RegenerAction 2022: Agri-culture as a lever for integral ecological development

The challenge: preventing cultural desertification

the cultureunderstood as that set of values, symbols, conceptions, beliefs, ideas, customs, traditions handed down, acquired and widely shared by a certain people is the root on which the individual and collective identity of a society is forged. Yet, in the recent race for progress and relentless need for efficiency, we are gradually depriving society of the essentials. We have everything, without having anything all the way: time, health, nutritious food, healthy environment, identity.

A world without human biodiversity would mean a world that speaks the same language, thinks the same way, has the same vision and eats the same foods. It would be a world without wonder, but also without natural variety, reflecting the diversity of cultures, practices and approaches. We can’t play a one-note symphony. Likewise, we could not wish to restore the maximum representation of natural variety with human uniformity.

The recent pandemic has put at the center of the individual’s experience the reflection, the taste for what has an intrinsic value and not superficial, the interest for everything that can add colors and shades: a relentless return to human values so the need to reconnect with our territory and local peculiarities.  Culture is therefore rediscovered as a resource for the psychological well-being of the individual, and as a bond of solidarity and union for a people, a society, a nation.

The time for the restart is now ripe, and it is necessary to treasure these lessons to design a future that knows how to value and preserve culture, real lever of individual, collective, territorial and also economic regeneration.

Food culture, territorial culture: the value of preserving diversity

"Cultural diversity is as necessary for humanity as biodiversity is for nature", stresses theArticle 1 of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, recognising the central role of the plurality of identities and cultures that make up mankind.

Cultural diversity includes a variety of practices, rituals, knowledge, techniques, languages, beliefs, ethnicities, religions, values: the buffer around which individuals build their thoughts and perspectives, but also the roots of natural wealth. Not surprisingly, therefore, in general, the most biologically diverse areas are also the most culturally diverse.

The Mediterranean basin is an excellent example of this, as an area rich in both biological and cultural diversity: languages, dialects and rites blend perfectly with the territory, the landscape and nature. Culture is also how people live, adapt, produce and process food. Think of the dozens of thousands of techniques that over time family farming and fishing communities have developed to cope with natural disasters, preserve food and increase resilience; all aspects that have inevitably enriched our society and the Planet.

Preserving this type of expertise means promoting diverse agro-ecological systems, giving voice and rights to marginalised groups and protecting the income of farmers and family fishermen to remain in the territories, as true guardians of our natural and cultural variety.

But cultural wealth also represents an incredible economic lever, if able to be fully valued. With 55 UNESCO Sites, countless museums, art galleries, festivals, and its endless farms that support food and wine culture, Italy is an open-air museum. Promoting forms of careful and responsible tourism thus becomes a tool to consolidate the country’s identity values, instilling in local populations feelings of belonging that push them to take care of their territories and their tangible and intangible heritage, but also directly support companies, often small and very small, that feed the local culture.

Together with the tourism sector, the cultural and creative sectors were among the most affected by the crisis triggered by the pandemic and the lockdown, recording a decline in jobs between 0.8% and 5.5% in OECD regions. Our country, in particular, reports a -70% of receipts for the cultural and creative industries sector in 2020. Yet, the cultural sector has been one of the fastest in responding to the needs of innovation and adaptation, with many public and private providers moving content online for free, unlocking important potential for synergistic complementarity.

This means investing in the economy of beauty, an economy capable of seeing the value of individuals, nurturing the link between them and the territory, creating communities of active, aware and responsible citizens. Enhancing the cultural, architectural, food and wine heritage, Italian landscape means supporting the Italian identity, supporting the economies of small and very small companies, promote the survival and balance of the rich urban and rural fabric that is the true soul of our country, prevent depopulation and abandonment of entire areas. It means supporting a sector that produces 17% of the GDP of our country.

The European Strategy for Culture

Improving the supply and safeguarding of culture is one of the priorities of Europe, which in recent years has adopted various strategies and policies of coordination to encourage the enhancement of the sector in the Member States, who remain primarily responsible in this policy area.

Following the line drawn by the European Agenda for Culture 2007, in 2018 the Commission adopted the New European Agenda for Culture to support the evolution of the sector by outlining the framework for European cooperation on culture.

