by Ludovica Schiaroli
Awareness of terraced landscapes is growing considerably on a global, European, national and local scale. The International Terraced Landscapes Alliance (ITLA) is one of the most important civil initiatives for the protection, preservation, and promotion of terraced landscapes and related cultures worldwide.
During his journey in Italy Timmi Tillmann, the Coordinator of International Landscapes Alliance, visited Manarola and the pilot site of the Stonewallsforlife project. What follows is a chat we had with him.
I am an anthropologists, and I have two main different tasks to learn: one has to do with the knowledge of indigenous population, while the other one with the proper method to work with local communities and groups.
In 2009 people from UNESCO in Bangkok contacted us and asked us if we could cooperate with the Yunnan Province in the Red River, in China to organize an international symposium. We went there, we visited the area and we suggested to have a symposium which included the field visits and workshops during the seminar; instead of talking to expert we recommended to exchange and elaborate ideas on how to deal with the situation.
Before we started, I suggested to have the interventions of local indigenous farmers because otherwise there would have been only the experts, technician talks and we trained a group of language students from the local university to become facilitators of this workshop. We had workshop on tourism, history… and also separate workshops with no politicians but only farmers and facilitators.
We gave them two tasks, in the first one we ask them: “please draw your home, and the surrounding and the terraces” and two elder men said “no no we are not going to draw”. The others were drawing and they presented this and you could see the diversity, there were three different ethnic groups of nationality present and there was no control of the State, we were just working freely with these groups.
The next day I asked the whole group to draw different topics like seeds, climate change or climate crisis, pollution through pesticides, the role of women on the terraces etc. I sat and I asked “who wants to draw about… pollution” which is the most dangerous for them and the two men who had refused to draw said “no no, we want to” so they got involved because they felt there was no danger to draw in that situation.
Then the different working groups presented their results and the farmers intervened at the end and they said: “It is so good to hear the experts talking about what we are not allow to talk about”.
This was like a recognition, when the head of the Prefecture spoke, he just said: “here it is closed” and he didn’t intervene, he didn’t explain.
And thus began the story of ITLA. The idea was of the Chinese partners who were scientists, anthropologists… they thought of building an international association but then they realized they needed the approval of the State and of the Communist party and this upset everything. So, we asked “when is the next congress?” and there were two people from Peru, one was a professor of Archeology from the Catholic University who said “we do it in Peru”.
That was the starting point and we decided it would be a network, an alliance of network and not an international institute with higher costs… we function without funding, without a project, we just communicate with one another, and when there is a project we can cooperate, as in this case.
If Stonewallsforlife wants to have a support, they invite us and we cooperate.
This was the creation of the network and then in the following years 2014, 2016, 2019 we had the congresses.
We combine ideas from different partners or members (we have 300 members worldwide) in more than 30 countries, we agree on their activity, we have a bibliography about terraces so we publish a newsletter which comes out every two months if there is sufficient material and if I have time to do it.
The ITLA’s main objective is to act for the benefit of nature and of the people who still live in terraced landscapes.
I think this project represents an important effort because it plays an important role in the reconstruction of the relation between the park and the local population. There is a division – maybe not in Manarola- but residents need to understand the benefits this project can bring them and that this is not only bureaucracy.
I think it is very important to work with groups and with people from outside, for example, this offer to become advisor and cooperate together, well… you need to have a function as an advisor, not just stay on the paper.
I think it is very important to listen to the people who live the territory.
Wolfgang Sachs, German thinker and scientist said: “don’t forget indigenous knowledge because maybe in fifty years you will need it, otherwise you will not be able to survive, because the energy sources are not endless”. Of course there is a technological progress but there are wisdoms in these 7000 cultures we need to have an idea about.
This goes in two directions: the terraces need to be visible.
When I was in Buthan, we were invited by the Royal University and when we arrived, we asked to talk to a specialist of terraces. They replied there were none and when we went to the valley there were terraces everywhere. This means that people living in that landscape don’t see anything special there.
People need to be proud of the landscape and be conscious of it. Here in Manarola, terraces are visible to them, and there need to be an exchange for people from other regions so that they can form an alliance for example with Catalunia. This could be one direction.
The other direction is that if you have your consciousness and visibility, then you can produce material and influence politicians, outsiders, or the local policy.
You need to win allies, to convince them, to make the terraces visible and also to have something to communicate to incoming tourists. You have to inform that this place is not only picturesque but there is also a variety of local products coming from these terraces.
It is a whole process: people who live and work here have to support the territory.
I don’t know, the future is something that local people have to develop, I mean the idea of bancalismo* is the idea that the terraced landscapes are fundamental for the survivor of humankind.
These landscapes exist in all mountain regions and they are the origin of our food since rise, potato and mais, they all were domesticated in terraces 4000, 5000 years ago. We have to value this, terraces are the origin of civilization, not plans because the centers of domestication are all in mountain regions.
You have to look at the history (and only) then you can get to the future.
Living with nature is something very special, we need to reconnect with people, this is my hope.
More info about ITLA: http://www.itla.si
* bancalismo, bancales: Francisco Leiva of the Aranea coined the term Bancalismo – a movement to revive terrace culture in terms of aesthetics, way of life, special food and wine, space for recreation and well-being. He made the sketches shown in the second issue of the Art of the Terraced Landscapes Journal during his visit to La Gomera (Canary Islands) at the time of the 4th World Congress on the Re-enchantment of Terraces (Bancales).