“Protecting the citizens and the land by protecting the soil and safeguarding the environment while caring for the health and safety of workers.” These are the words with which the North Tuscany Consortium No. 1 was introduced by its chair.
What characterizes this territorial consortium? Involvement of farmers, or rather farmworkers, in the conservation of the land. It is already the consortium’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the land and to this end it carries out hydraulic and maintenance work. But protection of the land cannot be separated from the direct participation of those who live on it, especially in rural areas.
Let’s take a step back.
Italy has signed up to the EU’s territorial cohesion programme and has an Agency whose mandate is to promote “economic development and social cohesion, facilitating cooperation between institutions and the establishment of strategic partnerships among those involved in order to bridge the territorial gap within the country and strengthen the administrative capacity of local and regional government”.
The Agency organized “A strategy for Internal Areas in Italy” with the aim of preserving the more remote rural areas, which have historically been deprived of many public services (healthcare, schools, transport…), and experienced a lengthy and steady period of abandonment in favour of urban areas, with high social costs in terms of hydro-geological instability, decay and soil consumption.
The theoretical assumptions driving the mapping are as follows: 1) Italy is characterised by an extremely dense and differentiated network of urban centres; these centres provide an wide range of essential services, capable of generating major catchment areas, even far-flung, and function as ‘a draw’ (in the gravitational sense); 2) the degree of remoteness of the territories (in a spatial sense) from the network of urban centres influences citizens’ quality of life and their level of social inclusion; 3) the functional relations that are created between hubs and more or less remote territories can vary enormously.
The Agency’s approach is innovative because it is based on the actual participation and involvement of both administrative structures and the local populations. We should bear in mind that, while far from large cities, these areas currently cover approximately 60 per cent of the Italian territory and are home to around 13.5 million people.
This is how the North Tuscany Consortium’s plan for overseeing and securing the land can be expanded and applied to all internal areas of Italy. As well as rationalizing transport, healthcare and education services, a network is being organized based on the participation of the area’s farmworkers that can sound the alarm on hydro-geological and environmental decay. This includes maintenance of the water network (ditches, canals, riverbanks) to avoid erosion and flooding.
Every farming business chosen will be assigned an area to oversee and will be responsible for carrying out small-scale maintenance work on the water network. The cost of surveillance and maintenance will be met by the Consortium from EU and national funding. It should be noted that the cost of such actions is tiny compared with that of so-called “natural” disasters such as floods, landslides, earth slips, fires, diseases, desertification and so on.
It also goes without saying that no one is better able to protect the land and its soil than those who live on it.