10,000 fair food gardens

ITW-serena-milanoWith almost 20 years’ experience at Slow Food International, in 2005 Serena Milano took up the role of secretary general of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, which promotes small-scale quality products around the world. © Slow Food International

The Slow Food International Foundation for Biodiversity has launched an ambitious project in Africa to protect biodiversity and support local food cultures. But can developing countries really afford to promote organic agriculture?

What is the main objective of the 10,000 Food Gardens project?

The 10,000 Food Gardens project is the flagship project for our international strategy. It is way of promoting an innovative new idea for agriculture in Africa based on biodiversity, local varieties, using less chemicals, and local consumption; it is not just a matter of nutrition but also of identity and culture. We use a holistic approach and we want communities to be proud of their culture and products.

Are there specific beneficiaries you intend to work with and, if so, how will you go about it?

We work with communities and families. But the young are the future, particularly in Africa. With our 10,000 Food Gardens project, we are building a network of young leaders who will be able to organise Slow Food in African countries. Thirty-three countries are now involved and more than 10 new training centres have been set up throughout the continent. Women also have a specific role in our programme as they are heavily involved in gardens and in agriculture in general in Africa.

Can developing countries really afford the approach of Slow Food?

It is a common misconception to think that the Slow Food philosophy is about luxurious gourmet products and that it is more costly than conventional agriculture. Instead, Slow Food promotes natural agriculture, or the agricultural practices that existed before industrialisation took its toll with the influence of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, monocultures and GMOs. In fact, good, clean and fair agriculture is more resource efficient and saves money by not using chemicals. This is why developing countries are in the best position to implement the Slow Food philosophy, but also because they are still less influenced by Western practices. Industrialised countries are, however, increasingly corrupting the agricultural practices of developing countries through food dumping for their own benefit and the introduction of GMOs. This is why it is time to raise awareness in developing countries that the Western model is not to be seen as a role model, because it destroys local economies and local food traditions.

Do you think organic agriculture, as promoted by the Slow Food movement, has the potential to satisfy global food demand?

Organic agriculture can be sufficient to satisfy global demand if we all do our best to contribute, for instance by growing our own gardens where we can. As urban farming has shown, there is a lot of potential in urban settings. Of course, one cannot immediately substitute all conventional farming with organic at once, but it should be the goal in the long run, considering that monocultures and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers imply hidden costs and will cause irreversible damage to land and ecosystems. One of the dramatic consequences of monocultures and the use of certain neonicotinoids (chemical pestides) is, for example, the global phenomenon of colony collapse disorder of bees, which is already taking its toll across the world on pollinator-dependent crops. We need to look towards the future and not only think about satisfying current needs.

How will the relations between small-scale farmers and big international trade companies develop in the future?

The big actors of the international market are solely interested in profit and use an economic model of mass production and standardisation, which in general excludes artisanal producers from the global market. But the growing interest in local and organic products forces the industry to reassess their product lines. One of the positive outcomes is, for instance, that in many countries, even supermarket chains now offer organic or local product lines to avoid losing customers. As people become more conscious about what they eat, my hope is that local products will become increasingly common in our supermarkets and that commercial actors will be forced to consider small-scale artisanal producers.

Anne Perrin

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