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Emergence of Food Matters in Val Poschiavo (Switzerland) through the Definition of a Regional Transition Project

Marjolaine Gros-Balthazard
Cet article est une traduction de :
Émergence du fait alimentaire dans le Valposchiavo (Suisse) à travers la définition d’un projet de territoire « en transition »  [fr]

Résumés

Les territoires de montagne sont aujourd’hui confrontés à un double défi, environnemental et socio-économique. Sentinelles du changement climatique, c’est souvent à travers l’angle du tourisme (François et al., 2010) que leur transition est interrogée. Or, ces territoires sont aussi des lieux de vie et de travail traversés par des logiques résidentielles, productives, agricoles, énergétiques, etc., autant de logiques qui peuvent être les leviers de leur transition vers davantage de durabilité. À partir de l’analyse empirique de la démarche « 100 % Valposchiavo », située dans la vallée éponyme, cet article entend contribuer aux réflexions quant aux stratégies possibles de transition des territoires de montagne liées à l’alimentation. Dans cette vallée italophone située aux confins du canton (germanophone) des Grisons (Suisse), la démarche « 100 % Valposchiavo », qui se traduit par la mise en valeur de la production agricole biologique locale, est devenue progressivement un projet de territoire. Par les processus sous-tendant la démarche, cet exemple donne à voir la façon dont le fait alimentaire non explicité d’abord dans le projet agricole, puis promu à travers les produits locaux comme objet de branding par le secteur touristique, émerge finalement de la démarche même si tous les enjeux alimentaires ne sont pas traités.

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1At a time when climate change and environmental challenges are becoming more and more pressing, mountain regions are particularly vulnerable. Particularly given the specific conditions of the “natural mountain habitat” (climate, slopes, altitude, fragile ecosystems), these regions provide good settings for rethinking development strategies with regard to ecological transition. While the development of some regions continues to be reliant on winter sports resorts, these regions are also places where people live and work, involving many cross-cutting residential, productive, agricultural, energy-related and other strategies, which can provide leverage for a shift towards greater sustainability. These regions are often geographically marginalised, and sometimes socioeconomically disadvantaged, but they are also sources of social innovation where new ways of living, producing, processing, and consuming are discovered and trialled (Landel et al., 2018).

2Based on an empirical analysis, this paper aims to contribute to reflections around transition strategies for mountain regions based on food matters. With this in mind, we study the projects rolled out in Val Poschiavo, located in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden (Grisons), over the last decade, While our post-doctoral research at the University of Lausanne focused on mountain region transitions, we have chosen (from other research) to study the 100% Valposchiavo initiative conducted in this valley reputed for its substantial proportion of organic farming (over 90% of land in 2018). Two fieldwork periods were spent in the region. The first was part of an exploratory approach over one week in October, during which we were able to accompany a field course for master’s students at the University of Lausanne, conduct two exploratory interviews (with two administrative stakeholders), and thus gain an understanding of both the regional context and administrative organisation. We supplemented this first fieldwork period with a study of the grey literature available and analysis of various statistics (employment, land occupancy, demographics, etc.). We subsequently conducted a second fieldwork period of two weeks in April 2021, during which we carried out 15 semi-structured interviews (administrative and socioeconomic stakeholders, external consultant) and visited production, processing and distribution sites, in order to gain a better understanding of the resources of the 100% Valposchiavo initiative, its objectives, and its impact in the region.

3In this paper, we show that the 100% Valposchiavo initiative has gradually become a regional transition project, bringing together various stakeholders in the valley, and also how food matters have emerged through the project despite it being primarily designed from an agricultural perspective, or as a brand to promote tourism, with little consideration for local residents’ consumption.

4After providing an overview of the region and the case study selected, i.e. Val Poschiavo and the 100% Valposchiavo initiative, we analyse the key phases in this initiative, highlighting the role of food in each. We conclude by revealing some intended and unintended outcomes, providing evidence of the changes that have arisen in the local food sector from this project.

Food and Transition in Mountain Regions

5The role of food in regional development has not been discussed much to date (Loudiyi & Houdart, 2019), and even less so in mountain regions, despite the fact that it might be justified given the specific characteristics of such regions and the transition challenges that they face.

