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Slow Food is an international movement founded in Italy in 1986 as an alternative to fast food. Its mission includes the preservation of traditional and regional cuisine and protection of local agricultural ecosystems. The movement currently includes more than 100,000 members in 150 countries.
Aerial view of agricultural machines working in a field
Feed The Future

Where Was Agriculture's Impact? The Other Glaring Failure From COP26 Talks

The disappointment with last month’s COP26 outcome was focused on the failure to deliver on the promise of eradicating fossil fuels, opting instead for a watered-down compromise that merely “reduces” reliance on the polluting energy sources that cause climate change.

But the world leaders in Glasgow also missed another crucial opportunity: to squarely address the need for fundamental changes to intensive agriculture production, an industry that accounts for one third of global emissions. Indeed, the entire COP26 approach to the issue missed the mark, and the global community must urgently come together to forge a whole new approach to how the planet feeds itself.

For two days, the Nature and Land Use debate examined agriculture, ultimately merely offering suggestions (rather than binding commitments) for a “just transition” to more sustainable agriculture through technological innovations to lessen the carbon output of industrialized farming.

Yet, as Director of Slow Food Europe Marta Messa notes, relying on technological solutions is both insufficient and far too simplistic to make any dent in reversing climate change.

“For us, a just transition must be based on biodiversity, agroecology and social justice — and not on techno fixes. Climate change and biodiversity loss must be tackled together, they are closely interlinked problems,” Messa said. “Agricultural ecosystems must be restored in harmony with the natural environment. Techno fixes are a false solution, they are not based on the real innovations that communities come up with to be resilient.”

As writer and journalist George Monbiot points out, "the fruits of the new, 'clean' economy will, as before, be concentrated in the hands of a few. [...] It is not hard to envisage a low-carbon economy in which everything else falls apart. The end of fossil fuels will not, by itself, prevent the extinction crisis, the deforestation crisis, the soils crisis, the freshwater crisis, the consumption crisis, the waste crisis; the crisis of smashing and grabbing, accumulating and discarding that will destroy our prospects and much of the rest of life on Earth. So we also need to use the properties of complex systems to trigger another shift: political change."

Wrong questions, wrong answers

There were no COP 26’s proposals to mitigate the impact of these corporations. The Conference in Glasgow was disproportionately influenced by corporate actors. It is diverting energy, critical mass and financial resources away from the real solutions needed to tackle the climate crisis.

On the agriculture issue, the UN-backed conference largely focused on synthetic meat substitutes, digitalization and centralised industrialized farming. But there was no talk of the steps necessary to stop rising temperatures. What about rich countries cutting their herd numbers to reduce methane gas emissions, for example?

Instead, the presidents representing the UK’s four farming unions suggested that methane emissions could be solved by high-tech rather than diminishing their livestock. In the same spirit, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack told The Guardian during the conference: “I do not think we have to reduce the amount of meat or livestock produced in the U.S. And a significant percentage is exported. It’s not a question of eating more or less or producing more or less. The question is making production more sustainable.” It is a glaring non sequitur, as more sustainable agriculture necessitates curbing our consumption.

The Nature and Land Use debate also hinted that it was best to increase food production to ensure against crop failure — a foolish measure when you consider that 30% of our current food production goes to waste.

The prevalence of these recommendations is partly due to the unbalanced representation of agricultural actors at COP26. “Private finance, not governments, are making the decisions,” read the press release of La Via Campesina, a grassroots farming movement. “The farmers, the pastoralists, the peasants, black, indigenous, people of color, people who are experiencing hunger, poverty, the landless, we are the ones who should be the center of negotiations at COP26. We are the ones who hold the solutions.”

This week’s vote on Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the latest example of leaders leaving biodiversity by the wayside. The CAP makes no explicit inclusion of the Farm to Fork Strategy, an EU-backed initiative that equates sustainability with a 360º approach. Nor did they include any real objectives linked to the EU’s Green Deal. Just like at COP26, the CAP deal opts in favor of compromise and half-measures rather than the radical rethink that is needed to reverse climate change and safeguard nature.

What must happen now?

Our entire modus operandi needs to change.

The only path to climate neutrality by 2050 is an all-encompassing commitment to change the fundamental ways we live, produce and consume, and we must start by immediately recognizing the importance of the agricultural sector in this fight. That 26% of the world’s carbon emissions come from food production is a fact every global citizen should know.

