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. Continua a leggere “Social Soil (Romania)”


4 per 1000 initiative: Bonn meeting: programme details

The meeting in Bonn is the third one taking place after Paris (2015) and Marrakech (2016). This year it will take place in the town hall of Bad Godesberg, in the outskirts of Bonn. In the morning there will be presentations of the work achieved up to this point, and the official report of the Scientific and Technical Committee will be presented. The latter is also expected to hold meetings on 14 and 15 November.

On 16 November the afternoon meeting is only for members of the 4per1000 Consortium.

HERE the conference programme.

As expected the SIP Forum will take part in the meeting.

A time for conferences

a) European Commission – Green Week 2017 and EU Development Days 2017-06-30

The “differently young people” (alias over 60 years old!) will remember how back in the day, in Italy, on urban public transport there used to be signs saying ‘Please do not speak to the driver’.

Those who took part in Green Week 2017 organized by DG ENVI of the EU Commission – from 29 May to 2 June – will confirm that nobody was allowed to “speak to the driver” there either, or better “speak to the representatives from the Commission”. The driver keeps on “driving” whilst passengers must sit on the back and talk amongst themselves, even though they may have interesting news or experiences to share with all and in particular with the “drivers”.

The very platform for Green Week broke apart over the past two years. A place of encounters and discussions, where over 2000 participants were the most important ‘entity’ of the “green” week, has now turned into a meeting with generic, recycled and fruitless statements being uttered and merely listened to. There used to be debates with thousands of people exchanging ideas, proposals and experiences. All spaces of the location, including corridors cafés and refectories, were a whirlwind of discussions and exchanges. Even the various representatives – the Commissioners, and civil servants – were urged to listen to concrete experiences, and “self-celebration” was very rare. Those attending would at the end of the day feel enriched with the ideas and contacts made.

Now all is dispersed all over Europe, and this means the “drivers” are always present – without any real confrontation, but simply issuing the same statements as ten years back, and that will have the same validity in ten years time – to show that European environmental policy and research are responding to the demands of investments and economic productivity.

But should it not be the opposite? Shouldn’t investments and the creation of jobs necessarily have to be compatible with environmental policy choices?

Unfortunately the result of Green Week 2017 was losing credibility on European environmental protection, even though the EU was set as an example worldwide for its environmental policy! As we await for different “drivers” and for the Commission to respond to the all-the-more urgent expectations coming from European and overseas people, it took that alien of a newly elected president of the United States for us to realize how the EU is at the forefront in all aspects of environmental protection. It is thanks to him and his refusal that on 11 and 12 June the Ministries of the Environment of the G7 met in Bologna to renew environmental protection efforts and climate-change combat, confirmed/signed by the other six participants and the European Commissioner for climate change.

The abovementioned is a “cry of pain”, but not of powerlessness. Whenever the Commission is willing, it is able to decently organize events based on real and constructive participation. An example of this is the EDD17 – European Development Days 2017 (7 and 8 June) – entitled Investing in Development: two full days with around 8000 (eight thousand!) participants, over 120 debates and conferences, with a Global Village placed in the middle of the venue. Soil also received a great deal of attention with stands and conferences of the Joint Research Centre, the CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development), and the 4 per 1000 initiative.

b) The Global Soil Week 2017 and CONSOWA

Global Soil Week (GSW 2017) was held in Berlin from 22 to 24 May 2017. After the ones held in 2012, 2013 and 2015 this was the fourth meeting on soil organised by IASS-Potsdam (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies) jointly with the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development).  This year the event focused on ‘Catalysing SDG[1] Implementation Through a Soil and Land Review’. Around 300 participants attended three thematic workshops to explore the following topics: ‘Sustaining and upscaling achievements of sustainable land management (SLM) initiatives’; ‘Right to (defend) land: strengthening accountability at the local level through thematic reviews’; and ‘Protecting land resources for shared prosperity.’

There are five key messages to work on, and present to the highest political authorities:

1) Increase investments in sustainable land management and responsible governance. It will be critical to design investments and monitor them in line with international human rights-based instruments, such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and internationally accepted environmental and social safeguards;

2) Make the entire production chain sustainable and change consumption patterns which have an impact on land degradation both locally and in other parts of the world. High-consuming segments of society have a particular responsibility in this regard;

3) Enhance spatial planning and adopt territorial approaches to address the rural-urban continuum in an integrated way that contributes to food security and the sustainable and the integrated management of natural resources, such as the land-water nexus; as well as to improving regional value chains to offer better opportunities for the youth.