6In line with endogenous or bottom-up development theories, expressing the desire of local populations to play an active role and the inclusion of specific local characteristics, according to Aydalot, “it is within a local framework, through the promotion of local resources and with the population’s participation that development can truly meet the population’s needs” (1985, pp. 109). In the large body of literature outlining what might contribute to regional development (Torre, 2015), there has been a strong focus on the role of resources (Colletis & Pecqueur, 1993, 2005; Kebir, 2006; Gumuchian & Pecqueur, 2007). The mechanisms to add value to these resources are linked with the abilities of stakeholders to coordinate their efforts with a view to proposing a regional project. This posits the hypothesis of a region, understood as a construct of stakeholders, with enough autonomy to be able to define “its own project, which involves detailed knowledge of the context, an ability to define a shared representation of the outcome, and design and implement a strategy enabling it to link up the initial context with the objectives to be achieved” (Landel, Pecqueur, 2016). Since the renewal of economic base theory (Talandier & Davezies, 2009), two types of sources of development – productive and residential – are understood to coexist; they may benefit from adding value to these resources. While the former refers to the production of goods and services using resources, with a view to improving the region’s competitiveness, the latter is based on the concept of mobilising resources promoting its attractiveness to people (and therefore incomes), thus feeding development.

7Mountain regions now rely on both these strategies, and can be perceived as combined productive and residential systems (Davezies & Talandier, 2014; Rime, 2020). Residential dynamics have established themselves over time, while productive dynamics have receded, adding increasing value to intangible resources (Perlik, 2010). Sometimes perceived as socioeconomically precarious, given their reliance on more urban regions (Perlik, 2019) or on tourism (Bourdeau, 2009), such regions are also particularly vulnerable to environmental challenges (more rapid temperature rise, retreat of glaciers, recovery of forests, etc.) in a context where climate change is becoming increasingly pressing (François et al., 2010). Therefore, this raises the question, maybe more than elsewhere, of a possible compromise between adding value and protecting resources to support their future as inhabited areas. This prompts a rethink of these regions’ strategies, which now tend to support their transition (rather than their development), understood as a transformative process towards more sustainable lifestyles (Coenen & Truffer, 2012; Hansen & Coenen, 2015).

8There are currently two coexisting visions of mountains regions opposing one another in their significance for resident populations, but both referring to a form of margin for such regions. Mountain regions are perceived, on the one hand, as suppliers of resources (Perlik, 2015) for extra-local demand (Crevoisier & Rime, 2020), giving rise to productive and residential specialisation in mountain regions to meet the needs of non-resident populations. In Switzerland, mountain regions thus remain an important political topic, but their fate is perceived as an increasingly functionalist concept, i.e. in terms of their “contributions” to the national interest (Rudaz & Debarbieux, 2013). Mountain regions are, on the other hand, seen as testing grounds for social innovation, where new sustainable development models are discovered and trialled, with the aim of achieving more sustainable governance of their resources (Landel & Koop, 2018) and a response to identified local needs. These two visions circulate, or even feed into each other, in the strategies led by stakeholders.

9Food is one of the key aspects of this dialectic, especially when looking at the specific characteristics of mountain regions (i.e. strong seasonality, low agricultural productivity, distance from food retail outlets). However, it seems that mountain regions have tended to be perceived as agricultural regions supplying food resources for urban and metropolitan areas (introduction of special issue). Evidence of this can be seen in the high level of specialisation of some Alpine valleys, supported by PDOs, in some dairy and cheese productions that can be described as “terroir-led food system planning” (Ilieva, 2012, pp. 64). The strategy consists of promoting high-quality agricultural production for the national and even global agri-food sector, hence targeting tourists rather than local residents. Therefore, mountain regions do not escape, in any case initially, the predominance of the agricultural viewpoint in addressing food matters (Bonnefoy & Brand, 2014; Brand, 2015). This is changing for a variety of reasons (geographic constraints (Brand et al., 2022), new policies such as regional food projects in France (Houdart et al., 2020; Lequin, 2020), etc.), but also driven by consumers’ desire to take back control of their food, which is also being seen in these areas. Take the example of the civic association “Et Maintenant” in the Bauges mountain region in France, one of whose aims is to “change the way we eat”.

10While the links between food and regions have been discussed by other entries, thus far, in the literature focusing on regional development, few publications have explicitly addressed food, even though the topic appear implicit in agricultural development, for example (Loudiyi & Houdart, 2019). Loudiyi & Houdart (Ibid.) demonstrated, through the analysis of two approaches, three starting points to understand regional development processes based on food matters: the integrating role of food in accounting for different sector-based challenges; the role of some stakeholders, particularly administrative ones; process-led regional resource activation or creation.

11This paper follows on from this approach, and endeavours to account for the specific characteristics of mountain regions both in terms of geography and transition challenges. While the latter have underlined the processes for integrating regional challenges based on food matters, through the case study of Val Poschiavo, we show how food-related challenges can stem from the regional question, or, in other words, food-related challenges potentially arising from a regional agri-tourism project.

Overview of the Region Studied

  • 1 For a long time, these two regions were joined together before Val Poschiavo opted to join the Conf (...)

