What are the results of the Slow Food Presidia project after 12 years? How sustainable are they? Is their environmental, social and cultural impact measurable?

It is not easy to answer these questions. The impact of Slow Food Presidia, in fact, is not easily measurable with standard parameters. It is possible to measure an increase in production and note the number of producers and retail prices, but the same cannot be said for the producer’s self-esteem (which is crucial is carrying on an activity and passing it on to their children) or the strengthening of social relations (the main problems small-scale producers face often include isolation, the lack of information, an inability to coordinate with other producers or other stakeholders in the supply chain – product packagers, affineurs, chefs – a lack of institutional backing, insufficient promotion and support) and it is equally difficult to quantify the Slow Food Presidia’s ability to improve the environmental conditions of their production areas.

Furthermore, an increase of certain parameters is not positive overall, but must be viewed in association with other factors (an increase in price, for instance, must be considered in relation to positive points in other sectors: attention to the environment and agricultural landscapes, safeguarding traditional methods of production, paying attention to animal welfare). The same goes for a decline of other parameters, which is not negative overall (a reduction in the number of producers, for example, can depend on the decision to pursue higher quality and environmental sustainability objectives, putting them through a challenging journey which, in the first instances, involves only a vanguard of producers).

For this reason the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, the University of Turin and the University of Palermo have developed a sustainability analysis method for the Slow Food Presidia which brings together many parameters (both quantitative and qualitative) and takes three different levels into consideration (socio-cultural, environmental and economic).

The three fundamental pillars that define the concept of sustainability are:

  • Social sustainability: the ability to provide access to services considered to be fundamental (safety, health, education) and welfare conditions (enjoyment, happiness, sociability) in equal measure within communities:
  • Environmental sustainability: the ability to maintain quality and the fertility of natural resources over time, preserving biodiversity and guaranteeing the integrity of ecosystems;
  • Economic sustainability: the ability to generate revenue and work over time and to achieve eco-efficiency, in the rational use of available resources and the reduction in the use of non-renewable resources.

Recent research findings on the influence of agriculture on the environment, particularly relating to the impact of certain agricultural practices, such as soil erosion and biodiversity depletion, were taken into consideration in the development of a methodology for monitoring the sustainability of Slow Food Presidia. These studies measure the environmental impact of the agricultural sector through indicators able to quantify the level of sustainability.

The term “indicator”, in this context, is a variable which itself supplies information on other variables: one piece of easily accessible data which can be used as a parameter of reference in decision-making. Furthermore, thanks to a multidisciplinary approach, models of evaluation developed in the social and economic sciences were also taken into consideration.

The analysis of each Slow Food Presidium is based on over 50 indicators (52 for plant-based products, 51 for animal breeds and 54 for processed products), a sufficiently high number to explain the complexity of the Slow Food Presidium system, but at the same time still contained within a limit which can guarantee simple applicability.

The initial hypothesis of the study maintains that it is possible to quantify the indicators of a complex agricultural system (the Slow Food Presidium) through the assignment of a numerical score, to balance/weigh this score and then bring this information together in a “overall sustainability score” for each Slow Food Presidium. A questionnaire based on Slow Food’s principles (developed in the production protocols of each Slow Food Presidium) is submitted to the project coordinators at the creation of the Slow Food Presidium, to describe the situation in the initial stages (T0 time), and again, two or three years later, in order to understand its evolution over time (T1, T2, T3 time and so on).

The questionnaire consists of three levels:

  • The socio-cultural level takes the intrinsic characteristics of the product into consideration, as well as the opportunities to create and develop relations both within and outside the community of origin.
  • The agro-environmental level analyses the ability of the Slow Food Presidium system to be a model of good practices in the maintenance and management of non-renewable resources;
  • The economic level evaluates the impact of the Slow Food Presidia on development and system efficiency honed throughout the years

Each sustainability level has a maximum score of 100.

Every indicator has a minimum score of 0 and a maximum of 10.

The score of each Slow Food Presidium, for each of the three sustainability levels, is the sum of the value attributed to each single indicator. Each level is independent and non-cumulative: for example, a low score in the agro-environmental level cannot be compensated by a higher score in the socio-cultural level. The sum of these three scores (one for each level) gives a final single score providing an overall assessment of the Slow Food Presidium.