March 1, 2024

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FAO’s Globally Important Heritage Systems: An Alternative to the Current Development Model and a Response to the Covid Crisis

The coming post-pandemic reconstruction must be seen as an opportunity to change course and invest in a global food system resilient to future shocks, based on sustainable and diversified agriculture and able to produce sustainable growth and protect natural resources. But do we have a clear development model for this future?

One answer to this question took shape during an online conference held as part of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. It explored the objectives and potential of FAO’s GIAHS (Globally Important Heritage Systems) program, following on from the collaboration with Slow Food that developed out of the project Building Capacity: International Advanced Training Course on GIAHS funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and involving the Department of Agriculture, Food, Environment and Forestry (DAGRI) at the University of Florence as the implementing body with PIN (Polo Universitario Città di Prato) as a partner.

“We are confronted with the failure of intensive and industrial agriculture,” stated Mauro Agnolettipresident of the FAO GIAHS scientific committee (SAG) and the scientific coordinator of the Building Capacity: International Advanced Training Course on GIAHS project. He continued: “Traditional agriculture has inputs and outputs in terms of energy and carbon emissions that make it more efficient compared to industrial agricultural systems, which can have higher yields but also require more energy. It’s therefore more sustainable in terms of environmental impact. On the European continent we’ve seen a fall in cultivated surface area, because many farmers are abandoning rural zones. As a result, we have a reduction of diversity in the landscape. This is bringing negative effects not just in terms of esthetics but also from a political and social perspective. Biodiversity is a historical process, and the landscape is the result of the environmental effects expressed together with the cultural values through the form of the territory. This is a value that must be taken into account when one talks of quality.”

Miguel AltieriProfessor of Agroecology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out that there are agricultural systems in the world that have preserved knowledge that can be useful for future challenges: “Biodiversity and cultural diversity are closely connected and are part of traditional agroecosystems, of which GIAHS are an example” According to Altieri, their approach to agriculture and landscape allows for a greater protection from atmospheric phenomena like hurricanes, and greater resilience towards climate change. He said that resilience in regards to the current crisis is linked to the planning of a new agriculture that can free itself from dependence on fossil fuels so as to create agrosystems with a low environmental impact. But, he continued, the main obstacle today is the capitalist economy, with the food system controlled by big multinationals that don’t allow small-scale producers to grow. In short, he said: “The capitalist economy does not take into consideration ecological externalities, and this is the crucial point: collectivity can no longer pay these costs.

The need for a “leap in scale” was highlighted by Roberto Ridolfi, president of Link2007. “It’s not enough to have this kind of project for small communities,” he said. “This approach must become mainstream in order to create sustainable food systems.”

 Politics has a key role to play in this process: “Policies shape the landscape too: Incentives determine the number of active farmers and influence their choices in terms of cultivation and livestock-farming practices,” said Marta Messa, director of Slow Food Europe, in conclusion. “We must come out of the ghetto, talk to the others and ensure that politics can bring about this type of development.”

 The conference was a opportunity for a final assessment of the “Building Capacity: International Advanced Training Course on GIAHS (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems)” project, and was preceded by four webinars, all funded by AICS and hosted on the Terra Madre platform, aimed at the Slow Food network around the world (Terra Madre delegates, communities and groups of members and producers from the marketplace). They involved project coordinator Mauro Agnoletti, as well as 12 other internationally renowned speakers. The first webinar was primarily targeted at the Slow Food network in Italy, while the subsequent sessions focused on EuropeAfrica and Latin America. In total they attracted over 800 participants.

Traditional food systems have been the focus of growing attention in the last decades. Developed over the course of centuries and based on the interaction between humanity and nature, they are unique due to the interconnections between local biodiversity, traditional food production and the culture of rural areas. Currently there are 62 GIAHS in 22 countries.

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