12Val Poschiavo is one of the three Italian-speaking valleys of the German-speaking Swiss Alpine Canton of Graubünden (Grisons) (figures 1 and 2), made up of two municipalities, Poschiavo and Brusio, grouped together in the Bernina District. Separated from the rest of the canton by the Bernina Pass located at an altitude of 2,320 metres, the valley is at a substantial distance from Chur, the capital of Graubünden (2 hours by road), and is even farther from major cities (the closest being Zürich at 3 hours 30 minutes). This geographic isolation from the rest of the Canton and Switzerland is however mitigated by its immediate proximity to Valtellina in Italy and the town of Tirano, immediately following the geo-topography of the valley.1

Figure 1: Location of Val Poschiavo

Figure 1: Location of Val Poschiavo

Source: OFS, 2021.

Created by author

Figure 2 : View of Val Poschiavo from the train – April 2021

Figure 2 : View of Val Poschiavo from the train – April 2021

Photo taken by author

13The valley has 4,600 inhabitants (3,500 inhabitants in Poschiavo and 1,100 in Brusio), and these numbers have been relatively stable since the early 2000s (following several decades of continual decline), but the population is ageing due to the outflow of young adult workers. This demographic flow occurring in the valley is a major challenge for local stakeholders because population decline could compromise the retention of some services (maternity hospital, schools, etc.), as seen in other mountain regions (Horgues-Debat, 2011). Furthermore, this challenge is directly linked with economic development dynamics that continue to be precarious. In 2017, there were 2,125 jobs in Poschiavo and 800 in Brusio. While the residents of both municipalities primarily work in the valley, these jobs are also filled by 600 cross-border workers, working in various sectors (tourism, retail, agriculture, industry). The valley is far from being wholly reliant on tourism and ski resorts (Bourdeau, 2009), and residential development strategies have not completely outplaced productive strategies in this valley, which is now involved in agriculture, industry and tourism.

14While a marked decline has been observed in Europe’s mountain regions (McDonald et al., 2000),

  • 2 Some (sweet chestnut and walnut trees) are regaining ground, while others (olive trees) can now be (...)

15agricultural employment continues to represent a large proportion of total employment in both Poschiavo and Brusio (10% and 18% of jobs, respectively, compared to approximately 3% in Switzerland). Dairy and meat production are very common, but Poschiavo also produces aromatic herbs and cereal crops, while Brusio supplies winery and arboriculture products (small fruit and other fruit trees).2 This diversity, which is somewhat unusual in mountain regions, is enabled by the variety of altitudes (from 2,000 to 500 metres) and climates (temperatures), as well as by irrigation. Another key specificity of this region is linked with the high uptake of organic farming, adopted early on, similar to Biovallée in France (Madelrieux et al., 2018). 90% of farmland in Val Poschiavo is used for organic farming, which is quite high compared to the Canton of Graubünden (63%), and very high compared to Switzerland as a whole (14%). The gradual conversion of local agriculture to organic farming was initiated by two separate parties several decades ago. First of all, in the 1980s, Reto Raselli, the owner-operator of a traditional farm started producing organic aromatic herbs. Then, in the 1990s, the San Carlo dairy adopted organic farming practices, leading to the conversion of its member dairy farms, and, gradually, the entire valley with the closure of other dairies. Based on our interviews, the roots of these changes can be found in the environmental convictions of a number of farmers, but also in an opportunity to meet an emerging new demand for aromatic herbs, from processors (Ricola) and distributors (Coop), and the role of urban markets (particularly Zurich) in the dairy’s case. Support from the Swiss Confederation for organic farming (in the form of grants) arrived later.

16Tourism and leisure activities as a whole represent a recognised source of employment and development for mountain regions (Bourdeau, 2009; Clarimont, Vles, 2008). This is the case in Val Poschiavo, although tourism is not based on a single activity, comparable to that encountered in other Alpine valleys. There is a long history of tourism in the region with the establishment of the first two hotels in the area in the 19th Century to meet the needs of an English clientele (one on the lake shore, the other in Poschiavo town centre). Since then, the valley, especially the municipality of Poschiavo, which is home to a large number of hotels, two campsites and restaurants, has continued to attract tourists, but as a tourist destination, it is on a small-scale compared to the neighbouring Engadin region (and its famous resort, St. Moritz). Despite the fact that the climate and topography would be ideal for ski resorts, none have ever been built, apparently due to a lack of financial resources. The Bernina railway line (constructed between 1908-1910) passes through the valley, and its infrastructure and the landscapes observed from the line were classified as a UNESCO Heritage Site in the late 2000s.

17A large number of industrial firms (pharmaceutical and beverage industries) and wholesale specialists are located in the municipality of Brusio. This is explained by a border effect (Rougier, 1990), and also by the fact that many orchards and vineyards in the Valtellina region are owned by residents of Brusio. As a result of the proximity to the border, the area is host to substantial trade in fruit (primarily apples and pears) and wine. The head office of the firm Repower (formerly Forze Motrice di Brusio), an international hydroelectric firm, which has been using hydraulic power from the valley since 1906, is located in Poschiavo. The presence of this firm provides around one hundred jobs and a sizeable financial windfall from hydropower royalties.

