Newsletter n.76

1.EXPERIENCES: Coordination of Tuscan farming communities     


3.NEWS ON THE SOIL AND EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONS:  The European forestry strategy – the path to follow


Coordination of Tuscan farming communities

In Newsletter 74 we mentioned the initiative taken by a number of Fairtrade purchasing groups [GAS in Italian] in the Marche region who decided to apply to the regional authorities for formal approval of a law to recognize and promote small-scale local farming.

We have learned of another interesting and important initiative, this time in Tuscany, the “Coordination of Tuscan farming communities”. The entire text is reproduced here:

We are Tuscan small farmers

We come from different areas that are located far away from one another. Every day, even during the lockdown and regardless of the unreasonable ban on our local distribution networks, we help our communities by guaranteeing the provision of food that is healthy, wholesome, and fairly produced. We would like to be precise in identifying and distinguishing those who practise small-scale farming from those who simply see the land and farming as a purely commercial activity whose aim is to maximize output and profits.

In the first place, small farmers play a fundamental part in safeguarding, preserving and improving the land and the environments in which they live and work through their intimate knowledge of the land and the local natural systems. Small-scale agroecological farming is practised alongside or in association with others as a community. We are talking about small-scale agricultural production for subsistence, with any excess directed to local markets. It is based primarily on the labour of family members and communities, or other non-monetized ways of organizing work, such as mutual aid. Small-scale farming depends essentially on the land and the surrounding local community.

The prevailing system for the production and distribution of food in Italy and other OECD countries is dominated by the big Industrial Chains and the Great Organized Distribution system. We believe that this regime must be gradually replaced by local systems of locally produced food networks, networks that are currently still in existence but all too often residual. We believe that this gradual replacement is beneficial and urgent from the farming, economic, social and environmental point of view.

Healthy locally grown food is the first form of health protection and guarantees the correct development of immune defences, which is why the production, distribution and access to agroecological products must be supported and encouraged by the authorities.

The agroindustrial model is a system of food production and distribution that leads to death and exploitation. As well as contributing to the poisoning of water systems and the sterility of the soil through the overuse of chemicals, it is responsible for 1/3 of the planet’s CO2 emissions. It works on the basis of conditions of wretchedness and even enslavement for its workers (in the fields, in logistics and in food processing).

For years now local, national and European institutions have been putting out environmentalist rhetoric, encouraging the development of rural and organic activities with their words. These proclamations, often accompanied by incomprehensible regulations that lack any force, encourage and promote those big firms that through the financing of the CAP and other incentives are able to develop their food markets destined to consumption by the better off. Furthermore, these agribusinesses practise monocultures and intensive agronomic management, just as the conventional businesses do. Access to the land for small farmers who favour participatory processes for food autonomy is often obstructed by bureaucratic rules and regulations that oblige farmers to become entrepreneurs. Food becomes not an essential resource for life and an inalienable right, but just another consumer product.

In light of these general considerations, we demand that the Tuscan Region and municipal authorities:

1) Recognize scattered farming communities that, if organized on a community and assembly basis, can act in their own areas without being bound by the current agricultural regulations.

2) Small farming practices (such as the exchange and distribution of agricultural produce, mutual aid, seed production and exchanges) should be regarded not as commercial activities but services to the community.

3) Recognize The Participatory Guarantee as a form of community self-regulation. This system guarantees, within the local economic structures, transparency in the production and distribution of food while freeing small farmers from agribusiness and official certification systems. The Participatory Guarantee also renders the environmental responsibilities involved in farming and food pricing locally visible.

4) If further states of emergency occur, the GAS, community shops and farmers’ markets should be allowed to continue to operate in order to guarantee access to wholesome food that respects the principle of food autonomy; they should be protected and encouraged, since they bring healthy and wholesome food that is essential for collective health into the towns and cities.

5) Farmers’ markets organized by local communities should have free access to public land and easy access to squares and other public spaces. These markets play an important role in raising awareness and fostering community spirit and should not be equated with the commercial activities that take place in municipally run markets.

6) Application of the rules relating to farming activities should be carried out by public officials and not by bodies involved in the sector (such as Cia, Coldiretti, Confagricoltura), with local offices which community producers can access.

7) Strictly limit pesticide use while setting up – with the help of farmers, researchers, teachers – advice centres, training courses, workshops and tutoring, with the aim of encouraging the switch to agroecology in their local areas. By supporting new settlements and assisting in the transition of existing farming businesses from conventional methods to ecological farming the public authorities can play their part in the environmental transition. Video HERE

Webinar on the soil

An online study seminar of the SIP Forum took place on 24 September between 7pm and 9pm, on the report on the soil by the Board tasked by the European Commission’s RTD. The report’s title is ‘Caring for soil is caring for life‘.

An explanation of the report’s content was followed by a critical analysis of the document. The seven invited speakers were representatives of the building industry, planning, research, youth, construction and organic farming, and an MEP. In the open and frank discussion that followed, despite the limitations of the format, various elements emerged. Overall the impression of the report is a positive one that opens the way to various important considerations. While appreciation for the report was unanimous, at the same time the necessary elements were identified for it to inform both European research programmes and the new European directive on the soil (which is in progress). For example the following elements need to be considered: how to put into practice citizen participation and involvement; how to interconnect effectively the protection of the soil and the other EU initiatives on environment, climate, biodiversity etc.; a clear and firm position needs to be taken on halting the consumption of fertile land; preventing land hoarding by gangs of  criminals or speculators; the use of fiscal measures to discourage the consumption of non-renewable resource, with adaptations for different member states;  encouragement of the reversal of soil sealing and renaturalization .

