A case of successful cooperation in Italy

An initiative for responsible and environmental consumption

Pia Valota, luglio 2008

Carrara, a city of Tuscany with 65,000 inhabitants is well known for its white marble. The old « Place for herbs » was renewed. Its traditional function has been restored through a market exclusively devoted to products which are organic and typical of the local agriculture.

Initially simple, the initiative promoted by the Deputy to Productive Activities of the Municipality, Andrea Zanetti, has become complex - but also richer - as new actors have joined in.

Each of 14 new counters provided by the administration to 40 vendors chosen to come to offer their products, each illustrate on a panel, the small business of the vendor and its history. So visitors may receive information and advice on responsible consumption, a counter is assigned to the co-leader association of the project ACU, Associazione Consumatori Utenti, and any other association of consumers wishing to participate.

Next to the open market, a hall in the rehabilitated former Moulin Forti hosts conferences on the subject of healthy nutrition, lifestyles, labelling of products, but also all issues that must be associated with consumption: climate change, water, energy, agriculture, waste, world hunger and global justice, rights and responsibilities, solidarity… The annual programme has been set.

To complete the cultural programme around the new market, the Assistant to Public Instruction, Giovanna Bernardini, includes educational initiatives for children, aimed at sustainable consumption in the School Plan. The ACU will lead the activities in schools and elsewhere, which will involve young people. A contest with prizes will be launched.

For now, events are held monthly, every first Saturday, but the market will soon become a biweekly rendezvous and its magnitude will expand further next year. This intention has been repeatedly expressed by the directors. They notably included the market in the Local Plan for Trade in public spaces, which guarantees it a spot through a permanent decision.

The market is indeed an integral part of the strategy of the municipality, which aims to renovate and revitalize the old downtown of Carrara, its old buildings and public places. In doing so, the municipality adds value to its historical heritage and encourages its maintenance.

Special attention for products which are local, organic and typical is characteristic to all directors of Tuscany, following the recommendations of Law No 18/2002 which implements organic/typical/traditional food supply via public tender and supports programs for food education. In a few days, the agglomeration of Carrara will award a contract to public canteens, schools and hospitals, with a call to tender which provides that all food is typical or organic.

The small traditional producers have little or no structured relationships, even in the same territory. The new market has given them the opportunity to begin to network, establish more rigorous contacts with agricultural associations such as Coldiretti, C.I.A.,and CTPB. The latter, for their part, have supported the program by using regional funds under Law 34/2001 for rural agricultural development. The cooperation around the market may well become an additional and important opportunity for improving technology (other than commercial) in agriculture.

The sale of products of small producers / niche market is a challenge in general. It is difficult to get consumers to know products of limited production, and conventional markets barely recognize a price differential sufficient for producers. However, the nature of the work and the expenses are proportionally higher and the bureaucracy is a barrier for them. The role of direct sales and particularly the commitment of GAS (Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale) are essential in their case.

The GAS are an original innovation that builds on the passion of Italians for food. They traditionally lead many individuals/families to visit the peninsula in search of authentic products. The GAS adds the objective of promoting purchases based on solidarity and responsible consumption. These local groups are very independent. People organize themselves, select and purchase collectively and then share products of all kinds, but especially food.

Saving money is one reason to act, perhaps the first one, but not the most important. The key is to discover the best products and often excellent niche products, to help small producers and maintain direct relationships with them, create new friendly relations, support short circuit deliveries, and employ in a useful way one’s free time. In short, the quality of life and satisfaction translate one’s feelings of solidarity; these are the main motivations of these groups, which are extremely varied, which number 500 - 1000 units. The current financial law takes them into consideration for the first time and gives them tax advantages.

When the market opened on May 24th, sales proved to be such a great success that many vendors liquidated all their goods before the market closed. « They were all very satisfied and willing to extend the initiative » said Clara Gonnelli, President of ACU-TOSCANA who worked hard over six months to unite and achieve consensus among many various actors who had never worked together in beforehand.

Fonti :

D-P-H (Dialogues, Propositions, histoires pour une citoyenneté mondiale) www.d-p-h.info/index_fr.html

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