On June 7, 2023, a Biodiversity Festival took place in Bracciano, Italy. The Biodiversity Festival, organized by the Navdanya International in collaboration with the Steering Committee of the Biodistrict of Bracciano and Martignano Lakes, and under the patronage of the Municipality of Bracciano, saw the participation of many key players in the area. The festival hosted the region’s farmers, the young participants in the “Biodiversity is Life” Project, associations and local institutions interested in defending the ecological and social heritage of the Lakes of Bracciano and Martignano and the neighboring municipalities.
It was a day of debates, conviviality, workshops and performances focused on the theme of local food, agroecology and the role of the community in promoting more sustainable and ecological production models.
The festival was the result of a long process of raising awareness on the many realities present in the area. An important opportunity for local organic farmers, associations, institutions, young people and citizens to meet and share a common long-term vision on the emerging Biodistrict of Bracciano and Martignano Lakes, focusing on good agricultural practices and the quality of local products.
Lake Bracciano is a haven for biodiversity and together with Lake Martignano was established as a Regional Natural Park in 1999. Forests cover about 30 percent of the entire area of the Park, with a very high diversity of tree, plant and animal species. The lake constitutes the second largest wetland in the Lazio Region in terms of quantity of wintering waterfowl with more than 200 bird species identified.
Citizens, agroecological producers, and local governments have been working for years to preserve and guard this heritage, protecting it from the expansion of industrial and intensive agriculture, particularly the advance of hazelnut monocultures surrounding the area. The example of nearby Lake Vico, where the spillage of agricultural chemicals has induced processes of eutrophication and hypoxia in the lake, along with the official lack of water potability in some neighboring municipalities, is an important warning not to expose the water resources and the biological heritage of Lakes Bracciano and Martignano to the same fate.
The Biodiversity Festival hosted a farmer’s market with local organic producers, showcasing the great diversity and quality of the local produce.
Also held in the square were workshops open to all on the production of naturally fermented beverages, a live cooking show on the use of wild herbs, a workshop on making box vegetable gardens for children, and dance performances on the theme of regenerating ecosystems.
“Biodistricts, advantages and opportunities for farmers”, was the first debate held in the morning, and was attended by representatives of the Municipalities of the area of Bracciano and Martignano lakes. The debate addressed the issue of the biodistrict model in Lazio and Italy, as well as the difficulties and limitations that small organic producers face today from the point of view of economic sustainability. The discussion stressed how biodistricts can be a valid tool to cope with these difficulties by building networks and communities to support organic and local farms. The topic of fisheries and the problems linked to climate change and declining native fauna were also discussed.
In the afternoon, the Navdanya International’ project “Biodiversity is Life: Let’s Discover it and Protect it Together – Safeguarding and Discovering the Environmental Heritage of Bracciano Lake” (co-funded by the Italian Buddhist Union and the Waldensian Church) was presented, in collaboration with the high school “Liceo Ignazio Vian” of Bracciano.
The young “biodiversity guardians” were the actual protagonists of the festival. Together with the organic farmers and the educators, they illustrated their experiences and discoveries, showing how young people can be real agents of change.
Following the photo exhibition and presentation of the young people’s botanical drawings, Dr Vandana Shiva, president of Navdanya International, awarded the participants with a T-shirt bearing the “Biodiversity is Life” project logo.
The young people expressed their appreciation for the experiential learning process that led them to understand the role of farmers. Representatives of the farms involved in the project, Agrihouse, Le Bricchiette, and Orto di Clapi, expressed their appreciation for the initiative, as it gives dignity to their work by sharing it with the new generations. “Biodiversity,” the producers emphasized, “is an important value at every level of society, whether one is a farmer, a teacher, a restaurateur, and so on. And both wild and cultivated biodiversity are essential.”
The project presentation was followed by the public debate “Regenerating Agriculture to Regenerate the Land. Agroecology, Biodistricts and Farmers’ Markets to Protect Biodiversity.”
The speakers highlighted how the globalized industrial food system is among the major causes of the environmental, health and social crisis we are facing, bringing direct testimonies of their own experiences of resistance and perseverance in working in harmony with nature for ecological and healing food economies.
According to Stefano Bettera from the Italian Buddhist Union, the work being done on the land is actually emerging as an act of belonging and love. A necessary approach to rebuild the relationship between people and the land at a time in history when the greed of multinational corporations has changed the very way we conceive of the earth, considering it as something separate from us, and as an object of extraction for profit.
It is precisely from these considerations that the idea of the Biodistrict was born. A territorial pact formed between producers, citizens and local governments to protect their local environmental heritage. This is also the story of the Via Amerina Biodistrict, chaired by Famiano Crucianelli that has witnessed an assault on the territory by industrial agriculture, where 75 to 80 percent of the land is occupied by hazelnut monocultures. Polluted air, soil and water are the result of intensive production promoted by the world’s third largest agribusiness multinational, Ferrero.
The Biodistrict thus stands as a major intervention to address the crises caused by industrial agriculture such as building resilience in the face of climate change and water cycle remediation. The fact that so many biodistricts are being established is a sign of hope, according to Antonella Litta, (ISDE – International Society of Doctors for the Environment)) who spoke about her experience on the problems of Lake Vico.
The story of Lake Vico is a bitter one, because the warnings made by the Lazio Region, the Province of Viterbo, and research organizations to not introduce intensive cultivation that could alter the ecosystem, have gone ignored. Over the past 30 years, intensive hazelnut cultivation, with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, has caused enormous damage to the lake, now triggering the phenomenon of eutrophication and anoxia.
The Bracciano and Martignano Lakes Biodistrict hopes to draw on this experience, as well as to engage with other biodistricts to promote a governance model that respects local environmental concerns. This was the message of Barbara Giorgi (Agrihouse), chair of the Promoting Committee, who pointed to the creation of well-being for citizens and the lake ecosystem as the main goals of the Biodistrict. One of the prerogatives of the biodistrict, as Elena Carone (Le Bricchiette) noted, is to get the community and producers together to discuss what we really want for our future. “The flavors, colors, images of our farms”, Lorenzo Maggi (Orto di Clapi) pointed out “are the best ways to communicate the change we want to bring about through the creation of the Biodistrict”.
Concluding the proceedings, Dr Vandana Shiva emphasized how the agroecology drive of biodistricts can be a solution to climate change, water pollution, the biodiversity crisis, and most of the causes of the health crisis. The president of Navdanya International described the biodiversity conservation movement and the biodistricts movement as a movement of resistance to the destruction of life because it can regenerate lands, waters, health and local communities.
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“Local, organic farms & biodistricts are the solution to climate change, water pollution, the biodiversity crisis, to disease. That is what we are celebrating here today, the solution” @drvandanashiva Biodiversity Festival in Bracciano, Italy, on June 7th https://t.co/vJZrfmUq1f
— Navdanya International (@NavdanyaInt) June 12, 2023
The Biodiversity Festival hosted a farmers’ market with local organic producers, activities in the square, and workshops for adults and children related to the theme of agriculture and biodiversity @drvandanashiva pic.twitter.com/GpdW9LJwDy
— Navdanya International (@NavdanyaInt) June 8, 2023
The debate ‘Regenerating Agriculture to Regenerate the Land’-to protect biodiversity succeeded in raising awareness in the audience about causes of the crises we are facing & how solution is in local, ecologic food economies of care @drvandanashivahttps://t.co/OX7aF5pQnu
— Navdanya International (@NavdanyaInt) June 8, 2023
— Navdanya International (@NavdanyaInt) June 9, 2023