by Alessandra Cardone
TURIN, Italy, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- As it happens to plant varieties, seeds, or animal species, also villages can be at risk of extinction.
Yet, they should be preserved as much as biodiversity, for they are part of the gastronomy and cultural heritage, and usually provide a model of production sustainable for the environment.
This message was largely discussed at the 12th edition of the Terra Madre-Salone del Gusto, one of the world's largest exhibitions of local food cultures that ran in the Italian city of Turin on Sept. 20-24.
More than 5,000 delegates from 140 countries and regions, over 800 exhibitors, and 500 food communities took part in the event this year.
Representatives with Slow Food -- the grassroots movement promoting the right of access to sustainable, healthy, and fair food at global level -- said this would become a new guideline.
"The defense of villages represents the new frontier on which Slow Food has to work globally," Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Food International, told a conference.
The risk of extinction for villages was directly connected to the urbanization of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Experts warned such wide trend would risk making development less and less sustainable for environment and human health, unless a partial balance could be found in small-scale production communities.
FOOD TRADITIONS FROM ACROSS THE WORLD
Abdullahi Adem from Ethiopia could easily agree with this concept. Behind the desk of his country's stand, he explained properties and benefits of an organic honey made in the Oromia region.
"This honey comes from an area some 3,000 meters high in the mountains, and it is not their only special product," Adem told Xinhua.
Yet, he said, if that community was not to be protected by social and climate changes, farmers could gradually disappear, along with all of their farming knowledge.
The stalls of the international exhibitors offered a wide variety of products to discover and taste, mostly food.
For example, there were special teas from South Africa and forest-friendly teas from Thailand, organic cranberries from Latvia, saffron from Afghanistan, wild fruits from Argentina, seaweeds from Japan, lupine beans from Peru, karité butter from Burkina Faso, among others.
Andrea, a 36-year-old office worker from Rimini, Italy seemed interested in everything. The man stressed local productions and environment-friendly consumption were both crucial in his idea of development.
"My family and I like genuine food that is also produced in a sustainable way," he told Xinhua. "Unfortunately, daily life in a city does not always make this practice easy to follow, and the access to large-scale distribution is still the simplest way to buy food."
For Slow Food's Petrini, the link between protecting villages and promoting a sustainable food production (the "Food for Change" campaign) was strong.
"The more you protect life in villages, the stronger our 'Food for Change' message is," he told Xinhua.
In fact, people would take care more easily of their original land, and best practices were easier to implement in small communities.
"But if we lose all small centers, raising awareness about a eco-friendly food production becomes harder," Petrini said.
SLOW VILLAGES IN CHINA
A project repeatedly mentioned by experts at the Salone del Gusto referred to China, where the local branch of Slow Food planned to create 1,000 "slow villages" by 2025.
"We are outlining the specific guidelines on how to create a slow village," Sun Qun, secretary general of Slow Food Great China, told Xinhua. "We will be ready to start the construction of the first village by the end of this year, with the help of the Chengdu city's government."
The pilot project would be developed in the community of Anren near the city of Chengdu, in the Sichuan province, which hosted the 2017 Slow Food Int'l Congress.
Sun explained the goal was to have slow villages formed by original farmers, original inhabitants, and original food productions.
This might not be easy, since many local farmers would not easily believe a slow village could become a new community. Yet, Sun stressed, China today offered big opportunities.
"I see at least three major tools: the first is communication, which is very developed in China and could help us present the slow village to the society as a 'fashionable' model," he said.
Secondly, major players in the logistic technology sector might get involved, providing small farmers in villages a larger access to the market.
Finally, Sun suggested Chinese big chains of restaurants could play a role.
"These chains have young chefs, who aim at becoming not just good professionals in the food industry, but 'fashionable' chefs," he said. "If we are able to involve them in the project, invite them to visit a slow village... We could show them one way to be really innovative in their profession."