plays an important role in all this having successfully deconstructed many of the dichotomies of the 20th century, starting from the one separating who produces and the end user.   Technology based on intelligent machines would be used, which instead of aiming to achieve economies of scale help farmers to produce ‘finished’ food — the end product, rather than just raw materials.   Good, healthy food away from the major commodity markets. And much more: land value can be given back to determined areas to put them to new use, establishing constructive experiences. New production models will help regenerate lands at risk of desertion. These will be based on enhancing agricultural and food processes involving producers, end users and supply chains. A community-based approach will be adopted to take into consideration a number of elements: landscape and environmental planning, recycling, transportation, clean energy sources, new ideas and a collaborative and cooperative social methodology. An all-inclusive approach — involving residents, farmers, organisations, schools, culture, commerce, tourism, each connected on digital platforms while pursuing dedicated goals, actions and mutual, innovative projects — will guarantee the synergy necessary to outline new economically and ecologically sustainable models pertinent to those deserted lands. It’s undoubtedly a global challenge, pressing but open to any and every one willing to dedicate their hard work, creativity and time. Like this we can get back in touch with earth, with these lands — but this is only possible if they become inhabited: allowing those there to live graciously, work, produce. Each and every one of us has the right to decent soil. A place that they can also call home.