IFAD's Near East and North Africa Division continues its annual 2010 Retreat in Tuscany, Italy

The second day of NEN’s annual Retreat in Tuscany began with a visit to the headquarters of the Community of Amiata association (Communita Montana Amiata Gorssetano) in the mountainous village of Arcidosso, some 40 kilometres south-west of Chianciano Terme, where a number of territorial development (TD) projects supported by the EU are under implementation.

The President of the Community of Amiata, Dr Franco Ulivieri, welcomed the Retreat participants and briefed them on the planning process that governed the development of these projects with the involvement of both municipal public institutions and the private sector with the involvement of the Local Action Groups (LAG) of Maremma. He explained the importance of the seed financing provide by EU programmes, such as the Laison Entre Actions de Development de l’Economie Rurale (LEADER) programme, not only in the development of an integrated rural development strategy for the area of Monte Amiata, but also in attracting the engagement of all productive sectors. He said this was stimulating to the local economy, especially at these times of much needed efforts to counterbalance the effects of the financial crisis. “Being the first community in Tuscany to experiment since 1994 an innovative approach to TD based on the involvement of LAGs in the planning and implementation processes, the Community of Amiata has accumulated a wealth of experience, knowledge and lessons learned that can be useful to share with institutions like IFAD working to promote the concept of territorial development among poor communities in low income developing countries,” he said.

The Director General of the association, Dr Aldo Coppi provided the Retreat participants with a detailed explanation on the way the TD approach has been implemented bringing all stakeholders to work together in mutually beneficial partnerships. Other Community experts gave presentations on a number of projects, including the Protection of the Biodiversity of Chestnut project; the Environment Management Systems to Increase Competitiveness of Products and Services in the Territory of the Monte Amiata Community; the Revival and Re-qualification of Urban & Peri-urban Zones project; the Civil Protection project; and Flavours of Amiata project.

Nadim Khouri, Director of NEN, thanked President Ulivieri and his colleagues for the interesting presentations, indicating that IFAD invests about an average of 100 million dollars every year in the rural development of developing countries of the NENA and CEN regions. “In doing so,” he said, “It tries to learn from the way others have experimented innovative approaches to territorial development such as those of the Amiata Community." He said some of IFAD activities try to promote in remote mountain areas some types of activities similar to those of the association. Therefore, sharing the knowledge and lessons drawn from the experience of the Amiata Community, as part of the decentralization approach in decision making processes, was very helpful. He said: “IFAD is using a similar approach of participatory and decentralized decision making at the local community level; but, Tuscany has been able to do that at the higher level of the entire region,” which was interesting to see and learn from.”

Following the presentations, the participants were split into two groups to visit project sites and activities. The first group visited a site of the Valorisation of the Olive Oil programme, which is supported by the Flavour of Amiata project as means to promote the concept of “Slow Food”, where improvement in processing techniques and marketing approaches brought added value to the region’s produce and returns to olive farms.

The second group visited a Chestnut farm supported by the Protection of the Biodiversity of Chestnut project. The group was introduced to a number of post-harvest Chestnut processing activities before transformation to Chesnutt flour. The project helped establish the Association for Valorisation of the Chestnut of Monte Amiata (IGP) in 2000 to protect the germoplasm of native Chestnut varieties and improve cultivation techniques. Although IGP is providing protection to the genetic heritage of these varieties, more research was needed to be able to clearly identify the location of the origin of these species. Therefore, several scientific analysis were conducted by three field research units and subsequently information and didactic materials on the techniques of gauging, sacking, transformation and the use of fresh chestnuts were produced and communicated to producers in the context of capacity building and training efforts.

During the field visit to the Chestnut farm, which occupies few acres on a hill slope, the participant’s bus moved on to a humid spot off the road where its wheels got stuck in a muddy cavity preventing it from reversing back to the tarmac. The participants had to use their muscles to help the bus driver move it out of trouble.

During a lunch break at the guesthouse of the natural reserve of Monte Amiata, NEN’s Country Cluster II, lead by Mounif Nourallah, made a presentation on its achievements in 2010 and plans for 2011.
The group reported improved operational outreach in the three Maghreb countries of Morocco and intensified cooperation with partner institutions in these countries.
On their way back to Arcidosso, a group of the participants had the opportunity to stop by and visit the site of the Environmental Monitoring of the Siele Mercury Mine Reclamation project, which aimed to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the reclamation of this mining area.
The Mine which was closed in 1974, after almost two centuries of mining the liquid metal, had left the area with high level of toxic pollution, which was subsequently cleaned though various initiatives. The programme, which is part of a plan to turn the site into a museum and tourist attraction centre, reached its objective through hydraulic and static verification of mercury pollution at the dumping site. It included activities such as measurement of contamination and the piezometrical levels of both the air at the site and in the Siele torrent waters.

On return to Chianciano Terme, the participants engaged in a thorough discussion on Rural Finance following a presentation by Dr Omer Zafar, CPM for Yemen and Dr Thierry Mahieux. They highlighted a number of models for best delivery of rural finance for small and medium size rural enterprises in the NENA and CEN regions.
The discussants reviewed IFAD experiences in developing different types of mechanisms and approaches for increased capacity building to enable small holders and rural poor people improve their entrepreneurship skills.

The participants ended their second day with a “slow food” dinner at “Il Grillo”, an accredited restaurant of the Slow Food movement.
The Chef and owner of the restaurant, Ms Tiziana Tacchi, and Mr Alberto Baraldi, a Slow Food expert made a presentation to the participants on slow food concepts and progress in outreach made by the movement.