Expo dei Popoli, Milan, June 3-5, 2015

Since 2011, a number of Italian organizations operating in very diverse sectors (development, environment, human rights, producers and consumers rights, etc.) have been looking forward to the “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” Universal Exposition held in Milan with the aim of influencing the public debate with another concept of Feeding the Planet, based on the principles of food sovereignty and environmental justice.  Their final goal was to hold an international forum, the People’s Expo, in Milan on June, 3-5, 2015, animated by around 20 international multi-country delegations of networks already active on the issues of food sovereignty, environmental justice and human rights, for a total of 200 delegates.


FS through Agroecology

A 10-people international delegation from Urgenci has been invited to participate in this event.

  • Judith Hitchman, advocacy officer, took part to the organizing process within the Steering Committee:

The first meeting to explore the potential participation of social movements in Expo dei Popoli took place last November in Rome, and brought together a few members of the Via Campesina, IPC (International Planning Committee), Nyeleni Europe and Urgenci. The immediate and key preoccupation was to use the opportunity as a space to communicate on our work, and also to ensure that our long-standing efforts in the appropriate decision-making spaces was in no way captured by the official Expo (sponsored by many transnational agribusiness corporations). As members of the Steering Committee, this was a key concern, and one for which we collectively fought until the very end.

Urgenci had a strong multi-continental gender balanced and essentially young delegation from China, Japan, Québec, the USA, Mali for the intercontinental members, and Hungary, France, Ireland, the Spanish Basque Country, Austria and Italy for Europe. However there were more consumers than producers in the delegation, as June is a key moment when they are far too busy in their fields to take a 5-day break. The fact that there was an Urgenci Charter-writing meeting back-to-back with the Expo also meant that people who participated in both were away from home for over a week!

The organisation of the Expo was, on the whole positive. There was plenty of time for inter-networking between networks that do not always work closely together; this has led to some ideas for potential new projects. Urgenci’s participation in the Expo dei Popoli was marked by the excellent interventions in Speaker’s Corner (Isa Alvarez intervention is on the Expo site, with a link on the Urgenci Facebook page). Judith Hitchman made one of the final speeches on the strategy and way forward, drawing on all the work done by Urgenci and the allies in other social movements, and explaining the full complexity that this involves in terms of the different institutional entry points.

The Expo dei Popoli gave us all a chance to meet some of our members from different countries and continents who we rarely have the opportunity of seeing, as well as strengthening many of our alliances.

At the end of the 3 days, we were invited to the Mayor’s Palace for an aperitif. This included a short speech by Andrea Calori, Urgenci’s current President, who is also an eminent member of the Milan Food Policy Council.

Judith took part to the closing remarks session, and made a presentation on Strategies for changing Food Systems.

  • Zsofi Perenyi, TVE, Hungary: Pachamama and the diversity

Expo dei Popoli in Milan was an amazing and inspiring event where people from all over the World met for some days in order to talk about food sovereignty and other important issues together. Exchanging experiences with farmers and consumers from different continents made me realise that we are facing with similar challenges (e.g. the gap between consumers and farmers, the expansion of huge companies) which could be addressed also with a joint effort. Consumers in Hungary would like to have access for good quality food, just like in Asia, Africa or USA. Small-scale farmers are threatened by financially strong companies everywhere. And there are many networks like Urgenci which have the aim to achieve food sovereignty, solidarity economy and sustainability, so it is definitely important to be in touch with them and react for important issues together.

From the Hungarian perspective it was really interesting to see how local municipalities could help in spreading and supporting local food initiatives. At the moment, we are also thinking at TVE how we could connect local actors and step over the everyday politics with them.

Also it was interesting to learn about the concept of agroecology which is not a term used by us. We started to learn about this topic, because it is something which synthesize our aspirations within the Hungarian CSA movement. In a time, when climate change and social problems determinate our days, it would be really important to make more and more people understand how strongly nature and our society are connected and this should be the way to move forward.”

I’m so thankful I was invited to join the Expo dei Popoli in Milan!  This was my first experience as part of an Urgenci delegation.  I greatly appreciated the focus on agroecology as an alternative food system value-chain response to the multi-national corporate food chain.  Hearing farmers, labor movement, and fair trade movement organizers discuss their perspectives on food systems and how they communicate about agroecology was particularly valuable.  These perspectives will inform our conversation at the local, grassroots level here in Wisconsin.

Connecting with and hearing about CSA from organizers around the globe was a highlight.  I was particularly grateful to meet Isabelle St-Germain, a geographically close colleague from Equiterre in Canada, and for the opportunities we discussed for future partnership and collaboration.

This experience reminded me that while our work is focused on the local connections we make among farmers and consumers, we are not alone in this endeavor!  We can learn from others working to strengthen small-holder farmers, improve labor and economic conditions, and improve health for people and the environment.  These are the values we share and I look forward to bringing these lessons from across the globe to our farmers and community.”

  • Isabelle St-Germain, Senior Director of Équiterre: “Équiterre at the Milan Peoples’ Expo: meetings and solutions to better feed the world!