We must swiftly spread awareness that we can’t protect our natural ecosystems without changes to industrial agriculture and farming. This principle, known as agroecology, integrates science with economic, social, and ecological systems, taking into account every facet of climate change. It promotes practices that reduce waste and energy consumption.

It’s essential to advocate for a comprehensive approach that boosts small-scale producers and short supply chains, and gives power to “the ones who hold the solutions,” as Shane Holland, Executive Chairman of Slow Food in the UK, points out in a recent editorial. “Indigenous people make up only 5% of the worlds’ population but are the global stewards of 80% of the world’s biodiversity.”

Holland argues that it’s not just about funding any sustainable program that comes along — it’s about investing in the right ones.

After all, the small, sustainable farmers and agroecologists who work so closely with the land can’t make it on marketing alone: They need financial support. Let’s hope that by COP27, they’ll have the support of both citizens and policymakers of the world to make the change we all need.

Photo of cows looking at the camera, with sunrise as a backdrop
Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

Climate Change & The Food Factor: The Planet Needs A New Kind Of Agriculture
Feed The Future

Climate Change & The Food Factor: The Planet Needs A New Kind Of Agriculture

Let's not underestimate the impact on the planet of industrial, intensive agriculture, focused on exploiting machines, pesticides and fertilizers across wide tracts of land.

If anyone still wasn't clear about the urgency to act to stop climate change, another Northern Hemisphere summer of extreme weather has given us a glimpse of how immediate the threat already is. Catastrophic floods killed scores and caused massive damage in Germany, Belgium and the UK; wildfires swept through large swathes of the Mediterranean, ravaging rural communities; record-breaking heat waves battered typically cool northern latitude regions in Canada and Siberia.

By now, most decision-makers have realized it's high time we took action. The United Nation's upcoming COP26 climate change conference, in Glasgow between October 31 and November 12, will be a chance to channel the attention into real policy change. Still, there is a glaring hole in the debate about the ecological emergency, which tends to focus on fossil fuel producers, car manufacturers and heavy industries like steelmaking and shipbuilding. Of course, we need to continue to ramp up renewable energy production, but there is a major factor contributing to the environmental wreckage that never gets the attention it deserves: agriculture.

"Climate change and food are strictly interrelated," says Marta Messa, Director of Slow Food Europe. "The way we produce, process, distribute and consume food […] can contribute to climate change or help tackle it."

We should talk about the impact on the planet of industrial, intensive agriculture — the type that farms vast amounts of land with the help of machines, pesticides, fertilizers and the like. Its relationship with the climate crisis is well documented in scientific literature. The global food system is responsible for about 26% of man-made carbon emissions — including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. And this is only one example of its negative impacts on the environment: the others include biodiversity loss, desertification, deterioration of ecosystems, soil and water pollution. Fertilizers, for instance, are among the main culprits of bee die-offs.

According to Elena Višnar Malinovská, Head of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Climate Action, the systems for producing and distributing food are responsible for 60% of territorial biodiversity loss and 24% of greenhouse emissions. "We need to bring industrial farming to an end," she declared.

What's particularly striking is how little the sector has improved over the past several decades on the environmental front, even while other industries are making strides to lower their carbon footprint. Why have policymakers and the public given industrial agriculture a free pass for so long? In part, this may be explained by the ultimate importance given to the necessity that humans are well fed. "We all need to eat..." is a common refrain.

But there are other forces at work. The EU's Common Agricultural Policy, for example, earmarked more than €100 billion for "climate spending" between 2014 and 2020 — only to watch as agricultural greenhouse gas emissions did not budge. And while EU governments have at least attempted to set emission reduction targets for other sectors by 2030, they failed to set any for agriculture.

Another kind of food production is possible, one based on sustainability and ecology, and led by small, conscientious producers. Some call it agroecology: a type of farming that applies ecological concepts to optimize the relationships between plants, animals, humans and the environment. To take just one example, agroecology includes the targeted planting of forests in hotspots of environmental pressures to sequester agricultural emissions. But it also means eating more healthily — with a diet that includes more fruit and vegetables, ideally from local sources, while limiting animal-based products both in reduced quantity and higher quality.

Scientists have begun to document how non-industrial agriculture is more sustainable: according to a recent Nature Sustainability study, small-scale agriculture offers more yields and is better at preserving biodiversity.

