INTERVIIEW WITH Giuseppe Li Rosi (Simenza)
(Chairman of Simenza, Cumpagnìa siciliana sementi contadine)
SICILY’S BIODIVERSITY ACCOUNT FOR 50% OF ITALY’S. LET’S PROTECT IT!
Preserving agricultural biodiversity. This is one of the most important acts for next generations… And this is what is trying to do a group of farmers, academics, researchers, and even chefs in Sicily. They have founded the non-profit organization, “Simenza – Cumpagnìa Siciliana Sementi Contadine”, a regional network of people and organizations promoting the protection and enhancement of Sicily’s agricultural biodiversity. Not only Simenza protects biodiversity! It is also a new organizational model, which empowers small farmers. Why biodiversity of plants is so important for Sicily, Italy and the whole world? Why is consensus towards Simenza gaining momentum in Italy? What kind of advantages does Simenza offer to members and to Sicily’s territory? Giuseppe Li Rosi, Chairman of Simenza, answered to these and other questions.
Simenza: established on 20thFebruary 2016, Simenza is an association of seed-farmers (locally called “seed guardians”), developers, technicians, researchers and lovers of Sicilian agricultural biodiversity. Though still in its infancy, the originality and validity of its mission and its organizational model are factors of success. Simenza is gaining a growing recognition not only locally, but also nationally and internationally.
Giuseppe Li Rosi: Chairman of Simenza, Giuseppe Li Rosi is an “icon” in the field of cereal farming in Sicily. After a degree in “languages,” he changed his mind and devoted his life to agriculture. As a result, he is now leading his family’s farm, which has a story of three generation: "Terre Frumentarie". Li Rosi’s farm is very peculiar: he is growing ancient Sicilian grains with organic method; he has done it for about 15 years, with the intent to protect them from extinction and enhance biodiversity. He is the guardian of three varieties of which the certified seed is marketable (a thing impossible few years ago!). He contributes to foster the typical Sicilian cereal biodiversity through the cultivation and distribution of seeds and related products in both the national and international market.
INTERVIEW - (March 2017)
This interview was made in March 2017 and published in April 2017 on www.lteconomy.org
Subject: Simenza, native grains, biodiversity, a new organizational model for small farmers
- Sicilian biodiversity is a source of great pride for us. In fact, Italy makes up 50% of Europe’s biodiversity, and Sicily represents 50% of Italy’s biodiversity (this means 1/4 of European biodiversity).
- When we founded we were inspired by nature… our society should be shaped in the image of nature!
- Our ideal entrepreneur? One who 1) takes care of biodiversity; 2) makes biodiversity at the service of others; 3) achieves economic sustainability.
- Being part of a network! This is the main advantage Simenza offers… … Moreover, the small Sicilian farmer is no longer at the mercy of the local mills which, operating as a monopsony (as economists call it), they used to impose price and purchase conditions of grain.
- We have given voice to small farmers and Simenza has had a strong media coverage not only in Sicily, but also at national and international level (in Spain and Latin America).
- The rural civilization (the oldest one in the world) should have a much greater role in social development.
The current agricultural model will never meet global food needs in the near future. Why? It is ecologically inefficient: today, millions of hectares of land are occupied to produce food (corn, soybean, alfalfa) for animals! The model proposed by Simenza is based on four simple principles: 1) respect for the environment; 2) use of genetic resources; 3) respect for human work and rights; 4) a change in human diet.
Question 1: Welcome Giuseppe and thank you for being with us! When and why was Simenza established?
Simenza was established on 20th February 2016 by a group of small farmers who had two objectives:
1) protect their farms from the crisis caused by the green-revolution model, based on mechanicals, homogenizations of (plants/seeds/fruits) varieties and dependence on external means (external seeds, chemicals);
2) protect local grains and, more generally, biodiversity in Sicily (cereals, legumes and fruits).
Sicilian biodiversity is a source of great pride for us. In fact, Italy makes up 50% of Europe’s biodiversity, and Sicily represents 50% of Italy’s biodiversity (this means 1/4 of European biodiversity); while Sicily makes up 0.017% of the emerged lands in the world, it also owns 1% of the world's biodiversity: Sicily’s biodiversity is 100 times greater than global average biodiversity!! This is why “preserving biodiversity in Sicily” is a “duty” for us.
Why biodiversity is so important?
Our “civil” society consider the term “diversity” as a threat (migrants, different models are a threat). That’s a big mistake! Diversity is a strength in agriculture, as well as in economy and in society. Take for example the technique of "evolutionary wheat fields." Many different local seeds are put together; they grow and evolve (according to a Darwinian logic) in relation to the evolution of the soil and the microclimate. Such a technique is far more resilient than the mono-wheat ones.
Question 2: Let’s talk now about Simenza’s organizational model. Who are the members and how do they operate?
Faced by the economic crisis, which has brought many of us to failure, we (small Sicilian farmers) have been looking for an economic model to make our firms more resilient. Inspired by nature (in particular by the extraordinary results achieved with the evolutionary seed model – see question 1), we concluded that a diversified ecosystem of firms is the best model.
Therefore, the first principle of Simenza is respect for diversity! Simenza is not made by one kind of farmers coming from one area of Sicily. There are different entities located in different areas of Sicily, who speak different dialects and have different micro-cultures. In the past, all these differences were a source of conflict and eroded Sicilian rural society. With Simenza, that has changed! Diversity is a source of strength.
