The Economy Of Nature

EXCLUSIVE – In recent times one of the most commonly used words in our ‘slow world’ has without doubt been ‘network’ . We have always described Terra Madre as a network and we are endeavoring to make it one in practice, striving to devise and provide the right services so we can multiply the great potential offered by food communities and their interactions. All the other Slow Food entities are involved, and along with presidia, convivia, restaurants and so on, play an active role in creating its necessary lifeblood.

But following the memorable experience of Terra Madrer in Turin last October, the meaning, depth and complexity of our thoughts and understanding have been significantly enhanced. The meaning of the word ‘network’ for the people of Terra Madre is changing as a result of new attitudes. This time it is to do with economics and a change that is probably already under way.

Terra Madre has been able to tap into this situation (or has it been an instigator?), since its main actors are the people of the food communities. I am referring to a new economic approach, with its origins in agriculture, which places local communities, their food and local area at the centre.

The familiar market economy, which has been supported by the dynamics of globalization, is displaying significant shortcomings, both with regard to the sustainability of its activities and the way it generates wealth. No longer is it just critics of the capitalist system who maintain that the world economy is a giant with feet of clay: even its greatest supporters are aware of the ever increasing evidence that being anti-ecology means being anti-economics.

Faced with this situation—which is also due to the changes inflicted on the world agricultural system through industrialization and centralization of agrifood systems—food communities are a clear example of what could be meant by ‘local economy’ or ‘economy of nature’. They use a short chain—or a long chain that is highly sustainable—and relationships based on people knowing each other personally.

We have been involved with schemes such as the revival of small farmers’ markets in Italy (Mercatale at Montevarchi), Africa (in Bamako, thanks to Aminata Traoré’s efforts) and the United States, as well as community supported agriculture and the French AMAP network.

Communities—which by definition are based on their local area—will inevitably conserve, promote and ensure good husbandry for their ecosystems, landscapes and biodiversity. As a result of our experience with Presidia and direct knowledge of many of the participants at Terra Madre, we can see that these micro-economies are already functioning today, or have all the necessary requirements to thrive and be viable.

We are not talking of closed, self-sufficient or conservative economies here. These agricultural models have a revolutionary importance and strength when they operate within a network using modern technologies, and this is not yet fully recognized.

Contrary to the claims of critics, these examples show that they are not just an attempt to return to the past or to completely reject the current system. They demonstrate how you can create a viable economy in a new, sustainable and practicable way, in a whole range of different situations in both developed and developing parts of the world, while respecting the earth, oneself and one’s culture, diversities and the central importance of food. It is an economic system able to compete at a global level with the old systems.

After Terra Madre we believe even more strongly that we can detect the seeds of a new modernity in the work that the food communities are proudly pioneering and the dawn of a new economic era. This is the economy of nature, where the market’s ‘invisible hand’ is replaced by Mother Earth’s benevolent but strict hand. It demands respect, but if you work in harmony with it, nature can provide indispensable fruits for improving the quality of our lives.

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