After the past month of climate frenzy, today is Terra Madre Day, a very welcome change of pace. Launched by Slow Food International in 2004, the day is a celebration of alternative models of food production and consumption rooted in local economies. Principles of sustainable production and food biodiversity lie at the very heart of the Terra Madre mission, but local economic viability and cultural identities also factor in.
After recently focusing on high-level and large-scale international processes, this transition to the very local level, is a refreshing, but not complete break with subjects debated in Doha. Even within discussions at this year’s climate change negotiations, there was considerable reference to the need for local buy-in, indigenous knowledge, and development of solutions to the multiple environmental challenges facing humans today. Moreover, while we talk generally about principles for ‘Whole Landscape’ approaches, the specific social, ecological, and economic contexts, along with local capacities, are ultimately what guide action on the ground.
Solutions can be as small-scale as one of the capstone projects of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, A Thousand Gardens in Africa. Set up back in early 2011, the inaugural ‘food garden’ in Msingo, Tanzania is a diverse array of traditional food and medicinal crops as well as chickens established in the midst of the Miombo forest and part of a larger landscape setting. At another level of the agri-supply chain, a regional organic small farmers’ cooperative in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica has established community-led strategies for biodiversity monitoring, farmer training, and knowledge sharing while marketing an internationally traded crop – cocoa. Crop diversification, as well as biodiversity preservation within the landscape mosaic, have contributed to preserving traditional foodways, improving local livelihoods, and increasing global market competitiveness.
Regardless of scale, it is clear that the farmer matters and addressing community needs is necessary for long-term success. Returning to Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day last week, Robert Carlson (President, World Farmers Organization) noted that “farmers worry about what’s on their land.” To address larger issues of widespread land degradation, inequity within the world food economy, or climate change, we need to connect to local livelihoods, and “take it to the farmer.”