Much of the industry, however, is aggressively moving in the opposite direction, focusing on tech-heavy solutions rather than a locally-driven ecological transition. Instead of putting the relationship between humans and nature at the center of efforts to make the food industry sustainable, more and more attention is directed to genetic innovation, feed additives and precision agriculture.

The multiple environmental crises we are facing will not be solved by some utopian technological fix to save us from the brink of disaster. We must confront every aspect of our lives that are contributing to ecological degradation and climate change. It's time to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work it takes to change the way we live in harmony with our surroundings — and make our food more sustainable, respectful, ecological. It's high time agriculture was given the attention it needs at COP26.

Be part of the solution by signing our Slow Food Climate Action Pledge here.

Food & The Environmental Revolution: Nourishment To Save The Planet
food / travel

Food & The Environmental Revolution: Nourishment To Save The Planet

Soup cans don't grow on trees. Of course some of the ingredients inside them do, as well as in the ground and on plants and vines. But by the time all those natural products reach your stomach, too often they've undergone processing, been transported hundreds (or thousands) of miles and generally bear little resemblance to the organic state they came from.

Yes, the over-industrialization of the food industry has put so many steps between the consumer and the product that most of us have forgotten the most elementary principle of food: We're human beings who rely on the earth for nourishment.

If this same earth is suffering today, it's largely due to the fact that our current food systems operate under the cold calculation that natural resources are a good to be exploited. But in the long term, the availability of these goods rely on a circular process of respecting the natural order.

It's about the planet, and so much more — an environmental revolution in the food sector means saving jobs from disappearing to machines as well saving our own health by increasing nutrition and decreasing pollution. This holistic vision was outlined by environmental activist Sunita Narain in her recent talk "Climate Crisis And Its Impact On Our Lives' (which can be watched here) at Slow Food's 2020-2021 Terra Madre virtual conference: "We can see the impact of climate change happening in our lives today. It is affecting the poorest, most marginalized and the farming communities."

Here are some new initiatives guiding us to a food future that can both better nourish the human race and respect the planet:

Green Deals

Governments around the world are pushing for measures to speed up the energy transition and slow down climate change. One way of doing so is through a so-called Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives aimed at accelerating the transition to climate neutrality, including a clear plan of action that involves important reforms to the agricultural sector:

The United States' Green New Deal, spearheaded by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aims to make the country carbon neutral by 2030. Part of its objective is to combat the harmful effects of industrial food corporations by supporting family farming, and investing in sustainable agricultural processes and technologies that improve soil health and reduce emissions. It remains to be seen if the Administration of Joe Biden will prioritize such measures that also promise to create jobs and food security.

The European Commission's Green Deal is similar to its American counterpart: It aims for zero greenhouse emissions in the EU by 2050 through inclusive measures that stimulate the economy and ensure food security. Three of the nine policy areas within the deal focus heavily on the food industry: biodiversity, Farm to Fork (sustainable food systems) and sustainable agriculture. It also includes a 50% reduction in the use of hazardous pesticides by 2030 and maintaining organic farming on 25% of agricultural land by 2030. Yet the Green Deal's current challenge is reforming the Common Agricultural Policy — which accounts for almost 40% of the entire EU budget — to align with its objectives.


The biodiversity of our planet is shrinking — and with it, the very ecosystems that keep the earth healthy and functioning. But a growing number of projects are fighting to keep native, endangered species blossoming by educating citizens on the situation and what they can do to help:

Preserving plants: Ark of Taste is a project launched by The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity that catalogues disappearing food products, which often include endangered plant species. Today, more than 5,000 products have been catalogued from 150+ countries. The catalogue allows the Slow Food Foundation to subsequently activate campaigns and other processes to save these dwindling crops.

Backyard biodiversity: David Goulson, an activist and professor of biology at University of Sussex, is helping to fight the growing decline of wild pollinators. In addition to his multiple books on the ecological importance of bees and pollination, his YouTube channel is a free resource on how individuals can encourage biodiversity in their own gardens through tips like identifying weeds, information on which types of trees to plant, and attracting butterflies and recipes using home-grown ingredients.

Rethinking Resources

When respected, the natural world is a bountiful place. Yet when viewed only as a means to make money, natural resources quickly become scarce — especially when it comes to food. More methods around the globe are being designed to work with and not against the land:

USA: The NGO Zero Foodprint cleverly aims to both save soil and sequester carbon in one fell swoop. Founded by award-winning chef Anthony Myint, the project asks the customers of participating restaurants to donate 1% of their bill to the fund, which then provides grants to farmers to switch to regenerative farming practices, which both avoids the permanent destruction of soil and fosters a healthy type of soil that soaks up carbon.

