Article of, (in Italian) 25/4/2020

Diego Moratti (Solidarity Economy Network): the lockdown imposed a rethinking of habits. Many are approaching the world of critical consumerism. An opportunity to be exploited
By Corrado Fontana

With a coronavirus pandemic still in progress, we try to pick up the signs for a positive outcome. And the world of the solidarity economy, that of gruppi d’acquisto (GAS) and the short supply chain, relations between critical consumers and small producers, healthy food and the right price, is discovering a pleasant truth: it has so far responded well to the difficulties. And that’s not all. The solidarity-based economy has strengthened the certainty that certain well-established good practices can be successful on the model of intensive agriculture. What’s more, thanks to lockdown restrictions, the number of consumers interested in “alternative” purchasing styles is growing.
“Many daily habits have changed obligatorily due to the virus, with the consequent potential to root – or start from scratch – the affirmation of more sustainable practices” confirms Diego Moratti, member of the national board of the newly founded Italian Solidarity Economy Network (its birth as RIES was made official just before the outbreak of the epidemic). “Such practices, if integrated and added together, can affect and bring about effective social and economic change”.

Could this crisis therefore become a watershed?

This is exactly what emerged at the founding moment of the new RIES on Wednesday 22 March 2020. We asked more than 70 representatives from all over Italy: there was a strong convergence on the value of the historical opportunity we are facing.

What contribution can the realities of the solidarity economy concretely provide to relaunch the agricultural sector after the coronavirus crisis?
“We have activated relations with other networks of producers and with actors involved in the defence of peasant agriculture in the direction of agro-ecology: the first objective was to propose to the most sensitive members of Parliament the possible recognition of our systems of production and distribution of quality food in government decrees gradually issued. The second objective is now to seek unified lines of intervention for the post-virus within a medium-long period of economic crisis, the most serious in the last 100 years (i.e. since ’29)”.

What role does the solidarity economy play in the sustainable production of food, in the transition to organic agriculture, in the processes of social inclusion?

“The realities of the solidarity economy are mainly aimed at an “internal” market and a “conscious” demand, which knows the producers and chooses them for a series of reasons (not so much for an alleged convenience or supermarket convenience). For these reasons (environmental sustainability, social inclusion, cooperative forms) the consumer decides to be “solidarity” with the producer.

This pivotal concept, even in times of economic crisis, can allow for the “holding” of support for that part of sustainable agriculture – organic, social inclusion – that leverages on our GAS, small producers’ markets and similar practices. Provided that these activities are allowed in legal and security terms in the various emergency decrees”.

The civil economy has flexibility and resilience. In this crisis, have RIES and GAS confirmed similar characteristics?

“A long-distance meeting organized by RIES at the end of March with about a hundred participants, mostly “GAS experts”, revealed “creative” responses from local chains of production and distribution of genuine food with respect to the regulations contained in government decrees. The latter have placed constraints on our relationship systems, to the benefit of large-scale distribution. We have made the most of these experiences, providing those in difficulty with a series of materials to facilitate the recognition, even formal, by mayors and prefects of the activities of the GAS or small producers who have proposed to make home deliveries.
After an initial setback, many purchasing groups got back on track by reinventing ways of sourcing products, storing them and delivering them to families. For example, condominium GAS have been proposed and new spaces for sorting goods designed to maintain social distancing.

Other realities have developed platforms for online or telephone orders or have joined the social aid circuits of the various municipalities, information and delivery of local civil protection or groups of volunteers born for the emergency. In other words, resilience and flexibility are typical qualities of these alternative supply circuits”.

Will you also succeed in inducing a rethinking of the current agricultural model in a more sustainable sense?

“All the subjects of the Italian Solidarity Economy Network – the GAS, Fair trade and ethical finance organisations – are aware that the considerable changes in people’s habits, even if forced, give an exceptional opportunity to reflect on how much our consumption, including food consumption, impacts on agriculture, the environment and the economy in general.

We are certain that the model of the solidarity-based economy responds to many critical issues that the system of agro-industrialism and the depersonalisation of economic relations has brought to extremes. In particular, I am thinking of environmental sustainability and pollution. The crisis caused by the pandemic, therefore, can be used to spread our good practices. Provided that they can be grasped and recognized by citizens and institutions as a better and preferable model, alternative and concretely activated”.