Simenza’s members keep in touch, share information, exchange tools or seeds, address common issues, are constantly updated in what happens in the whole territory of Sicily: the relationship between different subjects leads to a strengthening of both. We honor each other, we reinforce each other and help Sicilian institutions understand potential of plant biodiversity.
However, we still have a lot to learn from nature; our society (that, in the absence of any action, is bound to collapse) should be shaped in the image of nature!
Question 3: Does Simenza’s membership consist only by farmers or also by other actors of the Food supply chain?
Very interesting questions. Obviously, has Simenza was founded by small farmers, these make up the majority of Simenza’s membership. After Simenza was founded, mills owners, bakeries, pasta factories, developers (chef, cooking, hotel and farmer schools), farmers, professors, journalists, scientists, housewives etc... joined the membership. Today, Simenza has 130 members, and soon other 30 will join. We are working hard on two basic targets: 1) enhancing collaborations along the all supply chain; 2) enhancement of products along the supply chain. In that view, we are going to create a hallmark, which will certify the products of the members. The monitoring committee will be made up of businesses and consumers with a six-monthly rotation in order to avoid collusion between who controls and who is to be controlled.
Question 4: So, we can state that Simenza is a good economic model for local development: it enhances the value of small and distributed entrepreneurship. What are the features should the ideal entrepreneur have according to Simenza?
Small business owners are at the center of our policies. They represents the only valuable tool for achieving Simenza’s main objective: preserving biodiversity and soil fertility in Sicily.
Our ideal entrepreneur? One who 1) takes care of biodiversity; 2) makes biodiversity at the service of others; 3) achieves economic sustainability. It is a “resilient” entrepreneur, able to self-produce most of the inputs he needs (seeds, energy, water, etc ...).
Ours is a clear and effective response to the threats brought by a Green Revolution, which has excessively supported multinationals, and was bringing our farmers to despair: many of traditional Sicilian farmers have either winded up their activity or converted it to the modern conventional corn, with damage to both their land and their business.
Question 5: Well Giuseppe. Let’s now talk about the the major advantages Simenza offers to its members.
Being part of a network! This is the main advantage Simenza offers. Thanks to Simenza, members can a) share some information and experiences, culture, b) meet new friends, new business partners, c) exchange seeds (as they did in the past), d) create new businesses/initiatives, e) and, at a more practical level, they face and solve common problems, such as the joint purchase of an expensive machine.
Simenza does also offer economic/monetary benefits. The small Sicilian farmer is no longer at the mercy of the local mills which, operating as a monopsony (as economists call it), they used to impose price and purchase conditions of grain. Today, it is not so! Thanks to Simenza, the bargaining power of farmers has increased; moreover, they are now even able to sell their grain outside Sicily. The result? Higher recognized value of their crops.
Let’s also remember that all members of Simenza produce according to organically/biodynamic procedures. This feature is now better communicated to the market. Their products gain value.
Finally, the most important thing is that each member is part of a greater project: to revive the agricultural heritage of Sicily, creating sustainable development in the region.
Question 6: Simenza was established one year ago. How do you judge the results achieved so far?
I must say that the work has been very hard, but we have achieved excellent results. Simenza’s members are very satisfied and local institutions are now more sensitive than before to biodiversity preservation; we have given voice to small farmers and Simenza has had a strong media coverage not only in Sicily, but also at national and international level (in Spain and Latin America).
You know, in my opinion, the rural civilization (the oldest one in the world) should have a much greater role in social development. Fortunately, we (Sicilian farmers) have not lost what we call "the sense of Earth," specific of rural civilizations (elsewhere such a sense has been lost), and essential to preserve the close relationship between humans and nature.
Simenza’s advantages are not confined to members’ benefits and natural welfare! The whole Sicilian economy will take some important advantages from our work. Suppose Sicily ‘s demand for food was almost totally satisfied by “biological” Sicilian farms. Well, considering that now, 7 out of 11 billion euro of food is bought externally, the agricultural sector in Siciliy will get a significant boost: another 200 thousand jobs would be added to Sicily’s economy! In fact, Sicily has capacity to cover most of its food requirements and export food to other Italian regions and abroad.
Simenza is a successful model. It’s attracting the interest of other Italian regions; it is leading to a rediscovery of ancient grains in Italy and abroad. Finally, Simenza is to be used as a benchmark in the hemp sector, which has recently observed a remarkable development.
Question 7: SImenza’s agricultural model based on biodiversity and organic grown seeds is very interesting. But is it able to meet global food needs?
I think yes, it is! And I'm not the only one to think so! You see, the current agricultural model will never meet global food needs in the near future. Why?
1) It is ecologically inefficient: today, millions of hectares of land are occupied to produce food (corn, soybean, alfalfa) for animals! (with the same land more human beings could be nourished).
2) It deteriorates the soil because of the lack of crop rotation techniques, the use of monoculture and the excessive use of chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides).
3) It makes small farmers poorer and rob them of their land (a phenomenon known as Land Grabbing).
What happens when a model more respectful of biodiversity and of the characteristics of the territory is adopted? Well, the quality and the quantity of food will arise… When nature is respected, it repays us with abundance!
The model proposed by Simenza is based on four simple principles:
1) respect for the environment;
2) use of genetic resources;
3) respect for human work and rights (machinery in agriculture is welcome, provided that this does not replace human usefulness and does not damage the relationship between humans beings and nature;
4) a change in human diet (less meat and milk and more vegetables).
If we really want agriculture to produce healthy food and employment, we must again respect nature and humans!
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