These initial points underline the complexities that we are facing and that need to be further clarified. The debate leads to other conclusions and above all that a future European directive on the soil cannot be assigned to a limited number of  participants, but must be the outcome of open discussion among all those who use the soil in different ways, including those who use it without thinking about it. This meeting should therefore be regarded as an initial seminar for study and analysis that should be quickly followed by other initiatives that widen participation to other speakers and to other EU member states.

It is the Forum’s intention, through its working group on the European dimension, to produce a detailed report on the presentations that can be distributed beyond the membership of the Forum itself. A recording of the meeting will also shortly be made available on the internet.

GNDE (Civil Society): Demain de la Terre’s Charter

Some of our readers have suggested that the Green New Deal for Europe could be improved if it incorporated some direct information on environmental aspects.

They told us about Demain la Terre (Tomorrow the Earth), a French association of producers of fresh or processed fruit and veg, united around a common project of sustainable development. Set up in 2004, its aim is to bring together businesses of all sizes that want to think about, try out and develop the farming of the future, a third way between organic and conventional farming methods. To achieve this, the Association has established a powerful tool: the Charter “Demain la Terre”, which aims at providing consumers with credible evidence of this commitment, focusing on three priorities: health, flavour, and respect for the environment. The Charter is built around to 8 topics related to sustainable development. Here they are:

Ensuring healthier and more secure fruit and vegetables:

Partnering with Nature in the struggle against pests; Limit and control inputs; Erase all pesticide residues

Protecting water resources:

Optimize crop irrigation; Combat water pollution

Preserving the quality of our soil:

Favour natural inputs; Observe and maintain the natural balance of the soil

Save biodiversity and natural ecosystems:

Maintain ecosystems in place; Contribute to the survival of bees and pollinators

Reducing energy consumption:

Focus on reducing the CO2 footprint; Reduce the use of non-renewable energy

Limit plastic consumption and recycle waste:

Improve waste management; Recycle waste from production; Reduce plastic packaging

Sustainable economic relationship with stakeholders:

Maintain the vitality of the regions of production; Maintain the vitality of our regions; Strengthen relationships with all identified stakeholders; Implement responsible business strategy

Developing more caring companies and society:

Promote work of quality, more caring and cohesive; Help meet the food needs of the most disadvantaged. Develop individual and collective competencies.

GNE – (European Commission): The importance of the time factor

A reader asks why we continue to say that the Green Deal European legislation should be obligatory by 2030 when all the texts accept 2050 as a possible end date. We have already pointed out that in the UN texts the point of no return is 2030, as illustrated in the  documents relating to the Sustainable Development Goals. However we believe that the European Commission itself puts it best in its analysis of what will happen if we do not act now.

“What if we do not act?

400,000 premature deaths per year today due to air pollution.

90,000 annual deaths as a result of heatwaves

660,000 additional asylum applications per year in the EU at 5°C temperature increase

16% of species at risk of extinction at 4.3°C temperature increase

40% less available water in southern regions of the European Union

2.2 million people exposed to coastal inundation each year

€190 billion annual losses projected for a 3 increase in global average temperature

Globally, the number of people at risk of being forced from their homes by river flooding could increase to 50 million a year

Climate change could lead to a 20% food price rise in 2050

Economic costs of heat-related mortality could amount to more than €40 billion per year

The longer we wait, the harder it becomes to reach low temperature targets and the more expensive the necessary efforts will become.”

We treat time, the most important resource we have, as if we had an infinite amount of it, when it is in fact a limited resource and we have no idea how much we have.

Suggestions for changing behaviour: Ban on destroying food

The concept of food waste goes way beyond our collective and individual ideas of what it means. Leaving aside food wasted by families (estimated at 20% of the total), the problem is much more serious when it comes to shops, food production and  supermarkets. The quantities involved are enormous: it is reckoned that at the global level one third of food production is wasted, in other words around 1.3 billion tonnes a year. It is a legal requirement to remove products that have passed their use-by dates from the shelves, and this goes for fruit and veg as well. The costs of retrieving, collecting, transporting and destroying this unwanted food are very high.

The supermarkets are becoming increasingly aware of this problem and some of them make the food they are obliged to throw out available to organizations and groups who ask for it. This approach should be valued and expanded; indeed it should be made obligatory not only for supermarkets but also restaurants and the food industry. A directive from the EU should make this obligatory for all EU member states.

It is a simple application of the doughnut economy which we wrote about in the previous Newsletter.

The European forest strategy – the path to follow

In its resolution of 15 January 2020 on the European Green Deal, the European Parliament asked the European Commission to step up its actions on deforestation and to present a new, ambitious EU Forest Strategy to give appropriate recognition to the important role that European forests and their sustainable management have in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. In that context, Parliament has decided to prepare two own-initiative reports: one entitled ‘Recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation’ and another entitled ‘The European Forest Strategy – The Way Forward’.

It is obvious that any discussion of forests and their loss leads us straight to the soil.

Below are the links to two documents from the European Parliament that include important technical suggestions and political indications that are relevant to everyone in the sector, including those whose businesses involve the collection, extraction and transformation of goods that place forests and their ecosystems at risk. 

We add a link to the text produced by the European Commission in July 2019 called ‘Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests‘ which was the basis for the European Parliament’s comments and initiatives.

The importance of teaching materials on the soil for children

For once we are not writing about an experience or initiative in a particular country; instead we are following up a suggestion from a reader – a teacher, presumably – who told us about the FAO guide to soil experiments for children and young people. Published on World Soil Day in December 2017, it provides step-by-step and above all simple explanations for anyone who want to help young students learn about the soil.

From the very first issue this Newsletter has always paid attention to teaching, especially the very young. We attach great importance to the need to make younger generations of students aware of the soil and its complexity. For this reason we have written about initiatives, publications, and other activities available in various different countries.

Here is a link to the FAO’s guide, which at present is available only in English.

Soil Experiments for Children: