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Organic niche at Expo 2015

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Eataly at the World Expo
Eataly at the World Expo in Milan. Photo Karin Heinze

The world exhibition has been running in Milan since 1 May and will continue until 31 October. 20 million visitors are expected to attend. The motto of Expo 2015 is “Feed the Planet, Energy for Life”. It seems predestined to reveal to the public at large the solutions offered by organic agriculture and the organic industry. This mega-event is dominated by the giants in the agricultural and food industry – which is only to be expected. But anyone interested enough to search will find the initiatives and events that demonstrate a different approach and alternatives. These include pavilions dealing with biodiversity, organic food and Slow Food, the action network “Organic can feed the Planet”, that has produced a manifesto bearing the same name, and an Organic Week at the beginning of September.

Picture: The trade concept Eataly focuses at Expo on specialities from the different regions of Italy.

Building at Expo
Picture: People interested in protecting the environment criticise the extensive sealed areas. Photo Karin Heinze

The square kilometre site of Expo 2015 is located to the north-west of Milan. The whole area between the municipalities Rho und Pero, that used to be characterized by both industrial buildings and agriculture (110 ha), has been subjected to urban planning. Critics call it “soil sealing“. The originally planned cycle routes were not constructed, but several motorways were. The topic "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" is intended, according to the Expo concept, to link technology, innovation, culture, tradition and creativity with the themes of nutrition and food. Expo states on its website that, in view of current problems and future scenarios, the main focus is the right of all people to healthy and sufficient food. The intention is to offer a discussion forum instead of being just a showcase. At least this approach was laudable.

“Corporations instead of critical themes”

“Corporations instead of critical themes” 

was the title of a contribution by Tilmann Kleinjung, a correspondent of Bavarian Radio, shortly after the opening of Expo. He criticised the fact that, although everything revolves round the theme of nutrition, the sad reality - hunger and malnutrition – is only dealt with in the quite modest pavilion of the Vatican. The Pope had announced the Vatican’s intention of using Expo as an opportunity to give people suffering hunger a voice – an apparently hopeless endeavour in view of the dominance and opulent self-presentation of the food giants of this world. Coca Cola, Nestlé, McDonalds and other corporations are there at Expo and are making a big impact. For example, Coca Cola is celebrating its hundredth birthday with a gigantic pavilion. NGOs disapprove strongly of the fact that the food producer Nestlé is the main sponsor of the Swiss pavilion and the seed and pesticide manufacturer Syngenta is financing the presence of the city of Basel.


The Milan Charter - an experiment

The so-called Milan Charter that, among other things, deals with the right to food and clean water and sustainability in production was drawn up by the Italian government in cooperation with Expo and is to be presented at the United Nations on 16 October. The issues addressed in the Charter are hunger and malnutrition, wasting food and the exploitation of soils, forests and seas. The long list of demands in the Milan Charter include the careful use of resources, the responsibility of all actors along the value chain, the right of traditional agricultural systems to continue their methods of production, help for small farmers, maintaining traditions in terms of nutrition and the right of consumers to have access to information about what substances their food contains. Ensuring that the expanding world population is fed and at the same time that resources are conserved for future generations are described as one of the greatest challenges faced by mankind today.

The country pavilions at Expo. Photos Karin Heinze
The Pavilion of Poland
The Future Supermarket presented by Coop Italy
The Russian Pavilion
Streetfood was presented at the Dutch area
Organic can feed the Planet
Biodiversity Park
The Italian organic association FederBio has a stand in the Biodiversity Park. Photo Karin Heinze

Organic can feed the Planet is the name of the international action network that was created for the occasion of Expo (see our earlier report). Launched by the Italian organic association FederBio, the initiative is supported by the world umbrella organization IFOAM Organics International, IFOAM EU and IFOAM AgriBioMediterraneo, ISOFAR (International Society of Organic Agriculture Research), Vandana Shiva´s organization for biodiversity and organic seed, Navdanya International and various other organic initiatives. The objective is to focus discussion on feeding the world from the perspective of the organic movement. On 16 May 2015, Organic can feed the Planet was launched. The alliance sees the Milan Charter as “a unique opportunity for the whole organic and biodynamic movement to play a leading role in the discussions about these issues.“ It goes on to say their aspiration is that, together with the actors in the organic movement and like-minded organizations, companies and citizens, they will represent and share with others a vision of the future in which organic agriculture and ecological models play a leading role.


Other activities of the international organic movement
Expo Milan
The Tree of Life is a symbol and focal point at Expo 2015 in Milan. Photo Karin Heinze

On the second day of Expo attention turned for the first time to the organic movement when Vandana Shiva presented the manifesto Terra Viva. This declaration was drawn up by Navdanya International and Shiva and calls for a new social, economic and agricultural pact for the protection of soils. Once again, Vandana Shiva argues powerfully in favour of organic agriculture and appeals for the adoption of organic methods in order to create a future-oriented closed-loop economic system.

In her capacity as an ambassador of Expo, two weeks later she was one of those who officially opened the Biodiversity Park and she took part in the conference International Organic Forum. The trade fair company Bologna Fiere, that runs the Sana fair every year, is a partner of Expo 2015 and organized the 8,500 m² park and two large pavilions. Here the focus is on biodiversity and organic agriculture. In a further pavilion you find a NaturaSi organic supermarket and organic catering operated by the organic company Alce Nero


Activities by the various cooperation partners are planned for 3-5 September during the Organic Week. In the Biodiversity Park a congress will be held with programme topics drawn up by IFOAM - Organics International.  It will be mounted by the Italian trade fair company Bologna Fiere and, as the organizer of BioFach and Vivaness, NürnbergMesse. On the programme of Organic Week are feeding the world, the United Nations’ Year of Soils (see our earlier report) and the future of the organic food economy under the heading Organic 3.0. During Organic Week the manifesto “Organic can feed the Planet” will be presented to the public.

The Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is inviting people to attend a symposium on 4 September in the Swiss pavilion at Expo:   How to feed a city – visions, technologies, emotions . It will be about visions for feeding people living in cities. What solutions are offered by technology for feeding an increasingly urbanised society? What challenges do we have to face as we develop an urban food policy? The two keynote speakers - Carolyn Steel (author of the book “Hungry City”) and Maximilian Lössl (Association for Vertical Farming) – will present their ideas. The discussion will focus on the cities of Basel and Rotterdam. This symposium is, moreover, embedded in the preparation of the Urban Food Policy Pact – an initiative of the city of Milan. (Programme)


Organic area at Expo. Photos Karin Heinze
The Organic Pavilion at the Biodiversity Park with a NaturaSi organic supermarket and Alce Nero organic restaurant
Pizza and pasta is offered by at the organic restaurant
Inside the Organic Pavilion a large NaturaSi organic supermarket
People can also buy organic products at the NaturaSi supermarket
Slow Food Pavilion – educational biodiversity pathway
One of three Slow Food pavilions and the garden in the middle.
One of three Slow Food pavilions and the garden in the middle. Photo Karin Heinze

The motto of Expo also relates to the Slow Food movement, that has its roots in Italy. Carlo Petrini, the founder and international president of the Slow Food Association (active in 158 countries), regards attending Expo mainly as a networking opportunity with other international organizations that advocate “ecological sustainability, social justice, protection of biodiversity and organic agriculture”. He hopes that “Expo 2015 is not only a fair for consumers but also a fair that provides farmers, fishermen, shepherds and artisan producers with the opportunity to discuss together the political role of food. They are the producers of our daily bread and deserve to be placed at the heart of the event.”

The Slow Food area (3,500 m²) was designed with sustainability in mind: the three pavilions, constructed entirely with timber, will be taken down after Expo and can be used again. This location is intended first to be a point where everybody who identifies with the Slow Food philosophy can congregate and second to be an exhibition with photos, videos and interactive games that illustrate for visitors the problems the food system is undergoing. However, at the same time, it draws attention to many positive and practical solutions that any consumer can put into practice. Biodiversity and the variety of food are presented in a different area. The Theatre of Taste, with workshops, conferences, exhibitions, information-gathering meetings with producers and a sustainable vegetable garden representing one of the main projects of Slow Food  – protecting local food and local seed in the interest of sustainability food sovereignty – rounds off the Slow Food show.






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