18Finally, it is worth noting that Val Poschiavo is a marginal region, once again due to the region’s longstanding history of geographic distance and administrative proximity in relation to Switzerland, and geographic proximity and administrative distance in relation to Italy. This has given rise to a strong socio-linguo-cultural identity and a vibrant community (extensive local associations and media). The local dialect and culinary specialities, such as pizzocheri (buckwheat pasta) and brasciadela (aniseed-flavoured rye bread) intermingling Northern and Southern influences, bear testament to the region’s identity. The 100% Valposchiavo initiative is aimed at promoting the valley’s local agricultural products and the specific geographic and socioeconomic characteristics described in this paper.

The 100% Valposchiavo Initiative, a Regional Project Based on Promoting Organic Local Agricultural Products.

19From the early 2010s, a number of successive projects were rolled out to support Val Poschiavo’s local farming and tourism sectors, until the delivery of a Regional Development Plan, in place since 2019. The starting point is a planning project aimed at transforming land use in the valley, re-examining the basic principles of its development. We propose to group these successive projects together under the term 100% Valposchiavo initiative, and will describe them in detail below. In this section, we show how this initiative is helping define a regional project addressing local challenges, by moving beyond the farming sector per se, via the definition of an “agri-food” policy (Brand, 2015) firmly focused on tourism as a target market.

Emergence of the Initiative from the Farming Sector: Virtual Absence of Food Matters

20The 100% Valposchiavo initiative emerged in the early 2010s in the context of the launch of a new hydroelectric project by Repower.

  • 3 The “Lagobianco” project is a large-scale pumping-turbine project valued at over 2 billion Swiss fr (...)

21After an initial hydropower plant production relicensing project in 1995 that was abandoned following an appeal filed by a number of environmental associations with the federal court, the new Lagobianco project3 was approved in municipal referenda in 2010. This project included compensatory measures resulting in riverbank rehabilitation, reducing the farming land area in the municipality of Poschiavo. To mitigate the effects of this reduction in farming land, the municipality of Poschiavo and Repower made equal contributions to an agricultural fund, managed by Gruppo Operativo Fondo Agricoltura. The aim of this fund was to formalise a regional agricultural strategy to increase agricultural added value. The group was made up of two municipal farmers’ associations (including almost all local farmers (Associazione agricola di Poschiavo and Unione dei Contadini di Brusio), the President of the Val Poschiavo District (also the Director of Polo Poschiavo, a centre of excellence for lifelong learning and support for development projects), the mayors of both municipalities along with an outside consultant, originally from the valley (and previously involved in the organic conversion of the San Carlo dairy).

22The group worked on delivering a rural area development programme, accounting for increasing and potentially conflicting competitive dynamics in land management. In addition to the rehabilitation following the Lagobianco project, the revision of the Federal water protection law and the very restricted concentration of economic activities at the bottom of the valley resulted in increased tensions around land use. The primary aim of maintaining and promoting rural areas and agriculture was defined through the formulation of five themes, observed as key issues during discussions: boosting agricultural production, encouraging the provision of agricultural services in other sectors, supporting the pooling of technical and human resources, improving the contributions of farming to the natural habitat and landscape, and promoting sustainable regional planning and cultivation. Operationally, the PSSR plan aimed to achieve these objectives through five measures:

  • Definition of an agricultural use plan (to feed into current regional planning);

  • Replotting of the areas concerned by the new river corridor;

  • Irrigation network development;

  • Expansion of renewable energy production in collaboration with farms;

  • Delivery of a regional development plan (RDP).

23This project, led by Gruppo Operativo Fondo Agricoltura, has been devised by and for agricultural sector stakeholders. Food matters are virtually absent from this project. They are reflected in the document in the brief mention of seeking to improve “the marketing of regional products”. Nevertheless, there is barely any reference to what happens next, because, when the tourism sector is mentioned, it is to highlight the role of agriculture in landscape upkeep. However, this project indeed represents a first phase of the 100% Valposchiavo initiative, insofar as the stakeholders set in motion the preparation of the RDP, which was ultimately submitted in 2015.

Figure 3: BioSuisse-certified farm

Figure 3: BioSuisse-certified farm

photo taken by author

Introduction of Tourism into the Initiative: Local Agricultural Products as Part of a Brand

24The second phase in the initiative marked its opening up to the tourism sector and the emergence of food matters through a focus on local products. While this phase did not ensue directly from the rural development programme, some of the stakeholders involved, who had sensed an opportunity for the tourism sector in the agricultural project (and vice versa), were behind it. The District President, also Director of Polo Poschiavo, played a major role in this regard. Aware of the valley’s economic dependence on the hydropower corporation, he perceived an opportunity in the reflections initiated in the agricultural sector to reflect on how to break down barriers between other, more dispersed, sectors of activity in the valley.

