Social Soil (Romania)

Nowadays, when we think of the word “farmer”, we often think of subsistence agriculture, picturing a farmer working the soil with much backbreaking toil. Yet, this word has a very strong semantic value. When translated from the French word “paysan”, it is associated with the landscape (“paysage”), and therefore with the land or country (“pays”) and there is no village or landscape without its farmer. Therefore it is only legitimate to not only take into account the economic and productive value of farming, but also its social and cultural value.

With regard to soil and land, a farmer must make sure his natural resources are safeguarded, he cannot simply exploit them, or they would not regenerate. For this reason, many organisations over Europe seek to defend land and fight to preserve it. These fights can focus on defending and maintaining farming land or for their change of use, against overbuilding, deforestation or the use of pollutants…and the list goes on.

It is worth mentioning here the story of Roşia Montană, a small mountain community in Romania. It is one of the poorest areas in Romania, which has the fortune (or misfortune) of lying on gold deposits that are situated just below the surface. 15 years ago, a David versus Goliath type of story took place when a Canadian multinational corporation decided to develop the biggest gold mining project in Europe. This is when the local community started wondering about the kind of development model they would like to adopt. Saying “yes” to the gold mining project could appear tempting since it would have meant more work, leading to an increase in GDP and in the economic standards of the area. However the local community preferred to take other elements into consideration such as deforestation, landscape destruction, the impact that certain pollutants such as cyanides would have on soil and water, etc.  Furthermore, the suggested model meant that the inhabitants would have been employed to work in the mines, a prospect that did not correspond to their desire. From this point, the community decided to oppose the exploitation of the subsoil. The local residents got organised, creating a first critical mass. The solidarity movement then expanded outside the borders of this beautiful mountain community and gained momentum at the national and European level.

This fight started 15 years ago. The project did not go through even though successive Romanian governments pushed for it and passed specific laws to implement it. On the contrary, discussions are underway to see whether or not this mountain village could become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As with fairy tales, there is a moral to this story: even though the enemy might be a “giant”, soil is essential in order to be winners and it is also an important thing to fight for provided that the local communities are aware of the absolute necessity to maintain and regenerate natural resources. Without this awareness, without the understanding that soil has a social value, it would be impossible to initiate and wage such a battle where so many other important stakes are at play.

Compiled following Ivan Mammana’s speech during the National Soil Day event on 5 December 2017 at the Italian Cultural Institute in Brussels)

Further information: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roșia_Montană_Project