Japan: Water is one of the most crucial resources to both farming and agriculture — and has become increasingly scarce. In the Takachiho-Shibayama mountains, however, the agriculture and forestry system uses an irrigation technique system who's development began in the 1600s and sources more than 1800 hectares of rice paddies in a sustainable manner. The system boths draws from mountain wells and catches rainfall, which helps prevent hillside erosion. Furthermore, the community recycles the excrement of their livestock to fertilize their crops — a great example of short-circuit sustainability in action.

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Food & The Consumption Revolution: Green Justice On Your Grocery List
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Food & The Consumption Revolution: Green Justice On Your Grocery List

It's time for dinner — what will you prepare? The factors in your decision may include any or all of the following: your appetite, your beliefs, budget, schedule, location ... or maybe just your mood. What you might not realize is that the very choices you end up making tonight will also influence what will or won't make it to the table tomorrow night.

Consumers are, in fact, co-producers of the food they buy. When they purchase ingredients from local, sustainable and ethical sources, it gives these suppliers more power and space on the market. While our individual purchase choices may seem insignificant when placed within the bigger picture, the fact is that all movements start with individual action, and grow with campaigns of education and awareness.

As the global conversation ramps up around topics such as unbalanced agricultural markets, the health and pollution problems within the food industry, and the adjustment of habits and lifestyles in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens everywhere are thinking twice about their consumption habits. Slow Food's 2020-2021 Terra Madre virtual conference is at the center of that conversation, including a fascinating Dec. 1 panel on "Mapping Your Markets" bringing people together from around the world to change the way markets are organized to benefit sustainable producers and consumers.

Here are some of the themes driving the effort to help us consume better to produce better, and vice-versa:

A Fair Market

About 80% of the three billion people living below the poverty line reside in rural areas, and most of them are farmers. Many of them are smallholder farms — which account for almost 35% of the world's total food production — who often employ more traditional methods that are more sustainable than their corporate counterparts. Yet there are initiatives leveling the playing field, helping consumers buy sustainably and locally so food workers can nourish themselves, their communities and the environment:

• Seasonal fruits and vegetables, native legume varieties, locally caught fish: This is not a Michelin-starred restaurant, but rather what's on the menu for the children of Xacinto Amigo Lera, a small school in the rural municipality of Portomouro, in northwestern Spain — a shining example of a "Zero Food Miles' school canteen. Beyond the good health and good taste that come from local products, students also learn the importance of sustainable food ecosystems.

• In many countries, independent women farmers have a doubly difficult time making a living. In addition to the challenges of small-scale farming, the inherent sexism of many societies continues to create big obstacles. One NGO in Indonesia, Gita Pertiwi, is tackling this problem by not only providing sustainable farming and business training to women, but also creating an entire marketing network to reach local communities, providing these women with a more stable income while offering organic food to locals.

• How do we get to consume the foods that are good for us, good for the planet, and affordable? "It really does take a village," noted Jessica Fanzo, Professor of Food Policy & Ethics at Johns Hopkins University at her recent Terra Madre talk. "It involves governments, businesses and civil society." One key for Fanzo is reorienting subsidy policies to "ensure that healthy foods are affordable and unhealthy foods are less affordable."

Healthy Food

Eating healthy isn't just about making sure you're getting enough nutritious ingredients, it means changing our entire relationship with food to create a healthier world. A truly balanced diet involves using climate-friendly products, as we end up inhaling the pollution caused by harmful farming practices. Here are two impactful projects that offer a more holistic approach to healthy food:

• In her recent book Sitopia, Carolyn Steel argues that "cheap food is an oxymoron," as they end up costing us dearly in pollution, poverty and health problems. According to Steel, an expert on food and urban development, the best way to change habits is with "guerrilla localism," both by buying from nearby sources and encouraging the planting of their own community gardens.

• The Slow Food Presidia is a project that not only identifies and protects Italian products, ecosystems and traditional farming methods that are at risk of extinction, but communicates the stories of these products to the general public through websites, newsletters, and markets that promote dialogue between producers and consumers. It allows for a better understanding of the origins and wider impacts of what's on your plate.