The New Agenda is divided into three main areas: economic, social, external dimension and wants to focus on the positive contribution that culture offers to European society, its economy and the collaborations and international relations it contributes to create.

The Commission is convinced that cities and regions throughout Europe can be the flagships of a new type of development based on culture, making them ideal protagonists and partners to anticipate trends and test new models of economic and social innovation.

This idea is also part of the Work Plan 2019-2022 of the Council of the European Uniona strategic and dynamic instrument for cultural cooperation that addresses policy developments and sets priorities while respecting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. The latter also stresses that Member States should pay particular attention to the role of culture at local level, the quality of architecture and the living environment, which are being worked on through the New European Bauhaus.

also the  European Action Framework for Cultural Heritage includes a series of actions relevant to the cities and regions of the Member States. The proposed European initiatives focus specifically on regeneration through cultural heritage, the promotion of adaptive reuse of historic buildings and the balance between access to cultural, natural and sustainable tourism.

The role of culture in integral ecological regeneration

Culture is methodological and scientific techniques, culture are ancient knowledge and ecological knowledge, culture is the history, traditions, lifestyles, invisible plots that contribute to shaping the identity of a territory or a country. For this reason culture is the perfect meeting between education, community and innovation, the three action plans of the Future Food Institute, in which food offers one of the most obvious manifestations. Because food, even before a good and a need, is a universal language capable of uniting and bringing together people of different ages, religion, culture, tradition, areas of experience.

The Mediterranean Diet is in fact one of the most tangible examples: intangible cultural heritage of humanity recognized by UNESCO since 2010, the Mediterranean Diet is mastery, attention, quality, diversity, authenticity, the typicality of a people that has always seen in food the values of union, connection, care. Without diversity, probably today we would not have on our tables products as authentic as they are peculiar, such as the "mozzarella nella mortella", "invented" by the skill of the shepherds of Pollica to ensure the long-term preservation of cheese.

This form of culture and its values of collective prosperity that we have inherited from the Mediterranean basin, and that the Future Food Institute protects and promotes directly through the Paideia Campus in Pollica, is an incredible element of territorial and local development that must be shown. For this, from the Campus, we activated the project Agri-Culture Youth Welfare, to relaunch local skills and entrepreneurship, providing young Cilentan tools such as innovative coaching techniques and Design Thinking, to re-discover and enhance the hidden values and culture of the territory by creating new opportunities and redistributing the beauty for the welfare of the community. The success of the course was dictated by the centrality given to the values of the territory, re-discovered and used as a starting point to ensure a sustainable future.

Culture must be brought back to the centre of global and national debates, it must return to young people, the real protagonists of the transition. That’s what we did with theHackathon in the School 2021in which young people from all over Italy have imagined museums able to involve both the emotional and experiential new generations and as it was proposed in the Design Challenge of Pollica last month, in which the Museum of the Mediterranean Diet to make it more attractive, alive and "living".

This is the real potential of the Mediterranean Diet for Italy: the proof that models of integral ecological regeneration can also economically support an entire country, our supply chains that decide to invest in quality rather than quantity. This is in fact the work we are carrying out, from Pollica together with the Italian delegation of Emblematic Communities of the Mediterranean Diet. The export of Mediterranean culture symbolically closes a historical circle, opened by Ancel Keys who arrived in Pollica in the mid-90’s, discovered and made famous the Mediterranean Diet all over the world. For this reason, the first international expedition of Pollica, as coordinator of the network of emblematic UNESCO communities, led by Sara Roversi, founder of Future Food and Stefano Pisani, mayor of Pollica, started from New Yorkcapital of the world and headquarters of the United Nations. Thus the cradle of the Sustainable Development Goals has been identified as the ideal destination where to plant the seeds of the Mediterranean Diet: the schools of New York, to spread, starting from the new generations, the values of a lifestyle that has been able to express an incredible soft power through which you can "cultivate" sustainable, inclusive and resilient communities.

The journey of the European Agrifood Week will start by embracing the culture of the territory, underlining the crucial role it plays in promoting development models capable of enhancing the production chains, the identity and local economies, taking care for the protection of essential resources, interpreting a true concept of "One Health" where human health, the health of the planet and the community, in the "Mediterranean" convivium, become the true nexus.

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