4) Improve land rights and land tenure, especially for vulnerable and marginalised groups, and acknowledge that vulnerable populations are rights holders, whose rights need to be upheld. This implies adopting specific measures to protect civil society, since human rights are under pressure from the shrinking space for civil society; and

5) Build a bridge between SDG 2 (Zero hunger) and SDG 15 (Life on land) to ensure food security through avoiding, reducing and reversing soil and land degradation to achieve SDG target 15.3 on land degradation neutrality, and sustainably managing landscapes for people. Entry points for this are community empowerment, and high-quality and accountable extension services that embrace the youth and open data access.

If GSW is able to act as a link between the academic world, civil society and the political world, the conference in Lleida, Spain (12-16 June) allowed for scientific comparisons between water and soil conservation specialists. We cite it because it is the first world conference, which gathered researchers and technicians for both soil and water, entities currently at risk due to climate change difficulties. The main aim of this conference, the acronym for which is CONSOWA (1st World Conference On Soil And Water Conservation Under Global Change), is to create sustainability on earth via soil and water conservation.

[1] SDG: Sustainable Development Goals

Goldman Prize to Uros Macerl (Slovenia)

In past newsletters we have mentioned the Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded by the Goldman Foundation (US). Every year the prize is awarded to environmentalists, one for each of the six geographical regions of the world. It is also called the Green Noble Prize.

This year the European winner was Slovenian Uros Macerl. After years of legal battles, thanks to his good will this farmer managed to close down the cement factory managed by French company Lafarge. Industrial waste constituted a ‘potential threat for citizen’s health’. Highly loved by environmentalists, loathed by his opponents, this 48 year old farmer has been devoting his work to organic farming and agriculture. His battle began over 15 years ago, but his battle and victory will not have been possible without the support of the environmental protection group Eco-Krog.

First of all it became clear that the entire valley was choking on pollution, due to a cement plant, a glass factory and a carbon power plant. These enterprises were providing hundreds of jobs, however the air was becoming less and less breathable, fumes were constantly covering the valley and snow was often black due to combustion dusts.

In 2002, Lafarge purchased the century old cement plant, and in a year the level of benzene (a carcinogenic substance) increased by 250%. In 2012 high rates of human cancer incidence, and spontaneous miscarriages among farm animals were found. The pollution data allowed Uros to prove this unsustainability. The cement industry did not respond, and resumed its activities without worrying about its effects on the population and the environment. In 2009, the farmer had already taken legal action against the cement factory a small area of his land had been included in the perimeter reserved for plastic and rubber incineration by the factory.

After years of hearings, in 2015 the European Commission took Slovenia to the European Court of Justice, saying the factory was (quoting) ‘potentially dangerous for citizens and their health’. In March 2015, the Slovenian government therefore ordered the cement plant to cease its cement production.

Uros’ opponents recognised an improvement in the environment and the return of birds and animals considered disappeared, raised concerns regarding the loss of jobs and the economic downfall of the area.

But jobs must not be an alternative to good health. Blackmail related to creating infrastructure for local communities (recreational centres, sport teams, medical structures …) to compensate for damage due to a polluting industry should not be allowed.

Finally, Uros Macerl’s experience shows that large industries and financial capitals can be forced to comply with laws, or … to close down.

Lake exSnia in Rome (ex Cisa Snia factory)

In one of our first newsletters, we told the story about the “Wood in the City“: citizens led by the Italia Nostra Association, were able to safeguard an area of 110 ha and transform it into a public park, a short distance away from the centre of Milan. Luckily, this is not a one-off: we have heard of a similar, successful experience in Rome, in the Pigneto Prenestino district, not far from the Metro C station “Malatesta”.

This emblematic experience is related to the transformation of a disused factory, and it shows how several attempts at using up the land for commercial purposes were defeated by the citizens’ growing awareness for the environment. Now a large part of the area has been transformed into a park, the Parco delle Energie, while some abandoned industrial buildings nearby are hosting a community centre, the CSOA exSnia.