Pandemic Problems

The ongoing coronavirus has brought in an era of deeper reflection on how our society operates — how we work, live, communicate, and especially how we eat. In the early days of the pandemic, concerns about wet markets, unsanitary practices and unethical food trade proliferated. Now, consumers in lockdown are rethinking everything from the sources of their ingredients to how their food can safely be delivered. Nevertheless, chefs and food suppliers are stepping up to the plate in innovative ways:

• Ukranian chef Larissa Tytykalo, understanding that today's customers are both stuck in lockdown and increasingly wary of the provenance of what they eat, publishes daily recipes based on local fare, accompanied by a delivery service for regional products. It is a model that supports both small farms at risk during the economic downturn as well as locals trying to keep their bodies and environment healthy.

• In China, too, groceries became greener with the pandemic as demand for crop sharing subscriptions increased by 300%. Also known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), crop sharing is a system where the consumer "subscribes' to a harvest, receiving a weekly box of whatever local producers have to offer. As the boxes are prepaid and much of their distribution takes place outdoors, the system offers a safer alternative to supermarkets where customers are more at risk of human contact.

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Food & The Production Revolution: What’s Driving A Shift To Sustainable
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Food & The Production Revolution: What’s Driving A Shift To Sustainable

Even in our sprawling, globalized world, it's possible to produce nutritious, wholesome food without negatively impacting the planet or undermining its myriad cultures and farming traditions that rely on local resources: land, water, seeds and the many benefits of biodiversity. While this may seem idealistic as we're told that a handful of multinational companies are needed to feed 7 billion mouths, there is a growing agricultural and food production revolution providing sustainable, healthier alternatives on the local level.

This movement revolves around the principles of agroecology: using ecological concepts to create food systems that ensure healthy ecosystems and secure livelihoods as the surest path to see that everyone has access to food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the environment.The philosophy extends well beyond just eco-friendly practices, and is built on a holistic approach that recognizes the influence of both governmental and social factors in ensuring fair, sustainable agriculture.

University of California Professor Miguel Altieri, a Chilean agronomist and entomologist, recognized by many as the Father of Agroecology, has traced the ways ancestral knowledge of farming communities in Latin America has allowed agriculture to coexist with the natural environment for thousands of years. During a Dec. 10 live "Food Talk," Prof. Altieri will also explore how agroecology can reduce the impacts of pandemics like COVID-19, as part of Slow Food's ongoing Terra Madre digital conference.

From smart legislation to seed education to an alternative to massive rice farming to local initiatives, here are some key battles in the fight to change the way we grow food:

Common Agricultural Policy

When analyzing how legal systems can protect healthy agricultural values, the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, is a great place to start. Recognizing that farming has unique challenges which don't apply to most industries, the European Commission created the CAP — which accounts for about 35% of the EU's budget — to address problems in modern agriculture.

• CAP Goals: Ensure that farmers make a reasonable living, support environmentally-friendly practices and maintain food security.

• CAP in Practice: Through the framework, farmers can receive income support and subsidies to address the specific needs of rural areas. CAP also regulates the market through crisis prevention measures such as encouraging EU governments to buy farm products to be sold at a later date.

• Keeping CAP On Track: CAP is built through legislative processes that also involve consultations with stakeholders. Today, there is still room for improvement, and activist groups like the Food Policy Coalition are calling for stricter CAP reforms that would further align it with the ambition for higher sustainability as outlined in the European Green Deal.


In the past century, more than 250,000 plant varieties have become extinct. Yet many of today's seeds are engineered in a lab, and four international corporations control 63% of the seed market. To foster biodiversity and local economies, activists and grassroots groups are campaigning to bring back nutritious, natural seeds:

• Seed Education: The Colorado Grain Chain is an initiative that aims to spread "grain literacy." Created by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the University of Colorado, the organization is made up of local farmers, millers, bakers, brewers, distillers, chefs and consumers. It offers technical support for grain growers, as well as workshops that teach producers and consumers alike the benefits and uses of local, ancient and heritage grains.

• Freed Seeds: The German non-profit No Patents On Seeds! is driven by the mission to "liberate" seeds, plants and farm animals from being patented under European law. They argue that the uptick in these patents has created both a market that is unfair for small-scale farmers and increased the risk for food security, as a few big corporations minimize biodiversity by deciding what gets grown and where. With help from member organizations like Oxfam and the Corporate Europe Observatory, No Patents On Seeds! publishes reports, organizes protests and circulates petitions to keep the agricultural sector healthy and just.

