Interview with Consol Castillo, Head of the Department for Agriculture of València, on the occasion of the election of the city as the World Food Capital in 2017.
I met Consol Castillo in València on a rainy December day, rare in a city that enjoys more than 320 days of sunshine a year. It is said that the Valencians, cheerful and open people, fizzle out on rainy days. But the Mercat Central, where we are, is full overcrowd. Perhaps because it is considered the heart of the city, as Consol likes to repeat. València has just been selected as the World’s Food Capital in 2017. Consol greets us with a charming smile. She is so at ease moving around among the market stalls that could be easily mistaken for a market shopkeeper.
Why has been València selected to be the World’s Food Capital in 2017?
Well, most probably for two reasons: firstly because València was one of the cities that signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact at the very beginning and secondly because the application we presented really talked about what we are. In other words, a city that has looked at agriculture as one of its greatest values since many centuries. In fact, our system of irrigation dates by the time when the Arabs were established in our territory. We are a city concerned about our Horta – an area of orchards that surrounds the city – which was about to succumb to the pressure of a predator urban policy. Finally, we are a city which its political proposal fully comply with the Milan Pact conditions.
And what would this election imply for the city?
The opportunity and the challenge of making these new policies happen in the near future. Now, with the support of the FAO and the commitment of all the social agents of the city, will be easier.
In October 2015, more than 100 large cities around the world signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. What are the commitments of the cities to join the Milan Covenant?
To spread another food perspective for the municipalities, to implement local policies that consider food as part of a whole, like different methods of production, processing and distribution, waste management, environmental footprint, etc. These new policies will help to move towards a more sustainable local food system, more diverse, healthy and diversified.
In this framework, what kind of activities will be carried out this year ?
Rather than extraordinary activities to build an ad hoc scenario, the idea is to give a central role to all the actions that the City Council is working or had planned to work around the food system in order to encourage a sustainable diet, to promote social equity and equality, to promote local food production, to improve the food supply and its distribution and to reduce food waste.
Regardless of this, we will follow the annual meeting of the Covenant of Milan members, some specific activities will be organised in order to boost the strategies embodied in the Pact.
60% of world population live in cities. The way that cities are fed is essential to set the global food system. In Valencia, how and what do citizens consume?
Well, one of the main goals that we have set for this year is to carry out a diagnosis on how we eat, what we eat and to check its origin. With the results of such analysis, we will be able to make reasonable proposals in order to improve our dietary pattern.
Which is the food model that you want for your city?
We want to implement a healthy and sustainable model. A model that enables the countryside to become an economic engine; a model that allows to regenerate our territory and a model that guarantees the generational renewal of the people who work in the countryside.
You have stated yourself that l’Horta “is not just an urban landscape but a productive sector”. In contrast, year after year the abandonment of the arable lands is steadily growing. What kind of actions is your Government taking to convert the agricultural sector into a productive one?
One of the first measures we are working on is the creation of a bank land addressed to people who cannot work the land because of their age but would like to cede it to people willing to work the orchard. Regarding the profitability, we want to guarantee the sale of their farm production, shortening the marketing channels so that the profits will remain in the hands of the farmers and raise awareness of the fact that a quality product has a different price that we will have to assume.
L’Horta of València has suffered an enormous urban pressure over the past years. How can be protected?
In fact, the current local government has already taken some political decisions with the aim of preserving the orchard. For instance, the modification of the land-use plan approved by the previous government. Simultaneously, the regional government has implemented an special plan to limit the urban growth. In addition, the so-called L’Horta Law will promote the rural environment and the agricultural activities with the objective of restoring our oldest productive sector.
Consol Castillo is graduated in Contemporary History, Teacher of Valencian language for 21 years. She was elected as a member of València City Council in 2011 by the political coalition Compromís, on behalf of the nationalist party Bloc Nacionalista Valencià. In 2015, she was elected again councillor of the city. Nowadays, she is the head of the Department of Social Welfare and Agriculture.