This story starts with the opening of the Cisa Snia Viscosa factory in 1923 and its closing in 1955, after about thirty years. In 1968 the pine grove on the hill next to the factory, was declared a historical landmark and in the official Land Plan of Rome the whole area was marked for public use. In 1990, the Snia estate agency sold the land and the new owner was fraudulently granted a building license for a shopping mall. People’s protests against this illicit operation began to grow steadily, when in 1992 an unforeseen event took place. During the digging for the underground car park, the underground water bearing stratum was reached and water flooded the building site: this formed a lake, and the project had to be abandoned (see photo above).

Answering the people’s demands, in 1997 part of the area was expropriated by Rome City Council and it became a park, the Parco delle Energie. Nowadays, out of a total of 14 ha, six are still private property and they include the former industrial sheds, offices, and the gatekeeper’s lodge.  Even though in 2008 these buildings were declared of historical interest as examples of industrial architecture, the area has been periodically threatened by speculation projects, such as the plan to build a swimming pool for the 2008 World Swimming Championship.

In 2008 the Permanent Territorial Forum of the Parco delle Energie started to meet. It consists of representatives of the local Municipal Council, of members of associations, committees and the local community centre, of simple inhabitants who love the Park and want to make up for the public administration’s partial neglect of this area. The Forum meets once a month to organize activities and events in the Park, in the Casa del Parco, and in the Quadrato, an open space for sport, cultural and musical events.

The Forum has also acted to prevent all projects based on land exploitation. The latest, and hopefully the last one, was in 2013: a plan to build four towers in the area of the lake and of the factory buildings. To stop this devastating project, the Forum organized debates, conferences, and marches. The City Council was asked to include the lake in the Parco delle Energie, since strangely enough, that area had been public property for about ten years, without anyone knowing. This important aim was reached in August 2014.

Now the area of the lake is open every day, guided tours and students’ workshops are organized, thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of several Forum members. The Forum has also requested the Regione Lazio to declare the whole area of the ex Snia factory a Natural Monument, so as to preserve its unique historical, architectural, naturalistic features.

A visit to the Parco delle Energie can be very rewarding. Entering from via Prenestina 175, you can see the historical pine grove and visit the Archivio Storico Viscosa, the former factory’s interesting archive in the Casa del Parco, while from via di Portonaccio, you can reach the lake and its astonishing ecological system, just in the middle of one of Rome’s most crowded districts. The Parco delle Energie and its history are a living testimony to how a constant, collective commitment in favour of public green areas, can be the key factor to ensure soil and landscape preservation.

Text by the Forum Territoriale Permanente del Parco delle Energie

Tricycles – an idea for the ECI campaign

The EU people4soil campaign is in full swing. Initiatives to attract people’s attention and gather more signatures are even more creative. France is known for alternative transport ideas, particularly cycling: this summer one of the people4soil organisations, France Nature Environnement will be touring festivals and other local events with fully equipped tricycles. Time and dates are available on their website.

A nice video in French was made to request funding for the tricycles: it also explains the subject of soil and the signature gathering in just 90 seconds.

Airport in Vienna: good news!

In the past months, we have been over flowed by the ongoing debate on the building of the new stadium for the Roma football team. It seems that Italy cannot make do without using up land for merely commercial purposes. Is this the case for other nations? Perhaps not!

We have noticed how spatial development is becoming more and more attentive to soil preservation. One of the best examples is Austria that has prevented the building of the third airport runway in Vienna airport. This order followed a court decision the motivations of which were the negative impact it would have on the climate, and the destruction of agricultural land. On 9 February 2017 the Vienna Federal Administrative Court stated that ‘public interest towards protection against climate change, mainly due to CO² emissions, is greater than positive public interests to be received at the implementation of this project’. According to the experts’ report the judges had requested to consult, a 2% increase in greenhouse gas emissions is expected to take place. Moreover, judges underline the concern with losing usable agricultural area: ‘To preserve rich lands to be used to feed our future generations is a matter of urgency equally upon us’. Indeed the third runway project had been set out for 760 ha of agricultural land. Continua a leggere “Airport in Vienna: good news!”