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The Mesopotamian Ecology Movement at Terra Madre

Five thousand delegates from 160 countries, over 800 exhibitors, 300 Slow Food Presidia and 500 Terra Madre food communities will take part in the most important international event dedicated to food culture, back with a new and improved formula for 2016.

Put simply, Terra Madre Salone del Gusto offers the widest spectrum of foods from across the world you’ll ever find in one place, and what’s more, with its producers there in the flesh. There really is nothing else like it. And this year, it’s about to get even better, as the event steps outside to take over Turin’s great squares and parks. Just imagine: thousands of people and products spread across the city’s most iconic locations, all at your fingertips, so you can taste and discover the world of food as never before.

One such producer who’ll be coming to Turin for the party is Ercan Ayboga, international relations co-ordinator of the Mesopotamia Ecology Movement based in the region of Kurdistan in Turkey. From humble beginnings opposing construct of a dam on the river Tigris close to Hasankeyf (a battle which is still ongoing), the movement has grown beyond water-related issues to bring together peasants and farmers from across the region to work together to safeguard local ecology.

It’s worth emphasizing that the agricultural traditions in this region of the world are among the very oldest, stretching back perhaps nine thousand years, to the very dawn of civilization. Indeed, at Çayönü, 40km outside of Ercan’s city of Diyarbakir, the common ancestor of 68 different cereals is still found growing wild on the slopes of Karacadağ, where wheat was first domesticated. Of course, many of these cereals are still grown to this day in the area, as well as beans, barley, lentils, grapes, cucumbers, figs and watermelons. Ercan describes Diyarbarkir as a “city of watermelons”, but stresses that large dams on the upstream of the Tigris has led to floods and sediment which limits production of most plants to riverside plantations.

Mezopotamya-640x325The incredible biodiversity present in Turkish Kurdistan is under threat, and ironically, it’s been made possible mainly by the introduction of large-scale irrigation projects funded by the State which have made it possible to grow over greater areas. For most producers in the region, the State is also the most important customer, and it defines market prices, thus encouraging farmers to plant more profitable crops, such as corn and cotton, and abandon thousands of years of heritage. As part of the industrialization and liberalization process, tracts of land are bought up by bigger landowners, forcing smaller farmers to either leave their land or accept the conditions imposed by them.

Even if farmers choose to grown corn and cotton, it doesn’t make life easier. Neoliberal reforms push the prices for their goods down, while the cost of the oil and electricity needed to grow these more energy-intensive crops is on the increase. The widespread irrigation for agriculture is also draining water from the wells, putting a strain on resources. Once, in Turkish Kurdistan, people would celebrate the Newroz (New Year) with several days of different dried fruits, a new fruit for each day, but this is now too expensive for most, and after 80 years of extreme repression, the tradition is all but dead (though it survives in Iranian Kurdistan).

Despite the difficulties, Ercan sees signs for optimism and hope on the horizon. Through the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement farmers and food producers in the region, even in suburban areas, have started to become more ecologically sensitive, on a communal level, and have instilled a desire to protect the deep-seated agricultural culture which forms an invaluable part of world heritage. Nowadays there is still lots of organic, natural agriculture alongside the government-sponsored corn, especially in the mountains, where there is a huge diversity of seeds and plant varieties. Ercan says “We have started to lose our taste for food in the last 15 years, but we still know how to judge the quality of vegetables, and we want to save our traditional knowledge of food, because better quality means better health. We want to learn from other countries, to preserve and revive. We want to look at how other people do things and how they discuss these ideas.”

And what better place to interact with thousands of other food producers from across the planet, all facing similar problems in one way or another, and embark on a dialogue towards lasting solutions for food and communities, than by participating in the world’s greatest gastronomy event, Terra Madre Salone del Gusto? Together, we can change the future of food.


An Event by
 Città di Torino
 Slow Food
 Regione Piemonte
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With the contribution of
Official Partners
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