What does it take to be an organic famer in modern-day Italy? What struggles do small-scale farmers face as they try to provide local, clean, and sustainably grown food for their region? Food First’s Katie Brimm finds out, when she chats with Giorgio Cingolani, an organic farmer and rural community advocate in Italy.
In this insightful interview, Cingolani discusses the importance of food sovereignty, his advocacy work, and why it’s so important to guarantee good, clean, and fair food for all.
Katie Brimm: In addition to leading the upcoming Food Sovereignty Tour, you work as a small farmer and food activist in Italy. How did you get involved in this work?
Giorgio Cingolani: Growing up among peasant children in a period when the modernization of agriculture was still to come, I had the opportunity to observe and appreciate the value of practical, hands-on knowledge. This led me to obtain a BA in Agronomy and doctoral degree in Agricultural Economics in Berkeley, California. Afterwards, I worked in applied economic research, workers union organizing, and international work with rural populations.
In the 1980’s I started to do advocacy work addressing the right to food and ecological issues in Turin [Italy] as a member of Movimento Nonviolento (MN), an Italian association that promotes nonviolence. Along with this work, I still consider my work with unions and my direct involvement with peasants essential to my personal political development.
In 2000 I inherited 9 hectares [approx. 22 acres] of land from my father that I decided to convert into an organic farm. Farming has both been an exciting next step in my life as well as a great opportunity to improve my food advocacy work- it has given me the opportunity to expand my network and relationships with people involved in the direct production and consumption of food.
KB: As a producer, what are some of the challenges you face and how you and your community are working for change?
GC: The major challenge so far as a producer is the marketing of our products. Organic producers are still a minority here, although the numbers of producers and organically farmed areas are increasing.
Nonetheless I have managed, like other organic producers, to practice direct sales to organized groups of consumers. This helps in reducing costs and gives the opportunity to reach a broader audience and involve them in food rights advocacy work. I’ve noticed an increasing interest from consumers, especially young couples, for improving the quality of their children’s diet, as well as awareness about the dangers of industrial agriculture and decreasing the distance from production to consumption.
KB: It seems some of the challenges faced by the Italian food sovereignty movement may be parallel to what we’re seeing in the US. Do you see what is happening within social movements in Italy as a reflection of broader conditions in the global food movement?
GC: The Italian food sovereignty movement reflects both the broader conditions in the global food movement and the history of class struggle in Italy.
The Italian food system was shaped by two ideologies: the capitalist-orientated Christian Democratic Party and the socialist and communist opposition, both of which pushed for the modernization of the food system. The modern Italian conventional food system was shaped after WWII: the production, processing and consumption of food became oriented towards increased efficiency. Powerful processing industries were decisive actors for shaping food practices from farm to fork. Food policies, both in the production and distribution aspects, were biased in favor of capital and urban areas, against peasant labor interests.
However, this framework of values, policies and practices in the food system over the years has recently been disputed because of its unsustainability. The growing influence of safety incidents, food crises, public protests against genetically modified food and debates over the globalization of food production and consumption have introduced the need for changing the rules of the game. The public has pressured the European Union and national governments for agricultural policies that promote more sustainable food regimes. The Italian Food sovereignty movement really emerged from these pressures and contradictions.
Cingolani will be a co-leader for Food First’s Food Sovereignty Tour to the Piedmont region of Italy. For more information on the Piedmont tour and the Food Sovereignty Tour organization, please visit: www.foodsovereigntytours.org.