Renewable Matter # 10 / May-June

Earthworms vs. Ecomafia

by Antonio Pergolizzi

In a province where less than 10% of waste is separated at source, some little red worms will snatch waste from criminal modus operandi, thus turning what is a cost into a resource and starting a little organized and sustainable legal network.

 

In Rosarno, situated in the previously lush Gioia Tauro Plain, in the Reggio Calabria province, earthworms are about to start their titanic clash against ecomafia. David vs. Goliath. In this context, the former is made of an army of little red worms and the latter is the super powerful ‘ndrangheta.

Here, after Terre del Sole consortium was allocated the area seized from the Iamonte clan (almost 7,000 m2 of agricultural land), the Mestieri Legali (“Legal Trades”) was created, sponsored by Fondazione per il Sud (“Foundation for the South”), Elisabetta Tripodi’s pride and joy in her fight for legality as an anti-mafia mayor. She has spent her life escorted by the police for naming and shaming the mafia arrogance. In this initiative, a number of associations joined the consortium including Legambiente, ARCI, Omnia, Alba Servizi Cooperative and the municipalities of Rosarno and Laureana di Borrello.

This is excellent teamwork. One of the trades is a worm farm that will turn the two municipalities’ waste into new lifeblood, from a cost to a resource, to the advantage of the whole area. A circular economy prototype grafted onto the kingdom of Pesce and Bellocco – ‘ndrangheta’s cocky and bloodthirsty aristocracies – where, according to many justice collaborators, many poisonous substances are buried, especially inland, only a few metres deep, including radioactive waste.

Earthworms are actually just one piece of a far larger puzzle: a tangible and ambitious project that represents a window into the future, a bet to be won. The target is the creation of a Biodiversity Comunitas, i.e. a process of restoration of the local natural environment – a tiny plot of land where two rivers, the Mesima and its tributary Metramo, meet – involving the study of the ecosystem’s biological indicators and the area’s use by the community as well as setting up educational/naturalist workshops for schools, fully aware that the new generations will inherit the destiny of such territory, once they will be able to appreciate and recognize it in a new light.

 

 

The initiative aims at creating a network, grafting onto a space where healthy examples of circular economy are already thriving such as Fattoria della Piana, a well-established farmers’ cooperative that opted for an organic short production chain to manufacture cheese and cold cuts, relying on energy self-sufficiency thanks to a biogas plant allowing to close the loop of the production cycle. Such farm is now a virtuous example, officially recognized in Calabria and beyond.

And the tiny worms will have to carry out the thankless task of lock picking in order to snatch waste from criminal and parasitic logic – in a province with less than 10% of separate waste collection and in a Region that has already been under receivership for sixteen years for this – in order to shift it towards forms of circular economy. Worms are employed to reintegrate the soil with the necessary organic matter, the right oxygen, to produce quality compost from simple organic waste from the land and from the two participating municipalities’ organic waste (FORSU). All this has enormous environmental benefits for the municipalities’ cash flows. In this way, according to some estimates, on a 50 m2 surface, up to 75,000 kilos of organic waste a year will be disposed of. That’s a good start! Moreover the bins for worms will be provided by another giant of Calabria’s circular economy, particularly unpopular with Locride’s bosses – Polistena-based Ecoplan company, producing materials obtained from recycling plastic and olive pomace. A small organized, legal and sustainable network in the Reggio province.

In this peculiar ecosystem delicate balance the compost produced will have more than one benefit. First of all, it will allow obtaining a natural soil conditioner from a waste type that up until now has been environmentally problematic in Calabria, creating senseless management. Now it is possible to use it on the soil itself to improve its fertility or sell it on the market. It thus contributes to the improvement of the structural soil quality, helping against desertification, which ARPACal defines a real emergency for Calabria and reducing emissions, improving the soil capacity to fixate CO2. But, above all, worm farming will help to direct waste towards a sustainable and transparent process which, besides solving the age-old power and money-grabbing problems of the clans, will contribute considerably to the rehabilitation of urban and rural areas, by embracing a more modern management, with a lower impact than waste, and above all less reliant on old landfills.

 

 

The initiative boasts ethical as well as social connotations, since it is aimed directly at communities of migrants, mainly Africans, many of whom have been caught in the nets of local corporals (very busy throughout the Plain) and subjected to regular attacks. Culminated in the act of violence of 9th January 2010, when in Rosarno coloured people were chased around and shot, with many people injured resulting in a mass exodus of the African population. According to the investigators, those events were orchestrated by the clans, which sent a clear message to all seasonal workers (all immigrants), paid only a few euros for picking oranges in the bosses’ lands, guilty of having asked for better life conditions.

The fact that Mestieri Legali starts by involving immigrants, the weakest link of a long production chain made of exploitation and mafia, embodies more than a symbolic meaning. Indeed, two of them, after a training period, will have to look after the composting plant. This is a very strong message that certainly did not go unnoticed in town.

This journey is doubly circular in that it helps produce the social antibodies necessary to oppose the mafia way of thinking and as a hotbed for a social economy model, which is both sustainable and inclusive. The two aspects reinforce each other. As Lidia Liotta reminds us (Legambiente in Reggio Calabria), one of the staunchest supporters of the project, “the boys are already on the case, having enthusiastically taken part in the first work camp and, with their bare hands, have already removed tons of waste (Eternit included) from the Mesima banks.”

Local policies, though, have been trying to stifle the enthusiasm, with the bizarre en masse resignation of opposition councillors (plus a governing one), which has meant the early dissolution of the Town Council in Rosarno, resulting in the fall of the anti-mafia mayor, a staunch supporter of the project. Luckily the project seems to be enjoying a life of its own, having spread like a virus to other towns in the Cosenza and Crotone provinces, willing to follow Rosarno’s example with new worm farms cropping up instead of landfills. This idea was so revolutionary for mafia pax that it pushed some “unknown people”, the day after the first public event to launch the initiative occurred last September, to hurl several stolen cars’ wrecks across the entrance gate to the seized area. 

Unequivocal proof in a land ruled by ‘ndrangheta and unwritten rules. Mafia prefers landfills (illegal or otherwise) to harmless red worms, seen as – and rightly so – unbearable seeds of freedom as well as of sustainability. So, their resistance (and existence) is instrumental in redeeming this land and in affirming a fairer society, in every sense. 

 

Info

Fondazione per il Sud, www.fondazioneconilsud.it

Consorzio Terre del Sole, www.consorzioterredelsole.it

Ecoplan, www.ecoplan.it/home.html