by Ludovica Schiaroli
The Stonewallsforlife project applies on a large scale what has been done to date by Fondazione Manarola. Vice president Eugenio Bordoni has been interviewed.
“I live on top of the village of Manarola. Every day, when I get up, I look outside the window and I see these drystone walls in a state of abandonment. I think it is a lack of respect for those who have struggled on this land, for my father, my grandfather and all those who built these stone monuments”.
Eugenio Bordoni, vice-president of Fondazione Manarola Cinque Terre, says he was one the first to believe in the Stonewallsforlife project and in the importance of restoring drystone walls to counteract geo-hydrological instability and the effects of climate change.
After the flood occurred on 25 October 2011, Fondazione Manarola was born precisely with this mission: “after those tragic days, with 13 deaths and the villages of Monterosso and Vernazza almost destroyed, the inhabitants desired effective tools for the defense of the territory and for their own safety”, explains Bordoni. This need materialized in 2014 with the formalization of Fondazione Manarola, which, the following year, started the first cleaning and restoration works of the drystone walls in the two hills surrounding Manarola, totaling an area of 11 hectares. “We are a non-profit organization – Bordoni explains – which pursues exclusively social solidarity purposes in the sector of nature and environment protection and enhancement”.
“I always say that we need 10, 100, 1000 foundations, not only in Liguria but in all those areas where abandoned countryside and depopulation represent a threat for the territory and its inhabitants” – Bordoni says. In his view, a foundation represents a perfect link between private and public bodies, such as the Cinque Terre Park and the municipalities of Cinque Terre.
Basically, it’s a brokerage job: the foundation rents the abandoned or uncultivated plots from the owners and, after the vegetation removal and restoration of drystone walls and drainage channels, it rents them (in the long term) at the same price to farmers, preferably local, who guarantee their maintenance. As Bordoni explains, “agricultural land abandonment is a major issue in this area, and we need to face it. There are many family-owned plots, that were abandoned in the postwar period, mainly because the owners emigrate to look for a less tiring and more profitable job”. The first challenge was to trace owners to create a sort of uncultivated land map, in order to start the our work.
“In entrusting the plots, we positively evaluate their contiguity, to group the plots as much as possible – affirm the vice president of the foundation – and we prefer to assign them to local farms that can improve the economy of scale. Of course, these plots can also be granted to external operators. “
This is what has happened so far, the Stonewallsforlife project starts from this virtuous experience with the aim of expanding and replicating it in other areas.
“If today we have an EU project to manage, it’s thanks to Cinque Terre Park, which has believed in it from the beginning and collaborates in the proposal writing and thanks to Ugo Miretti, from ITRB Group, and his love for this land” – says Bordoni. The goal of the project is to recover by 2024 six hectares of land surrounding Manarola and then replicate the experience in Monterosso, Vernazza and in the Garraf Park, in the Province of Barcelona.
Alongside the Park, which coordinates the project, Fondazione Manarola and ITRB Group, the other partners are: Legambiente, given its experience in the field of scientific environmentalism, the DISTAV Department of the University of Genoa, for scientific monitoring, and the Province of Barcelona, which has a key role in the replicability of the project in other areas of the European Union.
There are very few expert builders who can teach how to build a drystone wall. Bordoni admits that “the transfer of such an ancient knowledge is difficult, although the agricultural production in recovered areas can potentially represent an important turning point for our territory. Currently, there are about 25 farming agricultural holdings selling local wines in Italy and abroad: the potential to grow is huge”.
Stonewallsforlife addresses the issues pointed out by Bordoni: in order to ensure that this knowledge is preserved and passed on, Stonewallsforlife foresee didactical courses for unemployed people, migrants and disadvantaged categories. The objective is to tackle the issues of depopulation and lack of manpower by creating job opportunities and local development.
“Basically, what we do is to preserve the landscape to make it even more beautiful.” Bordoni continues. “When I a photo from 1981, where terraces and drainage channels are still visible, I feel like a century has passed. This project is for me a sort of collective work, an example of a time machine, because seeing these hills as my father saw them will be a special form of happiness. “