I had the unique opportunity to be invited by Urgenci at Expo Dei Popoli in Milan last June. The topics of this forum were: Food sovereignty and agroecology. It brought together hundreds of representatives from more than sixty countries around the world wishing to echo the Milan World Expo, which puts forward the large agribusiness. The objective of the participants was to share and pass another vision on how to feed the world, more sustainably and emphasizing on the solidarity between producers and consumers.

During the three-day forum, many exchanges helped highlighting the flaws in the current food system, which generates intensive agriculture with massive use of pesticides, small farmers’ exploitation and far too much waste. For example, did you know that 80% of the world’s poorest are those who feed us? Besides the richness of debates and discussions, many solutions have been put forward to find sustainable ways to change the current agri-food system, such as establishing direct marketing between producers and citizens.

As a representative of Équiterre, a Quebec organization with a 20-years experience in local and responsible sourcing, I was invited to speak about community supported agriculture, especially about our “family farmers” network, which now gathers over 100 farms and feeds almost 40 000 citizens per week (via 500 delivery points and 13,000 subscriptions to organic baskets).

Thanks to this unique experience, I’ve met with the dynamic members of the Urgenci community who are going through similar challenges and was able to deepen my knowledge on food issues.”

> Isabelle was a keynote speaker on “Create Alternative Food Networks and Food Policy Councils”. Here is her presentation.

  • Narumi Yoshikawa, Director of Global Environmental Forum, Vice manager and Lecturer of Waseda Environmental Institution of Waseda University, Japan : “People’s Expo emphasized the grassroots strategy opposing globalization by local solidarity”.

180 people from 50 countries took part in People’s Expo in Milan to exchange unique theories and experiences on how to reclaim our “Food Sovereignty” as an human basic right.

“Teikei” is an index of spiritual happiness nowadays. As such, Urgenci show concrete strategies. Our movement, which protects farmers’ dignity and seeks to expand solidarity throughout the whole food chain, aims at rebuilding the entire food community. I think the challenge for Asia, is to train people’s media literacy about the globalized food system. I found my path conveying the voices of farmers Unions and people’s associations which form part of the Urgenci network. Thank you for sharing!”

  • Isa Alvarez, Nekasarea network, EHNE-Bizkaia, Basque country, Expo dei Popoli: Food sovereignty and Solidarity Economy, agents of change

Milan gave us a warm welcome, as both the weather and human relations were warm indeed! Hundreds of people and movements gathered together to reclaim food systems, as TNCs pretend they are feeding the world meanwhile we know this is not possible without a powerful peasantry. So this meeting put La Via Campesina in the limelight, but they were not alone.

Besides the role of small-scale farmers producing the food, the consumers importance has been highlighted as a transformative political element. Solidarity Economy played a central role, being the umbrella giving us values and strategies under which we all feel sheltered. Likewise, the word NETWORKS was the buzzword in all the working groups, gaining an increased visibility. CSA networks are a key worldwide for the development of food sovereignty and, although they have already done good work, many tasks remain ahead of us if we want to build sustainable alternative models of food production and distribution.

My experience with Urgenci these days has been a constant learning. I have personally seen the degree of importance given to the CSA internationally, which gives an idea of the level of work performed and the degree of consideration Urgenci is getting. For me, it has been a great pleasure to share experiences with people who bring us so much and enrich us daily.”

Delegates participated with commitment in the various moments of the forum, which included plenaries and working groups:

AFS Expo

  • Jocelyn Parot, General Secretary, Urgenci: Being a Political Facilitator at Expo dei Popoli

I was lucky to be the Political Facilitator for the workshop on Alternative Distribution Food Systems. The most challenging aspect of Expo dei Popoli was the lack of final goal: no declaration, no strategic plan was expected, but rather a kind massive mutual update about the participating organizations’ calendars. It was indeed an unique opportunity to meet activists and organizations from so many different geographical backgrounds. In our workshop alone, all 6 continents were represented, as well as all the different stages of the Alternative Food Distribution Systems, including Fair Trade.

We came up with an interesting figure, called the Strategic Pentagon for Alternative Food Distribution Systems. The 5 sides all depict a type of actors to target in order to promote AFDS.

When going clockwise and beginning at 12.00, the first side is the one of Local authorities, which have a major role to play to foster AFDS development, through public procurement and policymaking. We had several positive examples represented in our workshop, including Rio de Janeiro and Utrecht.

The second side is the the one of individuals, with an emphasis on training in agroecology for farmers and consumers’ choice, which requires education.

The basis of our pentagon is the side of networks, civil society organizations. This is the level of sharing tools and resources to support individual activists.

We want to multiply the exchanges of best practices between municipalities, between both farmers and consumers, and also to benefit from experienced networks like Equiterre in Quebec.

The two last sides bring the strategy to the international policy level. One stresses the need to address international institutions, especially the FAO. The other focuses on communication to the mass public, in order to make the Food Sovereignty Movement heard. Both dimensions will be at the top of our priorities during the next months until the Climate Change Summit takes place next December in Paris.

Expo dei Popoli, with its excellent mass media coverage, including numerous national Italian TV reports and articles in quality newspapers like the Guardian, was an interesting step in this direction.


Please read the final document “Food Sovereignty through Agroecology: solutions to mend broken food systems”