TALKING SHOP: Slow Food awards, Naples, Italy, Nov.

Slow Food - Honoring quality and diversity
From wild rice to Ethiopian cereals to Tuvan sheep this year’s winners were themselves a demonstration in biodiversity

By Kristen Corselius

Facts About Agricultural Diversity
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines agricultural biodiversity as “the variety and variability of animals, plants and microorganisms that are important to food and agriculture.”

Agricultural biodiversity is critical because it:
• Provides the building blocks for breeding new, useful crops and livestock
• Helps maintain agricultural productivity through the preservation of soil biota, pollinators, predators
• Contributes to greater landscape health including soil protection, water quality and air quality
• Improves the ability to recover from economic or natural disasters like poor market prices, pest infestations or bad weather.

Globalization and industrial agriculture are two root causes in the rapid decline in crop and livestock diversity over the last 50 years.

As a result:
• Over 90 percent of the world’s crop varieties have disappeared from agricultural fields
• Half of the breeds of many domesticated livestock have been lost
• Just three crops – maize, wheat and rice – now provide more than 50 percent of humankind’s requirements for protein and calories.

Market pressures and the undervaluing of agricultural biodiversity are considered to play significant roles in its loss.

(Sources: FAO, UK Agricultural Biodiversity Coalition, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute)



More Slow Food

Besides the “For the Defense of Biodiversity” awards, Slow Food coordinates a number of projects to increasing awareness and support for food products and farmers threatened by agricultural industrialization.

In fact, in October Slow Food plans to host a “Meeting of Farmers and Food Makers” in Turin, Italy. They plan to bring together thousands of farmers and others to share experiences, build international connections, and develop strategies for a new agriculture based on respect for “tradition, humanity and the environment.”

Learn more about two of Slow Food’s other initiatives, the Ark of Taste and Presidia:
sf_arca.lasso Nov. 21, 2003: Heritage turkeys: a fast-growing and profitable niche for adventuresome farmers

Link to Kristen’s Naples Presidium slide show

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to meet Charles Martell, a British farmer, on a bus in southern Italy. As the bus wove its way up to a mountain town on the outskirts of Naples, he told me about his farm.

Since 1972 Charles has farmed near a town called Dymock in southern England. He raises cattle and tends an orchard of pears and apples.

On the surface Martell sounds like a typical farmer. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that he's a recognized leader for his efforts to conserve agricultural biodiversity.

The cattle he raises is actually a rare breed, Old Gloucester. Though they existed in Gloucestershire County for centuries, they were only 33 left when Charles started to farm. Enamored by the dual-purpose breed, he’s worked with his fellow farmers to bring the registered Old Gloucester population back up to over 700.

Rather than sell his milk to a dairy processor, he now turns it into award-winning cheeses, including the double and single raw-milk Gloucester varieties. These 200-year- old cheeses disappeared from England’s markets in the 1950s, but now enjoy a healthy comeback.

And his apples and pears? You won’t find Red Delicious on his farm, but you will discover the official Gloucestershire Apple Collection that holds 98 varieties of local apples. To preserve and propagate his area’s diminishing pear varieties, Charles also help set up England’s National Collection of Perry Pears in 1989.

Martell’s penchant for reviving the agricultural and biological heritage of his region is what brought us both to Naples. He was one of 10 individuals honored with Slow Food’s “For the Defense of Biodiversity” award on November 9, 2003. I was a member of the award’s international jury.

For the Defense of Biodiversity

Slow Food, an international consumers movement, has granted this award since 2000. The event celebrates and promotes ordinary individuals – farmers, researchers and organizations – who have made outstanding efforts to conserve the agricultural biodiversity and food traditions of their regions. (See side bar, “Facts about Agricultural Diversity.”)

Slow Food started in 1986 when a McDonald’s restaurant opened on one of Italy’s most famous squares. Concerned that the industrialization of food was causing the eradication of thousands of food varieties and tastes, founder Carlos Petrini reached out to consumers. He showed them that uniformity in the food system -- in chain restaurants or supermarkets - was not inevitable. Consumers could choose something different.

Soon after a movement was born.

Today the Slow Food is on five continents, has over 70,000 members and even boasts its own publishing company. The United States has over 5,500 members.

