Risk of extinction

A traditional product’s risk of disappearing can be real, in other words imminent, when the knowledge and skills necessary to produce it belong to one or a few producers, mainly elderly. It is not enough to have a written recipe or simple oral explanation in order to produce a cheese, cured meat or traditional dessert. Traditional processing methods are the work of artisans and learning the techniques means working with them for years. One must learn the skills, and acquire an indefinable but necessary sensitivity to be able to maintain constant the quality of a product even when the conditions in which the production takes place (the temperature, humidity of the places of work and aging, the time of year, the state of the animals’ health, etc.) change. Only production line, industrial productions do not allow for the possibility of individual interpretation, but demand, on the contrary, encoded processes and the use of technology in most stages of production.

The risk of extinction is real also when a product is made for home consumption only. Or when the introduction of ultra-hygienic laws swiftly renders places of maturation or production, equipment, or materials that are important for the characterization of a product illegal. In case of a risk of extinction, the risk is real when the number of units still produced is small (a few hundred or thousand). It is difficult to reverse a process of genetic erosion when numbers are so low. It requires a commitment from institutions, experts, and funds to support breeders and financing of reproductive projects.

The risk is potential – in other words medium- or long-term – when the social situation (of producers or consumers) and the environmental situation (of the ecosystem) are such that a reduction in the quantity or number of producers can be predicted for the coming years. The signs of risk are many and diverse: changing trends in consumption; a market that no longer appreciates the product and pays very little, gradually reducing the profitability; depopulation of the area and emigration in search of new livelihoods of people able to traditionally produce the product; loss of generational transmission, alteration or disappearance of rural ecosystems and landscapes, loss of support from national and international agricultural policies, and scarce attention by institutions. The looming threat of industrial products similar to the traditional ones, which confuse consumers and orientate them towards homogenized and standardized versions, can quickly expel traditional products from the market, as they are are more vulnerable, fragile and have less support from advertising and marketing.

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