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Expo: from refugee camps to farmland, Ases-Cia illustrates a global cooperation project

Agriculture the only answer to the exodus of despair. President Dino Scanavino: “We have shown that an alternative model is possible: cultivating the earth to nurture hope and feed the planet.” In the period 2010-2014 implemented projects worth more than one million euros between Paraguay, Mozambique and Senegal.

The exodus of despair can only be stopped with agriculture. This was the message that the Cia-Confederazione italiana agricoltori launched at Expo during the “From the land the only hope for peace and development” day organized by Ases, the NGO promoted by the Confederation, which has been working for years in all disadvantaged areas of the world and today illustrated a worldwide cooperation project. Dino Scanavino, president of Cia and Ases, reiterated how the model brought forward by the Italian farmers’ NGO “has shown that a different way to develop international cooperation is possible.”

“It is essential”-Scanavino explained-“to work to create, through agricultural activity, through the enhancement of rural communities and the promotion of the identity products of the different countries, a better living condition for the populations. The tragedy of migrants taking place on the southern shore of the Mediterranean makes it necessary to find lasting solutions capable of rebuilding an economic and social fabric capable of averting the desperate flight of those populations. We have the duty to contribute to the growth of those countries; to strengthen, through the setting up of new and increased agricultural cooperation programs, a sustainable development policy such as to offer the populations, and especially the young people of those countries, a perspective.” With Ases’ projects, he added, “we have shown that an alternative model is possible: cultivating the earth to nurture hope and truly feed the planet.”

With this “day,” Ases wanted to tell about its experiences in international cooperation at Expo, making a kind of worldwide format out of it. The projects of Ases-Cia, which has deployed substantial resources in its nearly 25 years of activity, all stem from listening to the needs of local people and are substantiated as an accomplished intervention aimed at improving the profitability of crops, implanting productive technologies, but also as support for the needs of education, health care, and cultural dissemination. “We need to work in three directions,” Scanavino says. Improve the living conditions of rural people, spread education to consolidate know-how, make crops more productive also through the use of technology and research. This is what we are doing with Ases.”

Suffice it to say that between 2010 and 2014 alone, Ases-Cia completed projects worth more than 700,000 euros, in countries such as Paraguay, Mozambique, Côte d’Ivoire, Angola, and Senegal, to which must be added the more than 370,000 euros activated with an AATO project in Paraguay to build seven artesian wells in the department of Misiones. Projects worth an additional 158,000 euros have already been activated during this year, particularly in Mozambique and Paraguay as child support and for rural development. But about twenty percent of Ases’ activity also takes place in Italy, through projects (such as in Lombardy or Basilicata) aimed at food education and the enhancement of rural heritage. All Ases projects are in partnership with international bodies, local communities, Catholic or other denominational missions, and are often fully funded by the CIA NGO.

Among the projects that Ases has financed and concluded are the cultivation of rice for food self-sufficiency in the rural community of Oulampane (Senegal), the creation of health and shelter centers as well as vegetable gardens in the district of Marromeu (Mozambique), the cultivation of mint and passion fruit in the department of Misiones (Paraguay), the integrated agricultural development of the rural community of Ouarkhokh (Senegal) through the creation of the village garden, the construction of a kindergarten in the municipality of N’Dalatando (Angola) aimed at welcoming the children of working women at a farm that arose on a 70-hectare plot made available by the local Diocese.

These are just a few examples of the plans pursued by Ases around the world and discussed today during the proceedings at Expo in the Earth Theater Conference Room in Biodiversity Park. After an introductory report by Claudio Guccinelli (director of Ases), Livia Pomodoro (president Milan Center for Food Law and Policy), Antonio Gaudioso (secretary general Cittadinanzattiva) and Andrea Sgarbossa for ENAMA spoke. Next, Ases projects around the world were illustrated through reports by Giuditta Politi (president of Cia Ancona) on activities in Mozambique, Mario Maiorana (agricultural entrepreneur) for Uganda, Norberto Bellini (Ases vice-president) to illustrate projects in Paraguay, Leone De Vita (Gruppo Abele) on activities in the Ivory Coast, and Gianni Rasera (I Care Onlus) for Senegal. Instead, it was Davide Cinquanta’s turn (University of Insubria) turn to outline a two-year project that Ases is developing in Milan with particular attunement to Expo themes, “Feeding the Changing City.”

“I believe that the experience of Ases is the most in tune with the idea of Expo: feed the planet, energy for life”-President Scanavino highlighted in his conclusions. As Cia we wanted to draw attention to the inescapable theme of how, through agriculture, a new model of development can and must be set. It is necessary to work to build an economic perspective for those populations that today are driven to exodus out of desperation. International cooperation in agriculture is nowadays equivalent to ‘peacekeeping’. It is necessary to ensure income to businesses and social protagonism to farmers first of all in order to feed the planet, but in order for the right to food not to be a generic appeal to solve the food emergency,” Scanavino concluded, “it is necessary to redraw a map of new world development capable of satisfying the demand for food on the one hand and preserving natural resources on the other. It is necessary, therefore, to strengthen at the same time the fight against practices such as ‘land grabbing,’ such as the privatization of water resources, such as the reduction of agricultural specialties to commodities, which are the extrinsic expression of a model that impoverishes the planet, does not solve the food issue and mortifies the centrality of agricultural value.”

What it is and what Ases-Cia does

Ases, the NGO promoted by the Cia-Confederazione italiana agricoltori, has an extra-national origin. It was founded in 1975 in Belgium at the initiative of Norberto Bellini, who brought together a group of people to support the people of Paraguay who were experiencing years of extreme suffering. Thus the “Centre de Documentation Paysanne du Paraguay” was born. In the early 1980s, these initiatives were also launched in Italy, where the “Solidarity and Development Association” (Ases) was established in 1986 and assumed legal personality by notarial deed in 1991. Ases today is a nongovernmental organization (NGO), non-profit and relying on voluntary support from members and those willing to contribute.

Ases, which has always been inextricably linked with the Italian Farmers Confederation from which Norberto Bellini and many of the associates came, strengthened this bond in 2002, which was officially sanctioned in 2003 through the formalization by the national presidency of the Cia of the assignment given to Ases to carry out the role of structure qualified for international development cooperation activities on behalf of the Confederation. Since that year, the national president of Cia has also taken over as president of Ases. During 2008, local Ases offices were established at regional Cia facilities in Abruzzo, Lombardy and Lazio, followed by Puglia in 2010 and Marche, Basilicata and Trentino in 2011.

Because of its history and origin, Ases has worked primarily on behalf of Paraguay while expanding to other countries in Latin America and Africa. It has implemented cooperation projects, mostly co-financed by the European Union, in Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Peru, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Ivory Coast and Senegal. In its nearly twenty-five years of existence, Ases has completed nearly sixty development projects benefiting several hundred thousand people, with a total disbursement of about 12.5 million.

Ases implements projects in an integrated form for small-scale farmers (women and men) in developing countries to ensure:

  • Decent housing to families living in rural areas.
  • Supporting rural families’ access to basic educational and sanitation services.
  • Access to fertile land and water for low-resource farmers, especially women.
  • The development of local storage and transportation facilities.
  • Access for small producers to local, regional and global markets.
  • Participation of small producers and their representatives in policy discussions.
  • Support for local farmers’ cooperatives and other forms of collective organization in the agricultural supply chain.

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