  • 4 This project stemmed from the purchase of Casa Tomè by the tourist office and the organisation of t (...)

25The region’s culinary offerings had been popular with German-speaking Swiss tourists for many years, but the promotion of local products really gained traction from the 2010s,4 with three milestones. In 2012, under the influence of the District President, as part of the Swiss presidency of the Alpine Convention, Alpine Week was organised in Poschiavo. This event provided a first opportunity to present a menu made up entirely of local products to the many guests. Three years later, in 2015, the Milan World’s Fair was also seized as an opportunity to promote local products, “extra muros”, with the promotion taking place on a slow train (echoing the slow food movement) linking Milan to Poschiavo, offering a local menu. The final and most important milestone was the creation of two regional brands in 2016, with the involvement of the tourist office.

26While tourism was losing steam in the early 2010s (falling from 61,000 overnight stays in 2010 to 45,000 in 2015), the new tourist office director saw the potential in local cuisine: “E evidente che per lo sviluppo dell’offerta e del marketing turistico della Valposchiavo questa tendenza ad un sempre maggiore regionalismo gastronomico va presa seriamente in considerazione” (Howald, 2015). For this reason, in 2016, the Val Poschiavo tourist office was involved in creating two regional brands in collaboration with the two municipal farming associations, the District, and the local business association. The first “100% Valposchiavo” brand promoted products made from local ingredients. A second brand, “Fait sü in”, was also created to include more local businesses, as it was devised to promote products that were processed locally, but not necessarily using local ingredients (at least 75% of the value must be generated locally). A brand commission including the stakeholders mentioned above was formed to ensure implementation through two tools: certification rules, and a restaurant/hotel operator commitment charter. The charter obliged restaurant/hotel operators to include at least three dishes prepared with local ingredients on their menu. In a short time, 150 products were certified under one of the brands, along with 60 farms and 13 restaurants.

27These types of branding form part of a relatively common process aimed at promoting regional resources (Gumuchian & Pecqueur, 2007; Colletis & Pecqueur, 2018), through regional branding in this case (Luminati & Rinallo, 2021). This helps promote the branding of the region, namely the attribution of regional qualities associated with the region’s characteristics and specificities (Michelet & Giraut, 2014). However, it is worth noting that neither brand makes reference to any organic certification, therefore failing to highlight the very high uptake of organic farming in the region. On the other hand, they help create a distinctive regional brand. While it is accepted that tourism can support agriculture by providing income streams and enhancing awareness of products (McMorran et al., 2015), Val Poschiavo is an interesting case study due to the characteristics of its agriculture (extensive diversity of products) and tourism (which has many advantages for sustainable tourism, including accessibility by rail). These arguments can explain the many awards attributed to the 100% Valposchiavo brand (CIPRA Switzerland Sustainable Tourism Award 2016, Htr-Milestone in the sustainability category 2016, SVSM Award in the local projects category 2017, H2020 Liaison European Agricultural Innovation Award 2019). 

28Although the term food is not explicitly mentioned, these two brands are primarily focused on local food products, perceived as an opportunity to link the prospects of the agricultural and tourism sectors, while failing to consider local residents’ consumption. Indeed, like other “terroir-led food system planning” initiatives (Ilieva, 2012, pp. 64), the 100% Valposchiavo initiative focuses on Val Poschiavo’s tourism market rather than on local residents. Moreover, this is consistent with the region’s history, where the conversion to organic farming was strongly driven to meet extra-local market demand. It also echoes the local food heritage initiative initiated by Polo Poschiavo, the leader of the Interreg Alpine Space “AlpFoodWay” project5 (2016-2019), which has resulted in the creation of a petition in support of including Alpine food in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. The final phase of the initiative is finalising the regional project and softening the focus on this aspect.

Figure 4: 100% Valposchiavo-certified restaurant

Figure 4: 100% Valposchiavo-certified restaurant

Photo taken by author

The Regional Development Project: Where Agriculture and Tourism Come Together

29Introduced as part of the 2007 agricultural policy, the RDP is a tool used to harmonise agricultural policy and regional policy, particularly in rural areas. It supports collaboration between stakeholders on a regional scale to create value in agriculture. In Val Poschiavo, the 100% Valposchiavo initiative has culminated in the regional development project entitled “100% (Bio) Valposchiavo”.

  • 6 The Canton of Graubünden reformed its Districts, which are its local authorities above municipal le (...)

