‘The path to fairer and more sustainable food systems starts with the relationship between consumers and producers.’
Yolda is a nature conservation organization established in 2015. From the beginning, Yolda’s focus has been on traditional cultural practices and production systems that benefit both biodiversity conservation and climate crisis mitigation and adaptation. Engin Yılmaz, Yolda’s executive director, tells us more about the importance of the traditional ecological knowledge and the value of relationships between consumers and producers.
Working at an international level, Yolda is collaborating with mobile pastoralist communities in different regions to understand and disseminate the benefits of the practice to biodiversity and climate action. The lands of one of these communities called Sarikeçili has recently joined the Foodnected project as a pilot site. They are traveling around a geographical area of 300 km across Turkey, wintering in the pastures of southern shores and summering in the highlands of Taurus Mountains.
‘Pastoralism, explains Engin, is a form of animal husbandry, of raising livestock (mostly herbivores species) and, most importantly, it is entirely different in essence to intensive livestock production systems. We use the word mobile to encompass the many ways the people move with the livestock, as opposed to sedentary pastoralism. Thus, mobile pastoralism refers to the many ways when people move through landscapes with livestock.’
The definition of mobile pastoralism can vary as it greatly depends on the topography of the area along which these communities travel, the climate, the socio-economic context, etc. Yet in all scenarios, this traditional production system holds benefits for biodiversity conservation and climate crisis mitigation and adaptation efforts.
‘Through their mobility, these nomadic communities ensure the connectivity between different habitats and, therefore, support other species regarding functional and structural connectivity. Let’s take the role they play in seed dispersal: The animals eat plants, they carry the seeds of these plants via their coats, fleeces, hooves and droppings. In a scientific study conducted in Spain, it was proven that a herd of 1000 transhumant sheep carries almost 200 millions ingested seeds over 1,500 km. On top of that, the carbon footprint of these communities is very low, especially because of their mobility. They use very low levels of fuel. Their life is adapted to the climate. When they leave a site, they allow the vegetation to regenerate. And very importantly, they play a role in preserving the cultural heritage.’
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)
The preservation of traditional knowledge is one of the valores fundamentales of the Foodnected and it encompasses here various interactions between the communities and nature, as well as the interactions within the community itself. This, for instance, includes herd management, animal and human well-being, knowledge of fauna and flora, knowledge transmission, etc.
To illustrate the importance of this knowledge, Engin takes the example of the interactions between the communities and wolves. ‘In the French Pyrenees, there were no wolves left. So, the government took measures to reintroduce wolves in the mountains. This created a conflict between transhumance communities there and the French government. One of the important aspects of this conflict was that the communities were no longer holding as much traditional ecological knowledge as in the past in terms of confronting and mitigating the conflicts against these predators, resulting in the experience being very traumatic for them. In Turkey, there are 7000 wolves and none of these are seen as traumatic by the nomadic communities, because they have been living like this for centuries. They use particular tools against it, like dogs. They also have dogs in the French Pyrenees, but the knowledge in Turkey on how to pick the right breed, do the right training, manage the dog pack and how many dogs should be in a pack is still very rich. All of this of course will vary depending on the region and the environment. So, we believe that this kind of knowledge needs to be kept. These communities have been living in uncertainty for centuries and their daily lives are adapted to respond to changes. There is also wisdom in that knowledge that can help develop responses to crises such as a pandemic.’
The relationship between producers and consumers
Since its foundation, Yolda, just like Foodnected, has been trying to reduce the distance between producers and consumers. ‘In our case, shortening the value chains doesn’t mean selling and buying locally, since the communities are moving long distances. It means trying to avoid any other actors along the chain and make consumers and communities share the same vision of producing and consuming food.’
Yolda sees humans as an essential part of the ecosystem and the relationship between consumers and producers as crucial in order to achieve more sustainable and fairer food systems. ‘We can’t rely on a dichotomy between nature and culture. Nature provides benefits for culture, but culture also can provide benefits for nature. And, that’s what we’re expecting of consumers: to reach this same way of thinking. This will help us in advocating a proper legal framework to support sustainable producers instead of industrial production systems, and, then, we can have an impact at regional, national, and global levels. This has to start with the relationship between consumers and producers.’