Terra Madre, Slow Food in need of slow deliberation
I got along to my first Terra Madre at the weekend and what a huge, fun gathering it is. Ten thousand participants from over 150 countries was the estimate and it must be a logistical nightmare to pull together. I was able to spend the weekend with friends old and new, catching up with an ex-student from Vanuatu and some colleagues from PNG who continue the taro breeding programme I was involved with ten years ago. There were even a number of events that involved Irish foods and agrobiodiversity, including Board Bia, which I have posted on elsewhere.
There is an incredible amount of energy around Terra Madre as you can imagine. It is 4 days of information and food overload, often chaotic but always engaging. However, I couldn’t help but come away wondering how the Terra Madre and Slow Food movements focus and channel all this energy and enthusiasm and keep the engagement going afterwards. As a novice I have to admit I know little about either. With about a dozen workshops and events running in parallel each day it is impossible to attend everything. For those events I could attend I came away with the impression that there was just too little time spent in serious debate and discussion, too few spaces for argument or analysis and no clear idea of what was really happening on the ground or might happen in the future. Just about everything which was presented in Earth Workshops seemed to be rosy and sweet, all projects seemed a unanimous success and failures or challenges were conspicuously absent. There were too many stories and anecdotes of success but precious little evidence of what might constitute improved livelihoods and food sovereignty, improved biodiversity conservation or even community empowerment. There was little to indicate how Terra Madre taps into or aligns itself with other global small farmer or social movements say La Via Campesina who by the way have been making their own case for small farmers as custodians of biodiversity at COP10 in Nagoya this week.
Personally, I found the four days unwieldy. I felt given its size and scope that Terra Madre might benefit by trying to draw its many threads together into some form of coordinated strategy and programme of work including some kind of plenary process to review progress and plan action, to make recommendations, resolutions and declarations. Was there even a declaration at the end of the meeting? (unfortunately, I did not attend the closing ceremony). All this may well already happen, there may indeed be a mechanism to channel all this energy and creativity and keep people engaged post-Terra Madre and as a Terra Madre novice I am simply not aware of it. I certainly hope so.