Ecosystems: a lens to understand the world

29 September 2020

It’s an idea that has resisted the world-changing shockwave of Covid-19, and runs through all the elements which make up the six-month calendar of Terra Madre, from October 8, 2020 to April 2021.

Ecosystems are the core concept of the New Geography which underpin many of the events in the Terra Madre 2020 program, and indeed the logo of this year’s edition.


Among the many digital events on offer, the main conference dedicated to the theme will be held on October 8 at 5 p.m. Rome time: New Geographies and Possible Futures, a dialog between Italian geographer Franco Farinelli, British economist Paul Collier and International Relations expert Virginie Raisson, moderated by Davide Papotti, Professor of Cultural Geography at the University of Parma.

Why ecosystems? Because in order to understand what has happened to the world in recent months, where our attention has been focused on the pandemic and the economic crisis that it has provoked, we must take ecosystems into consideration. And, as underlined by a multitude of world events, the real threat is the environmental crisis, which is both a cause and an amplifier of other crises. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how the dominant paradigm of the 20th century—infinite growth—is increasingly self-contradictory. The problem regards the health of ecological systems, the increase of social inequality worldwide, the constant and unimaginable scale of biodiversity loss, the disrespect for human rights, and various forms of malnutrition. All these phenomena are interrelated, and must be considered as such.

Tune in from 5 p.m. Rome time on October 8 to listen to what our panel has to say on the Facebook page of Slow Food International


Ecosystems are also the focus of the first four forums in our program—you can follow them live by registering your interest, free of charge—but capacity is limited to sign up now to receive a link to the live stream.

In these forums our delegates will discuss how each of these four macro-ecosystems share common problems and therefore, common solutions.


On October 9 at both 9 a.m. and 5.45 p.m. Rome time we’ll discuss the Lowlands.

The Lowlands are, more than any other, the ecosystem where polar opposite food systems are so strikingly counterposed.

On the one hand, monocultures and intensive operations; on the other, diversified, small-scale farms. Different scales, different production practices, different agricultural, economic and social systems. Many of these contrasts are evident in the roots of agriculture: seeds. GMOs and traditional seeds represent two antithetical ideas of agriculture, the economy, the environment and human society. This forum is dedicated to the sustainability of traditional seeds that are, Slow Food believes, an important instrument for mitigating the climate crisis. Focusing increasingly on existing biodiversity, rather than working to develop new transgenic seeds: that’s our proposal.

As in every forum, we discuss the issue with delegates from across the world. Register now to follow the event.


On October 11, at 9 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. Rome time our focus turns to the Highlands.

In recent decades the highlands have seen a disastrous hemorrhage. Depopulation, abandonment and decline, often together with hydrological instability.

Across the world, however, there are numerous example of good management, of care and love. There are lots of themes “on the plate”: mountain agriculture, which promotes local varieties as a sustainable resource; our ability to safeguard and pass down productive, constructive traditions; and human resilience, made of women and men who take care of these difficult lands, making a career out of it and even inventing new professions.


On October 11, at 9.a. and 8.30 p.m. Rome time we consider the most fundamental common good for our survival on Earth: water.

In many countries across the world, water has become a source of conflict. Wars are fought over both freshwater and saltwater and the resources they contain, across international borders.

The examples of expropriation and conflict are numerous: in Chile rivers have been privatized to guarantee water resources for avocado monocultures, as have parts of the Nile, the main water resource for many African countries, the Indus river in Pakistan, which traces its source to India, the Jordan River basin, and many others. In this forum we’ll ask how we can guarantee water access for everyone, and fight back against privatization. Can we protect through efficient forms of governance and management? How?


Finally on October 12, at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Rome time we shift our attention to an ecosystem that may not usually be considered one, but should be: the city, and its relationship with the countryside, can really make the difference to the future of the planet.

With Edible Cities, Cities of the Future we show how food has contributed to modelling urban spaces since the dawn of civilization. The first cities were built close to important agricultural areas, representing a crossroads for all the products of the surrounding countryside. Their formation was intended to foster a relationship with the rural world, maintaining a balance between the productive system and consumers.

Cities are growing at a impressive pace across the world today. In 2007, for the first time, the world’s urban population overtook its rural population, and today fully half of the world’s population live in urban centers that occupy just 2% of the Earth’s surface. Cities consume the majority of available resources: not just 70% of all the food produced worldwide, but also the soil, water, air and services. Cities are the main drivers of the climate crisis, but looking at the problem from a new perspective, they can also be the protagonists of change. By putting the food system at the top of the agenda, with knowledge exchange and the sharing and promotion of best practices from the grassroots up, cities have enormous potential to enact the change we need.

Details of all the speakers and experiences that we’ll share are online now! Sign up today to get your live stream link.

by Silvia Ceriani,

Check all the conferences and forums in the Terra Madre 2020 program. All digital events are free to access, but forums require you to register in advance.