The testimony of Beatrice Del Monte

Beatrice: her experience in Italy and India

Cherrapunji (India)

Thanks to the René Cassin scholarship I had the possibility of working as a research fellow for ten months with the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty. I spent the first part of my internship at Bioversity International headquarter, in Maccarese (Italy). During the second part of my internship, from July to December, I was hosted by NESFAS (North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society),  a local partner of the Indigenous Partnership, in Shillong, North-East India.

At the beginning of February, just before starting my intership, I had also the possibility of taking part as a volunteer in the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Forum, which is held at IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) every two years. The Forum, which was held in Rome on the 9 and 10 of February 2015, gathered together delegates from indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, the Pacific, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, to discuss sustainable development and local food systems.

Moosakhia, Meghalaya (India)

My work with the Indigenous Partnership was highly focused on the preparation of the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 (ITM 2015), an international event that took place in Shillong (India) in November 2015, dedicated to the importance of preserving indigenous communities’ local knowledge related to the environment, food and biodiversity. ITM was organised by the Indigenous Partnership (TIP), in collaboration with Slow Food International, and, for five days, it brought together around 600 people from 58 countries – indigenous communities’ leaders, farmers, fishermen, pastorals, ONG, Foundations, UN and press representatives. More specifically, during my internship period in Italy I supported TIP in the process of selection of delegates, speakers and international participants who took part in the event, also supporting the communication process with delegates. During my five months of activity in Italy, I also elaborated a number of desk research reports on topics related to ITM, such as climate change, food festivals, agri-food systems, agro-ecological knowledge, always having in mind a special focus on indigenous communities. I also had the possibility to participate in two international seminars on research projects in which the Indigenous Partnership was involved. This first part of my internship was very useful for learning how to facilitate communication with partners and how to circulate documents, how to order the material collected during desk research activities, including through the creation of background documents. I started to learn how to develop reports on activities and on-going projects. I learned basic knowledge about communication and production of communication materials.

At the end of July 2015 I started the second part of my internship in Shillong (Meghalaya, India). Till the beginning of November my activity was focused on supporting the organisation of ITM, working closely with Slow Food, IFAD and other international partners, and particularly with the local team from NESFAS. I coordinated and supported the organisation of the logistics related to the participation of the international delegation, and keeping contacts with the international delegates. I collected information related to participants and to their profiles (belonging to indigenous communities, activities, topics of interest). During this phase of working in India I implemented my capacities of team working and networking, cooperating with international and local partners. I learned how to manage stressful and complex situations, developing a marked attitude towards problem-solving and autonomy in achieving given objectives.

Ri bhoi, Meghalaya (India)

In November and December of 2015 I carried out a ethnographic research in the Moosakhia village (Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya), a village of 96 nuclear families. My research focused on the relationship between the local community and the forests in the area, and on the problems related to land ownership. To collect information, I applied a anthropologic methodology, living in the village for four days a week, for five weeks. I used unstructured questionnaires and fluid interviews. At the end of my research work, I shared the first results with the local community in a public meeting held on 18 December 2015, where around 40 people attended. This meeting was used to validate the information collected and to have a final exchange with the community before leaving for Italy. During the phase of field research, I had the possibility of applying a more participatory methodology, compared to my previous research work, facilitating moments of discussion and debate with the local community during the whole period of research.

Once back in Italy, at the end on my internship, I continued to work as a consultant for the Indigenous Partnership, at Bioversity International, in Maccarese, till the end of July 2016. I supported TIP in organising the material related to ITM 2015, and in organizing a number of local events related the relevance of indigenous knowledge for food and agro-biodiversity preservation. The competences acquired during my first period of internship in Italy and during the first months in India were really useful for this first part of my professional growth, and gave me the possibility of becoming more autonomous and aware in managing the required work.

At the end of July 2016 I had an interview for a PhD with a three-year scholarship in sociology, at the University of Milan, which I started in October 2016. Also in this case the competencies achieved during my internship period were highly valuable, from a methodological point of view, but also thanks to all the knowledge held by the people with whom I had the possibility to interact during my Cassin internship period. From a methodological point of view, in fact, all the capacities I learned in collecting and ordering relevant materials are proving very useful. The period of ethnographic research I had in Moosakhia as well, is highly valuable in helping me write the project I am currently working on, which is focused on the role of community gardening in Rome and Athens as a possible tool for challenging the capitalist and neoliberal idea of “nature”, which conceives it as a simple set of objects freely exploitable.  The continuous exchange I have had with knowledge and expertise of indigenous communities has been fundamental in elaborating my research project. In fact, as I learned during the whole duration of my internship, indigenous communities have a completely different vision of “nature” compared to the capitalist one. For them, “nature” is the entire living being, including humans, and the environment and living beings are entities with whom to interact with attachment and consideration. It is precisely starting with the interaction with this different epistemological system that I started my current research idea, which is focused on trying to understand if and how a similar kind of respect and awareness in the relationship with non-human living beings could slowly start to spread also in highly industrialised societies, maybe starting exactly from the lessons of indigenous communities.


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