Unlike the multinational agribusiness giants that promote efficiency through monoculture and low commodity prices, Slow Food recognizes that farmers are key to preserving flavorful, high quality food. And profit is the key to maintaining farmers.

Using their influence with food lovers, chefs and media, Slow Food rouses considerable interest in rare, often undervalued foods and the people that produce them. This translates into more demand in the marketplace.

Through their work to honor and promote farmers, Slow Food hopes to buck the trends of efficiency, scale and homogeneity. In its place they intend to create demand for a different kind of agriculture -- one based on quality, diversity, and small farm viability.

For farmers tired of the same old agriculture -- be it # 2 yellow corn, soybeans or Holstein cows --this movement is leading one of the ways toward something different.

The Awardees

impressive collection of people joined Charles Martell on the stage in Naples’ San Carlo Theater. Although they came from different climates, cultures and farming systems, each works to protect and advance some part their culture’s agricultural heritage – be it crop or animal species, traditional farming techniques, or local agricultural knowledge.

Each award winner, either individual or organization, received a cash award of 3,500 euros ($4,170 US) plus international publicity to garner more support and interest in their various projects. Slow Food awarded special jury prizes, 7,500 euros ($8,900 US) each, to the winners from Burkina Faso, Brazil and Mexico.

The following is an overview of the other nine awardees, organized by continent. To read great stories about the award winners, visit the awards page of Slow Food’s website:

To contact one of the award winners go to:
Link to contact information (attached in excel spread sheet).

Winona LaDuke and Margaret Smith, both of White Earth Land Recovery Project in northern Minnesota, received the award for their efforts to protect the integrity of the wild rice markets essential to the White Earth Reservation’s economic and social viability. The hand-harvested wild rice market is currently under threat due to the influx of cheap, paddy-grown wild rice on to the market.

A trained historian, José N. Iturriaga de la Fuente has spent years collecting information on food plants, recipes and products rapidly disappearing from his native Mexican culture. He was honored for his work to protect the country’s rich food heritage being lost as Mexico’s population becomes increasingly urbanized.

The Union of Krahô Villages, located in Brazil, was acknowledged for their initiative to recover the seeds and agricultural knowledge necessary to grow local varieties of maize, sweet potato and cassava. Lost with the introduction of hybrid replacements in the 1970s, they have been able to reclaim the agricultural crops suited to their soils and culture.

Agronomists Sebastien Rafaralahy and Justin Leonard Rabenandrasana, of the Association Tefy Saina in Madagascar, were honored for their efforts to increase rice production while protecting the environment. They worked with farmers to implement an innovative rice-growing technique that utilizes native rice varieties, rather than fertilizer-intensive “modern” rice varieties, to increase rice yields.

Regassa Feyissa formed the organization, Ethio-Organic Seed Action, to help recover Ethiopian cereal varieties – such as durum wheat - displaced by the Green Revolution. He was acknowledged for his research and collaboration with farmers to protect Ethiopia’s agricultural biodiversity and find markets for their agricultural products.

Union Namanegbzanga des Groupements villageois de la zone de Tanlili (UNGVT) is an organization that coordinates “village groups” to improve the quality of life for small-farming families in a region of Burkina Faso. UNGVT was honored for the successful restoration of crops and tree varieties, which have improved food security and helped control soil erosion over the last ten years.

Taiul Berishvilli, a plant breeder from Georgia, was recognized for his efforts to improve Georgian varieties of cereals and legumes neglected during the Soviet Union’s reign. Through his organization, Dika, he is working with farmers to grow and find markets for native varieties of chickpeas, beans, barley and wheat.

Kuular Darjaa is a farmer and veterinarian from the Republic of Tuva, one of the most remote of the former Soviet Republics. Kuular was selected for his efforts to conserve rare Tuvan sheep breeds as well as the cheese and dairy products made from their milk.

An ethno-botanist from the northern territory of Australia, Glen Wightman was honored for his work with Aboriginal communities to document their traditional plant and animal knowledge. The Aborigines have a rich oral tradition rapidly being lost with their declining population.

The Special Jury Awards went to Iturriaga de la Fuente of Mexico, the Union of Krahô Villages in Brazil and the Union Namanegbzanga in Burkina Faso.

Kristen Corselius is a program associate with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (Minneapolis, MN). For questions or comments, please contact Kristen at