Small Scale Production

A key tenant of agroecology is the idea that increasing the impact of small farms leads to more environmentally-friendly production, better food security and an equal playing field on the market. NGOs around the world are stepping up to the plate to foster shorter, healthier distribution chains:

• South Africa: The Meat Naturally project recognizes not only the ecological issues with mass meat farming, but the negative impact it's having on communal farmers, who own nearly half the country's livestock yet supply a mere 5% of the market. The initiative partners with NGOs to promote regenerative grazing techniques and rangeland restoration practices. It also organizes mobile auctions, giving these producers a fast, inexpensive and accessible way to sustainably provide meat to their communities.

• Philippines: By joining the energy of NGO and knowledge of scientists, MASIPAG is an association originally founded to improve and promote small-scale rice production. It has expanded to support the objective of fostering "people's control over agricultural biodiversity." Programs help small farmers cultivate crops and livestock naturally adapted to the local climate, shifting farming techniques from chemical to organic, and training farmers in business development. As Alfie Pulumbarit, who heads advocacy for MASIPAG, explained at a recent Terra Madre panel: "It's a bottom-up approach, rooted in the needs and aspirations of the small farmers."

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Food & The Digital Revolution: Plugging In To Return To Our Roots
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Food & The Digital Revolution: Plugging In To Return To Our Roots

Technology itself is neither plague nor panacea for our sustainable, inclusive food future. It is always humans who choose which innovations to pursue, and how to use them. The revolution of digital technology presents this challenge in new and old ways, and our choices must be guided by clear morals that view food production and consumption not as just another opportunity for profit, but as fundamental to the survival of our species and the planet.

Empowering small farms, sustainability and farm-to-table are among the most important principles that must guide innovative digital initiatives seeking to make the food industry more sustainable and democratic. These exciting projects harness the digital world's ability to connect people and organize information to change the way we consume: from apps that avoid food waste to online platforms that connect customers to local farmers to virtual tools designed to foster production that protects biodiversity, and help circumvent the international corporations who too often block the redistribution of wealth to smaller, more sustainable farms.

Here are some of the forward-thinking digital projects keeping the way we eat exciting, efficient, healthy and humane.

Avoiding Waste, Connecting Farm-To-Table

Preserving natural resources requires more than good will. Those pushing for a more sustainable food system must know how best to measure, allocate and repurpose the resources at hand to avoid unnecessary waste and pollution. Digital applications and smart systems are using data collection and management to keep a lid on overconsumption and overuse:

• Beat The Expiration Date: More than 27 million tons of food waste is generated every year — in Japan alone. To save resources, Taichi Isaku, a member of Slow Food Japan, created an app called Tabete which connects users with store products on the brink of expiration, so they can quickly be bought and consumed. The popular app came in handy during the COVID outbreak, when many closed restaurants were able to save the food they would otherwise have been forced to discard. Isaku was a feature speaker at the October 16 panel "Edible Cities, Cities of the Future" as part of the ongoing Terra Madre digital conference.

The "farm-to-table" philosophy is driven by the goal of connecting locally grown ingredients with nearby customers, fighting for all citizens to have nutritious and sustainable alternatives to pre-packaged foods — and avoid harmful emissions from transportation. Online platforms have been particularly helpful in this area, using their ability to boost communication to keep small growers in business all over the globe:

France: As a country particularly keen on terroir, France is seeing a boom in mobile apps that help citizens consume local products. One website, Mangeonslocal-en-idf.com, not only shows a map of markets that sell locally-sourced goods, but also highlights restaurants that work with nearby farms. Other startups, such as La Ruche qui dit oui, allow locals to purchase their groceries from neighboring farms online — and, now in the time of COVID, have them delivered to their door.

• U.S.A.: Another interesting way the digital world has helped connect small farms and locals is through crowdfunding. Steward, an American crowdfunding platform that specifically aims to help small sustainable farms, has reported an enormous spike in demand since the pandemic as increasingly conscious consumers seek to buy direct.

Empowering Small Farmers, Informing Us All

Mobile apps in particular have been a digital weapon of choice for boosting the business of farmers in small and isolated economies, allowing them to both gain visibility and sell their goods more efficiently. Here are two examples in Africa:

• Stay informed: While Uganda's agricultural sector has seen many positive developments in recent years, many of these changes never reached the poor, smallholder farmers located in areas where food is particularly scarce. In order to spread the word, Slow Food Uganda has been working with Agricultural Innovation Systems Brokerage to provide mobile-based services to this demographic. Their platform facilitates space for these farmers to communicate with the government officers charged with disseminating new agricultural findings and techniques, even enabling them to ask questions in their local language.

