Located in Southern Italy, Libera Terra, a non-profit cooperative, is using sustainable and self-sufficient collective farming to rebuild areas once controlled by the Mafia.
“The Mafia was born as an instrument for the rich landlords to control large farmland and the local community, oppressing the farmworkers and slowing their emancipation,” Pietro D’Aleo, General Coordinator of the Consorzio Libera Terra Mediterraneo, tells Food Tank.
After the end of World War II, political parties sought to alleviate poverty-stricken Southern Italy with agriculture reform, looking to local Mafia leaders to secure votes, according to Jane Schneider, an anthropologist who focuses on Italian politics. This helped the Mafia access key government positions in agriculture and land reclamation.
Today, the Mafia continues to impact Italy’s agriculture. A report by Coldieretti, Eurispes, and the Observatory on Crime in 2019 predicted the annual profit of the agromafia to increase to $US 28 billion, a growth of 12.4 percent compared to the previous year.
The Mafia invests in various aspects of the food supply chain in Italy including farmland, food purchasing and distribution, and transportation. “The farmland [became] a way to control the territory, show the presence of the mafioso, and employ people to gain consensus,” says D’Aleo.
To counteract fear and regenerate the economy in these communities, Don Luigi Ciotti created a petition calling for the government to redistribute confiscated Mafia territory. In 1995, Ciotti founded Libera. Associazinoi, nomi e numeri contro le mafie, the umbrella organization for Libera Terra. His petition became law in 1996, permitting the transfer of confiscated real estate assets from the Mafia to local authorities and organizations.
Once the government deems the confiscated land to be environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable, they can donate it to Libera Terra. The organization then manages the land through sustainable farming.
Working with small, local, organic farmers, Libera Terra helps them design, produce, and market around 100 goods. These products include pasta, flours, baked goods, extra virgin olive oil, legumes, preserves, mozzarella, and wines.
“Libera Terra promotes a virtuous and sustainable economic system based on [legality], social justice, and marketability,” D’Aleo tells Food Tank. He says that the marketability of quality ingredients has made Libera Terra successful.
Since its founding, Libera Terra has grown to employ nearly 200 workers and organically farm 3,200 acres of mafia-free land in four regions of Southern Italy. The organization also seeks to hire people who are disadvantaged or have lost their land in the South.
“Working hard on quality is the only way to keep the Libera Terra project sustainable and promote a successful economic alternative that effectively opposes the mafias,” D’Aleo tells Food Tank.
Photo courtesy of Johny Goerend, Unsplash