30Launched with the PSSR plan, but ramped down for administrative reasons,6 it was finally submitted to the Confederation in 2015 by the 100% (Bio) Valposchiavo association set up for this purpose. The association includes 14 farmers and food producers involved in the project as founding members, and Valposchiavo Turismo as a strategic partner. The Bernina District is responsible for project execution, which commenced in 2019, and follow-up. An initial phase (2017-2019) helped obtain a detailed definition of the development projects (design of business plans, infrastructure architectural plans, planning of marketing measures, etc.), prior to approval for the 2020-2025 period, with a budget of 15 million Swiss francs (co-funded by the Confederation and the Canton).

31The aim of this project is to create the necessary conditions to promote local agri-food products; a number of projects are funded: 11 individual infrastructure projects which should enable local processing and distribution of agricultural products and three collective projects (Table 1). For the 11 individual projects, the RDP supports the expansion of local production, processing, and sales. As regards the three collective projects, the first consists of supporting the few farms that have not yet converted to organic production, in order to achieve 100% organic farming in the valley. The second supports the marketing of agricultural products through the creation of a distribution platform. The platform should facilitate the local supply of tourism operators. The third promotes local products through marketing initiatives (to increase their appeal and raise their profile). Therefore, the focus is on local distribution of local products, and also on organic certification.

Table 1: Individual and collective projects supported by the RDP

INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS

PROCESSING / SALE

PRODUCTION

SOCIAL INITIATIVE

Al Canton Farm: Horse shelter creation

Al Crap Farm: Dairy farm creation

Li Taiadi Farm: Holidays for disadvantaged children and young people

Il Girasole Farm: Demonstration dairy construction

Rossi-Cortesi Farm: Creation of local egg production

 

Valposchiavo Dairy: Expansion of store at the square in Poschiavo

La Risciada: Creation of garden and delicatessen

 

Paganini Fruits: Development of fruit and berry industry in Val Poschiavo

 

 

Branchi Butcher’s: Extension of abattoir and laboratory

 

 

Raselli Herbs: New herb dryer construction

 

 

Campicoltura Cooperative: Construction of a cereal collection centre: harvesting, cleaning, screening and storage

 

 

COLLECTIVE PROJECTS

Marketing concept

100 % (Bio) Valposchiavo sales platform

General coordination

  • 7 This hybrid body, involved in both education and regional development, and particularly funded by t (...)

32The regional development project centres on the regional project in that it is a culmination (and a blend) of the 100% Valposchiavo initiative launched in the 2010s (see Figure 5). After a project primarily driven by the agricultural and administrative sectors, and subsequently the tourism and administrative sectors, agricultural and tourism strategies and all the valley’s stakeholders have found a joint purpose in food products, blending bottom-up drives (farmers, retailers, restaurants) and courses of action fostered by stakeholders and/or administrative bodies. It is worth mentioning the key role of a Zurich-based consultant, originally from the valley, and that of the Director of Polo Poschiavo7 (who was also President of the Regione Valposchiavo at one time) throughout the 2010s. Both had considerable local expertise and were highly capable of interacting with the broader political and administrative contexts to capitalise on tools to help promote local resources and support (particularly financially) development projects decided locally. The diagram also demonstrates the creation of new regional cooperative entities throughout the process.

33While more is yet to be done, as one of the interviewees admits, “we are heading in the right direction, but we haven’t reached our destination yet! In regional planning, in more sustainable use of resources, in terms of mobilities…”, the stakeholders’ intention, through this project, is to contribute to more sustainable development of the valley (Bentiviglio et al., 2019; McMorran et al., 2015), a fact corroborated by almost all the stakeholders interviewed. Therefore, we describe this regional project as a “transition” project, since its objective is to address a number of environmental challenges (in addition to regional socioeconomic challenges) through the promotion of local agri-food products: its ultimate aim is to achieve 100% conversion to organic farming in the valley, develop slow tourism, roll out local distribution channels and increase cooperation between local stakeholders and local governance.

34In Val Poschiavo, food matters are not confined to the agricultural sector alone, despite the fact that they have often been regarded as such in regions (Brand 2015; 2017). In the arguments proposed by the various successive projects, stakeholders have addressed the topic of food, but few of them have referred to local food, something that they admit themselves. For all that, the initiative has ramifications for local food.

Lack of Consideration for Local Food? Impact and Limitations of the 100% Valposchiavo Initiative.

35The parallel reflection process has enabled the agricultural and tourism sectors to converge in the initiative, but the 100% Valposchiavo initiative is viewed differently from one stakeholder to another. While some (from the different sectors mentioned – administrative, agricultural, and tourism) are seeking to construct local food sovereignty, others see the initiative simply as a marketing tool for the region. Although there appear to be some obstacles to the initiative becoming a food project, the process and the considerations involved have repercussions for local food.

