Local solutions to global problems: Terra Madre 2022 begins

22 September 2022

After a four-year hiatus, Terra Madre Salone del Gusto returned to the streets of Turin today with the spirit of joy and optimism which has characterized the festival since its inception in 1996.

We began the day with an inaugural ceremony and a round-table discussion of the most important questions that Terra Madre, as an event and as a worldwide community, seeks to answer.

We depend on the bounty of nature

Angela Saba, a raw milk cheese producer from Maremma, in Tuscany, began with a solemn reflection: “Our production has decreased in recent years. This isn’t because we’re not working as hard as we used to—quite the contrary—nor because we don’t want to produce as much. The reason is drought. The cheese we make depends entirely on the bounty that the pastures provide to our animals. And the biological wealth of the pastures, in turn, depends entirely on the climate. With the way things are going, it will get harder and harder every year for artisans like us to survive.”

Dali Nolasco Cruz, since July a member of the Board of Slow Food International, reminded the audience of an uncomfortable truth: “Food is politics. We have the means to feed everyone on the planet with the resources available. The fact that we are not doing so is a consequence of political decisions, and corporate greed. It’s not the stinginess of nature which prevents everyone on this planet from enjoying good, clean and fair food. It’s the way our society and food system are organized.”

A spirit of joy

Paolo Gentiloni, former Prime Minister of Italy and current European Commissioner for Economy, brought a message of hope. “Terra Madre is an optimistic community, confronting the great challenges of our planet with a spirit of joy. This optimism and belief in a better world is more important than ever, given the crises we face. A more systemic rethinking of our world is necessary—the politicians who admit this are accused of believing in utopias. But what alternative is there? Slow Food has always been an example of this possibility of rethinking, regenerating, reshaping the world for the better.”

Carlo Petrini. Photo: Alessando Vargiu

Carlo Petrini closed out the ceremony with a consideration of the language we use: “For our actions to truly be sustainable, they must facilitate and make possible that the same action can be taken in the future. The industrial method of producing food is making food impossible to grow in certain parts of the world. It’s the opposite of sustainable. Being sustainable means changing our approach to life, changing the way we behave day by day, making radically different choices. And it begins with a choice we make every day several times: what to eat?”

Andrea against Goliath

At the Gino Strada Arena, in the heart of Parco Dora, we heard the story of Andrea Cisterna Araya, a farmer and activist of the Bajo Huasco en Resistencia community which operates between Huasco and Freirina in the Atacama region of Chile.

“Despite the name of this event, I’d like to underline immediately that it wasn’t me against Goliath. These battles are always collective efforts undertaken by a community acting together as an organized group. Our area is home to large-scale, industrialized agricultural businesses. And this is in the desert, where water is precious. The farms in our area were raising pigs—millions of them—and these were not even being eaten locally; they were all destined for export. The farms used up all our local water, and polluted it with their waste. That’s why we decide to protest against them.”

Andrea Cisterna Araya. Photo: Jack Coulton


“We held meetings with local people, and asked ourselves why this was happening, and why we didn’t want it to continue. We shared our problems. And we did this widely, with all sections of our community, from the youth to the elderly. When it was clear that we all agreed that we needed to do something, we began organizing demonstrations and taking legal action. Sadly, these institutional channels got us nowhere. The local health authorities never responded to our requests for action. They said we had psychological problems!”

“We hadn’t really experienced the force of state oppression before in our small community. And despite our small size, we gained visibility through our protests. We made noise, raised our voices, banged our fists on the table. Police protected their facilities, and shot at our demonstrations. One of my comrades was blinded. But eventually, in the end… we won. Central government announced that the pig farm would be shut down and leave the area. Our victory shows us the power of unity, of love for the land, love for life… and not just human life, but all life.”

Why The Ukraine Grain Crisis Affects The World

Also at the Gino Strada Arena, we explored the nature of the Ukrainian crisis. While its causes are obvious, the ramifications around the world require close analysis, given their complexity.

Nick Jacobs, director of IPES-Food – the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, gave an overview of the situation: “It isn’t just grain, of course. Much of the global fertilizer supply is produced in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The impact of reduced fertilizer ability exacerbates the problem. Then there are the limits on exports imposed by other countries, the drought affecting various regions around the world… it’s a perfect storm for a global food security crisis. And rice may seen a massive price rise yet, because of the poor harvest in India.”

“It’s crucial that we consider what’s going on, and dig beyond the basic info we receive. It’s clear that the crisis has been exacerbated by the way our food system is organized globally. The world’s poorest countries are too dependent on imports of staple foodstuffs. Markets are racked by speculation which pushes prices up as investors take advantage of rising prices, further inflating them. Many people around the world are one “shock” away from losing food access. All these underlying problems have been highlighted by the war in Ukraine.”

Why the Ukrainian Grain Crisis Affects The World. Photo: Sara Bonafede

Black Sea blockade and burnt fields

Olena Motuzenko, visiting professor at the University of Camerino, Italy, and professor of Tourism and Geography at the National University of Kyiv Taras Shevchenko, went into further detail regarding the situation on the ground. “Agricultural exports account for around half of all Ukraine’s exports. In 2021, the harvest was 107 million tons, and we were exporting from 5 to 7 millions tons of food abroad every month. But the Russian invasion has caused the dollar value of those exports to collapse: from $2.8 billion to $0.74 billion. The Black Sea blockade prevents Ukrainian grain from reaching the rest of the world. This means the grain stays in Ukraine, depressing the price on the domestic market, and further impoverishing the farmers.”

“Russia has also deliberately bombarded grain deposits, stolen crops, created minefields across millions of hectares of agricultural land. As many as 350,000 hectares of agricultural has been burned. Farmers in debt are still being hounded by their banks. But yet they continue to work, continue to cultivate, continue to resist.”

Generosity in the face of war

Despite all these difficulties, and the massive impact that the shortage of Ukrainian grain has on poorer countries who depend on it, the spirit of generosity has not disappeared from Ukrainian agriculture. Indeed, as Olena told us, Ukrainian farmers are donating 50,000 tons of grain to Senegal and Ethiopia. “We are asking the UN to cover the logistical costs. It is a meaningful gesture. It shows a different way forward, a different approach to the world. One that we need.”

While a question from the audience highlighted that a better world would mean the rest of the world was less dependent on imported grain, and more self-sufficient, Olena reiterated that the priority now should be ensuring that Ukrainian farmers can continue to work, and feed their own families.

by Jack Coulton, info.eventi@slowfood.it

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