Our history

From the year 2000 to the day we were born

Massimo Angelini – Consorzio della Quarantina

Genova, 22nd April 2008

costruzione collaborazione

As I recall,  we began to weave the web in the year 2000. It was February, during the Fierucola dei Semi [an annual seed sharing event] in Florence; I shared with Isabella Dalla Ragione, from Archeologia Arborea, my dream: finding a way to connect and coordinate all the people and associations that were, separately and without knowing each other, engaged in recovering and preserving traditional varieties.

“Here we are, some of us; surely there’s more, but we don’t know each other or what we do; actually, we all likely do the same, over and over again, needlessly“.

Rather serendipitously, on that same day, Giannozzo Pucci from ASCI made a joke about European directive 98/95, the one instigating national seed laws’ reforms, introducing derogations about the so-called “conservation varieties”.

Isabella and I took a hint from that joke, had a discussion and ended up agreeing to set up a meeting sometimes, gathering everyone together, that we knew was interested in coordinated action about seeds. We started calling people, like Elena Rovera from the cooperative.

The farmers’ cooperative Cornale in Magliano Alfieri (AT) offered to host the meeting and to provide an operational base for the group that might form.

At a European meeting on on-farm biodiversity conservation, promoted by IPGRI (now Biodiversity International) and held in Isola Polvese on 18-20 May that same year, a parallel discussion emerged about coordinating conservation efforts in Italy: among those present and supporting the idea were Valeria Negri (University of Perugia) and Alisea Sartori (Istituto Sperimentale per la Frutticoltura in Rome).

On 1st June I sent an invitation for an exploratory meeting to be held on 25-26th July at the cooperative in Cornale, inviting a handful of people: Isabella Dalla Ragione, Enrico Covolo (Il Vecchio Melo), Valeria Negri, Giannozzo Pucci, Alisea Sartori, Elena Traversa; I also copied in some prospective ‘observers’: Marco Bertelli (CREA), Angelo Lippi (ADiPA), Lorenzo Maggioni (IPGRI), Giancarlo Stellini (Province of Genoa).

The invitation triggered a snowball effect; the number of participants skyrocketed, so that we had to start thinking bigger. A new round of invitations was sent out: Sabine Lanfranchi (Pro Specie Rara), Alberto Olivucci (Civiltà Contadina), Graziella Picchi, Oriana Porfiri (CERMIS), Concetta Vazzana (University of Florence). Suggestions and ideas started flowing in.

On 25th July we finally met in Cornale, getting to know each other and throwing ideas around. Eleven speakers and 19 observers contributed on the days, while another 17 people had joined in the discussion via email and 25 proposals had been circulated in electronic format. We left this first meeting having agreed on four actions:

  • the creation of a newsletter;
  • the writing of a letter to the Minister of Agricultural Policies and the Regions, to be shared more widely at the Italian and European level;
  • the drafting of our own proposal for the implementation in Italy of the conservation varieties derogation in Directive 98/95, to be addressed to the MiPAAF;
  • the creation of “our own” catalogue of local and traditional varieties.

We did circulate a newsletter: it worked for a few months, until I ended up writing it on my own, with some support from Oriana and the occasional contribution from Elena; information from the work in Genoa was all that we could write about.

As far as the letter was concerned, that was ready straight away on the 26th of July and signed by Angelini, Covolo, Dalla Ragione, Olivucci, Porfiri, Pucci, Sartori, Traversa and Vazzana: the cooperative members. The cooperative also took care of the translation and the distribution activities.

Our proposal with regards to the conservation varieties was a success: within a year it was finalised, thanks to the contribution of Antonio Onorati (Crocevia), and formed the basis for art. 2bis of Law 46/2007 as well as informing the document approved by the State-Regions Conference of 20 March 2008.

The catalogue did not fare so well. In fact, it never saw the light, despite long discussions on criteria for identification of varieties and distinctiveness.

The Network, then named “National Coordination for Rural Conservation and the Diffusion of Local Varieties”, initially approached the then Minister for Agricultural Policies, Pecoraro Scanio. I met him on two occasions: to share with him our initial letter (Florence, 2nd September 2000) and for a discussion in Rome (8 January 2001). Both occasions proved useless, as the minister was absent, did not pay attention or show interest in our concerns.

Alongside the public presentation of the new Italian legislation in Genoa, in early July 2001 (two weeks before the G8) we (as Consorzio della Quarantina, Conservatorio delle Cucine Mediterranee, with the financial help of the Province) organised a three-day event titled “Waking up: our land and local culture” with well-known speakers and activists: Ivan Illich, Hope Shand, JM Pelt and Theodor Shanin, as well as Giannozzo Pucci, Vandana Shiva and Edward Goldsmith.

Later that year, on 12th October I was invited by IPGRI to Maccarese to talk about what the Network had done in its first year for the conservation of agrobiodiversity in Italy.

Riccardo Bocci had in the meantime started pulling together the frayed edges of a Network born to such great expectations but whose energy had already tapered out. Having met Riccardo Bocci at the event in July, in Genoa, I was rather prejudiced about him. In fact, if I remember correctly, I would have rather not have met him: with his academic background, I thought he would be a know-it-all and a theorist, a sweet-talker not to be trusted. I quickly changed my mind and, although he never knew that had been my first impression, I regret my suspicious and somewhat surly welcome and want to apologize for it now, seven years later.

The first Newsletter is dated 6 September 2000. The 19th and last one is dated 4 December 2001. I edited the first 17, the last two were the work of Riccardo.

Rete Semi Rurali: the foundation

After 7 years of informal activity, the Network was registered in 2007 as Rete Semi Rurali.

Founding members were:

  • Associazione per la Salvaguardia della Campagna Italiana (ASCI),
  • Archeologia Arborea,
  • Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica,
  • Civiltà Contadina,
  • Consorzio della Quarantina,
  • Coordinamento Toscano Produttori Biologici (CTPB), and
  • Centro Internazionale Crocevia

A major step for Italian agricultural associations, joining forces was a statement on the importance of agricultural biodiversity, which, first and foremost, must be conserved and kept alive, with its associated values, by farmers in the fields.

Two years later, another 3 associations joined:

  •  Associazione Veneta dei produttori Biologici (A.Ve.Pro.Bi),
  • World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), and
  • Associazione Lavoratori Produttori dell’Agroalimentare (ALPA).