  • 8 In 2015, when the Swiss franc was at parity with the Euro, a number of stakeholders were involved i (...)

36Besides the multiple food-related challenges (education, health, etc.) not taken into consideration in the initiative given that it primarily focuses on the tourism market, stakeholders say that the proximity of the Italian border plays a key role in Val Poschiavo’s food dynamics. Given the substantial price differential, there is strong competition: many local residents shop and eat out across the border.8 Furthermore, the region itself has only three small grocery stores, including one Coop.

37Nevertheless, as the initiative has progressed, despite not being among the intended or explicit objectives, effects on local food consumption have been observed, as the President of the 100% (Bio) Valposchiavo association confirms: “the purpose of 100% Valposchiavo is to change how we think about eating local, organic, zero food miles, seasonal produce” continuing “it makes no sense to export agricultural products while importing food products from elsewhere. Progress is being made with tourism, but we also want to target the local market”. In this section, we describe the different factors relating to production, processing, and distribution.

38Firstly, agricultural production has seen extensive diversification over the last decade to meet the needs of the restaurant sector, and extend the 100% Valposchiavo brand to more products (e.g. 100% Valposchiavo pizza, ketchup, kirsch), but also more broadly to supplement the range of locally produced foods. As such, the potential to supply the local food market has grown substantially, especially as production is not solely limited to local specialties. Eggs, vegetables, cereals, walnuts, and olives are now produced and distributed locally, in many cases driven by collective dynamics. Cereal crops (rye, spelt, barley, oats, and buckwheat), which had disappeared around forty years ago, were recently reintroduced thanks to the farmers belonging to the Campicoltura association, and four farms forming Società di noci have rehabilitated some terraces and started selling walnuts. Unlike other Alpine valleys characterised by an exclusive focus on dairy farming, local production is capable, given its diversity, of meeting the local population’s food needs.

39Secondly, as seen above, a large number of the individual projects under the RDP are aimed at developing local processing of various agricultural products. While local processing helps increase agricultural added value, it also maintains the link between the region and what happens to these products, one of the motivating forces for stakeholders (besides lowering related transport costs). For example, some stakeholders are involved in local organic flour production or in reviving traditional “homemade” boxes, where the customer purchases cattle directly from the producer (in meat box form), and can take part in the preparation process.

40Thirdly, distribution channels have emerged, while others have been reshaped, particularly into more local channels. While the distribution platform envisaged by the RDP is more aimed at the local restaurant sector (particularly with a view to facilitating shared procurement), the extension of the store located in the centre of Poschiavo is aimed at converting it into a sales outlet for local products intended for all types of customers. Moreover, inspired by Swiss social agriculture associations, two farmers have set up the association Ravis in Tera, which is similar to a community-supported agriculture association. Through this association, local consumers can sign up for food boxes (fruit and vegetables, goat’s cheese). The two farmers behind the association are also envisioning extending the season for the seasonal market and upgrading it to a farmers’ market. “It can be a struggle here to persuade people to be more open-minded, a lot of people have yet to be convinced”, one of the farmers told us.

41Finally, besides the agri-food sector, it is worth mentioning another project supported by the RDP, which is a social initiative planning to create accommodation and educational facilities for children and young people with behavioural problems, through animal contact and a routine that is closer to nature.

42Apart from this final point, as demonstrated by the commodity chain approach adopted here, food continues to be regarded from an agricultural perspective, without addressing the multiple challenges associated with food. Nevertheless, over the course of the 2010s in the region, it could be said that the emergence of a region-based food system was observed. While it could not strictly be said that Val Poschiavo’s population is self-sufficient per se (Guiraud et al., 2014), it is approaching a “cohesive set of agri-food commodity chains located in a regional geographic area” (Rastoin, 2015), or a system integrating “local stakeholders involved in the production, processing, and distribution sectors, and also technical advisors, regional or region-based public policies, consumers, and society as a whole” (Lamine, 2012, pp.143), although more involvement from the latter two stakeholders is needed to complete the system.

43Conclusion 

44Food matters particularly arise as a topic in urban literature (Brand, 2015; Delfosse, 2019), even though the same issues also apply in rural regions, and not merely because such regions are the primary sources of supply for towns and cities. “Health, environment, land use, social justice” (Ibid., pp.34) are all key food-related challenges in these regions, alongside that of the sustainability of agricultural economic activity. This sustainability, alongside the issue of land use, is the starting point of the 100% Valposchiavo initiative examined in this paper. Over the course of the 2010s, it became a regional transition project jointly built by valley’s stakeholders in the agricultural, administrative, and tourism sectors.

