Origin-based food for biodiversity and sustainable development: innovating knowledge management

My study looks at food quality schemes, namely Geographical Indications and Slow Food Presidia, as a tool for defending biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge (TK), while ensuring local development on the long term. This is relevant in the two European countries addressed by this study (i.e. France and Italy), where small-size local production is struggling to survive and farmers are progressively abandoning the countryside. In fact, origin food could be a strategy to create added value in marginal areas. This is also relevant in the Global South, namely in Morocco, where both the State and civil society are looking for economic development coupling with environmental sustainability and social equity, especially in mountain areas. Origin food is seen as a way to prevent soil erosion, international migration and social exclusion.                                                                      

In the context of the globalization of the food system, paradoxically narratives and defining labels aim to localize food. In a growing market niche, food that has no origin is matched against food with a meaningful origin. Example of this trend to label a food according to its origin through collective initiatives are the Geographical Indications and by the Slow Food Presidia.

GIs are primarily recognised as legal instruments for protecting consumers and producers from frauds, and are also marketing tools to differentiate specialty products. Recently, they tend to be considered as tools for the defence of biodiversity and rural development. Similarly, Slow Food Presidia address food production as a way to protect endangered breeds, varieties, techniques of production and rural landscapes.

My research considers that biodiversity and TK are influenced by the agri-food system, and in particular by the management of certifications and marketing. It aims at exploring how different quality certifications structure the practices of people on specific territories, by revealing the the changing relationships between producers and consumers, discourses and practices, institutions and local communities.

On the one hand, the study explores how the knowledge related to specialty food production is formalized in a specific environment. How local stakeholders get to create and share a code of practice, joggling from tradition to innovation of practices? Which are the authorities leading this process and how do they interplay? Through what negotiations the terroir or the origin of a product is recognized or created, and yet shared?

On the other hand, the study looks at the market side, assessing how information on quality products reaches and influences consumers. Which labels and information make sense to consumers and are able to engendered their trust and willingness to buy? To what extent enskilling consumers is an effective complement to the labeling strategy? How should public policies support the sharing of practices and knowledge among local stakeholders?

Mariagiulia Mariani