• Opening up the Conversation: The digital revolution has also helped keep Slow Food's signature event Terra Madre going during the pandemic. What is normally a week-long gathering of artisanal food producers — organized thanks to the commitment of the City of Turin and the Region of Piedmont — has gone virtual. Though nothing can replace the precious in-person human connections, the ongoing series of digital conferences and exhibitions is available for everyone to attend on the dedicated Terra Madre platform.

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A farmer looks over her crops in Lambarkien
Slow Food Foundation For Biodiversity

In Morocco, A Village Poor In Land But Rich In Gardens

This article is part of sponsored series from the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

EL BRECHOUA — A small but significant revolution is underway amidst the golden wheat-covered hills of the Moroccan municipality of El Brechoua, 60 kilometers from the capital of Rabat.

The fields of wheat extending as far as the eye can see do not belong to the local residents, though at times they labor for the big landowners who cultivate for profit. The villagers do not own land and are not farmers. In the past they raised livestock, but the droughts in the 1980s and ‘90s decimated their herds, forcing them to abandon the pastures and move a few kilometers from El Brechoua to form a new settlement around a source of water, called Lambarkien.

It's hard to imagine a happy ending for these formerly nomadic people, now settled illegally in this grain-producing region. The luckiest managed to find work in the intensive wheat cultivation sector. The monoculture relies on the use of chemical fertilizers on a large scale, polluting the water table and the spring around which the village was founded.

At the bottom of the valley, a small river clogged with algae testifies to the excessive use of nitrogen, applied indiscriminately in order to maximize yields. In contrast to a general reversal of trends in agriculture, here crop rotation is not even taken into consideration. Legumes could be used to naturally enrich the soil, or at the very least the nitrogenous fertilizers could be managed in a way that takes into account their actual absorption by the wheat.

In 2013, however, things began to change. It seems that a member of parliament decided to invest in wheat production and rented some nearby land through SODEA (the state agency that manages government-owned property through the "Green Morocco" plan). During the period of work in the fields, the politician employed men from other villages, leaving the people of Lambarkien without job prospects.

Ecotourism opportunity

After the villagers held a protest against this decision, the politician threatened to have the village, located illegally on government land, torn down. This threat created a spirit of solidarity in the community, and its members began to mobilize. Another, larger protest was held and the village now has the support of a national and international network and has launched a plan based on the creation of food gardens.

Each family has created their own food garden on their own plot of land, based on agroecology and permaculture training provided initially by Slow Food Morocco and RIAM (a network of argroecological initiatives in Morocco).

Other associations have now joined in: the Mohammed VI association and the Eden ecotourism association of Rabat, which offers guided tours and picnics in the area for its members, plus many others. In just a few months, the villagers have gone from facing the threat of their village being demolished to having a new source of potable water and electricity, installed by the utilities company REDAL. Two cooperatives have been started (an association of modern farmers and an agricultural cooperative of Brechoua women) as has the Slow Food Had Brechoua Convivium, part of a strong locally based and collectively focused dynamic.

The number of visitors from Rabat is on the rise, as is the number of gardens, which provide the local families with fresh vegetables that previously had to be bought at the market. The village women have started to produce and sell Beldi chickens and eggs (a free-ranging local Moroccan breed) through the cooperative, as well as bread and different types of couscous. One delicious variety is made from Brechoua lentils.

The women sell the village produce and their cooked dishes to the growing number of visitors who come from Rabat on tours, which combine an enjoyable day in the countryside with a spirit of solidarity towards the inhabitants and their initiatives. The men and women of the village are now participating in an outburst of appropriation and capitalization of the same land on which they lived precariously for 20 years. The rural and urban worlds have been joined together in a pact of mutual collaboration which has the advantage of inspiring, in different but complementary ways, a reflection on the importance of the land and its fruits.

Lambarkien's 50 gardens are now part of the 10,000 Gardens in Africa network, while the different types of couscous made by the women's cooperative can be sampled not only in Brechoua, but also in Rabat, at the city's first Chefs' Alliance restaurant, Ch'hiwates du Terroir.

To learn more about the 10,000 Gardens in African network, click here. To find out how to donate, click here.