45The regional project has gradually focused on the objective of promoting local agricultural products through the tourism sector, which in return has helped specify local tourism. As highlighted by Loudiyi & Houdart (2019) for other rural regions, this has helped stimulate regional resources and (gradually) include a wide range of stakeholders, including some key stakeholders, with scope for establishing strong roots alongside links outside the region, to capitalise on tools, particularly funding beyond the regional level. The rural nature of the region creates multipositionality among stakeholders, who, as often mentioned in the interviews, were part of an extensive flow of knowledge, ideas and projects. The final phase of the initiative, namely the “100% (Bio) Valposchiavo” regional development project, shows a strong commitment to the valley’s transition, particularly supporting full conversion to organic farming, expansion of local distribution channels, support for slow tourism, and increased cooperation between local stakeholders.

46Food matters initially emerged in this region from an agricultural perspective, following a need to rethink added value creation in the sector. They were subsequently, in parallel, addressed by the tourism sector, which created two regional brands to promote the valley’s food heritage. While there was a lack of consideration of the issue of local residents’ food in the project documents and in the discourse of most stakeholders (Brand, 2015), some have started talking about it, perceiving it as an opportunity to consider a more local food system, as a result of the 100% Valposchiavo initiative: diversification of agricultural production (and hence of the food products available locally), boosting local processing capacities and new distribution options. Therefore, besides targeting the tourism market, local food products could also meet local residents’ specific needs. Nevertheless, there are a number of other food-related issues that have not been addressed in the valley, such as competition with supply from the neighbouring Italian market, which is cheaper (especially compared to organic products).

47Finally, this paper urges further analysis of the inclusion of the setting – viewed not solely from a social, but also geographic, perspective – in the transition process, and hence the key role potentially played by food. Indeed, the Val Poschiavo initiative would appear to be rooted in cross-cultural influences (border), differences in altitude, climate, topography, etc. This suggests that, in order to design transitions, each region needs to work within (or reconnect with) its geographical specificities (resources, topographies, interregional links). In this context, food can provide a cornerstone, especially as it helps break down barriers between different stakeholders and sectors (Brand, 2015), and also include consumers/local residents in the process, notwithstanding the fact that this has only been achieved to a very limited extent in Val Poschiavo.

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Notes

1 For a long time, these two regions were joined together before Val Poschiavo opted to join the Confederation in 1797 when Valtellina was annexed to the Cisalpine Republic.

2 Some (sweet chestnut and walnut trees) are regaining ground, while others (olive trees) can now be cultivated due to climate change.

3 The “Lagobianco” project is a large-scale pumping-turbine project valued at over 2 billion Swiss francs. It consists of a technical solution providing a direct connection between Lago Bianco and Lago di Poschiavo while avoiding a huge plain wave, the primary grounds for objections to the previous project.

4 This project stemmed from the purchase of Casa Tomè by the tourist office and the organisation of the “From Farm to Fork” exhibition, encouraging cooperation between farmers and with the local mill in 2004.

5 https://www.alpfoodway.eu/home/french, project website, consulted on 19 January 2022.

6 The Canton of Graubünden reformed its Districts, which are its local authorities above municipal level, in the 2010s. Regione Valposchiavo was replaced by Regione Bernina with a different status, but the same geographic outline. During the transition period, no structure was in place to lead the RDP until the “100% (Bio) Valposchiavo” association was set up.

7 This hybrid body, involved in both education and regional development, and particularly funded by the Canton, originated in the Moving Alps Project (1995-2001). In this project, Val Poschiavo was a pilot site for the digitisation of remote Swiss regions.

8 In 2015, when the Swiss franc was at parity with the Euro, a number of stakeholders were involved in launching the Val Poschiavo “moneta” concept to support consumer spending on the Swiss side of the border. Each family was able to purchase units of 200 CHF to spend in the local economy for only 120 CHF.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Location of Val Poschiavo
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/10894/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 370k
Légende Source: OFS, 2021.
Crédits Created by author
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/10894/img-2.png
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Titre Figure 2 : View of Val Poschiavo from the train – April 2021
Crédits Photo taken by author
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/10894/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 943k
Titre Figure 3: BioSuisse-certified farm
Crédits photo taken by author
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/10894/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 729k
Titre Figure 4: 100% Valposchiavo-certified restaurant
Crédits Photo taken by author
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/10894/img-5.png
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Titre Figure 5: Summary: the 100% Valposchiavo initiative
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/10894/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 24k
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Référence électronique

Marjolaine Gros-Balthazard, « Emergence of Food Matters in Val Poschiavo (Switzerland) through the Definition of a Regional Transition Project  »Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 110-2 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2022, consulté le 28 janvier 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rga/10894 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/rga.10894

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Marjolaine Gros-Balthazard

Maîtresse de conférences, Institut d’Urbanisme et de Géographie Alpine (Université Grenoble-Alpes) / Laboratoire Pacte

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