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Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life

May 21, 2015, 10:44 AM

Expo Milano 2015 is the current exposition being hosted by Milan, Italy. The opening took place on 1st May 2015 and the expo will close on 31 October 2015. This is the second time Milan has hosted the exposition, the first being the Milan International of 1906. Expo Milano 2015 is being held under the theme ‘Feeding the planet, energy for life’. This embraces technology, innovation, culture, traditions and creativity and how they relate to food and diet in the light of new global scenarios and emerging issues, with a principal focus on the right to healthy, secure and sufficient food for all the world’s inhabitants.

The official opening ceremony of the Expo was held in the Open Air Theater, with the flags of all the participating countries paraded in, in a single file. In attendance were a number of distinguished personalities who delivered addresses. Among the many speakers, was the Mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia.

The Mayor urged the people of Milan to welcome tourists and visitors arriving during the six-month period with joy and engagement. “Milan offers itself completely to welcome the world to our city. Expo Milano 2015 is designed to say to everyone on the planet that the hunger challenge can be beaten, that each of us can do something to stop the unsustainable exploitation of the planet.”

The opening ceremony continued with the highly anticipated speech by Pope Francis, delivered via a video link from the Vatican, which is the smallest existing state, in Italy. He said “Expo Milano 2015 is an opportunity to globalize solidarity. We must thank God for choosing this theme. Let us remember the words of John Paul XXIII, who said that the paradox of inequality still exists today and that we must stop abusing the garden that God has given us.”

The Pope said he wants to celebrate May 1st, remembering all the workers who have worked for the Universal Exhibition in Milan.

The ceremony that officially marked the start of Expo Milano 2015 ended with the keynote address by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “Today, the future of a country with an extraordinary past begins, but also one that has a future that now embraces the world. Let’s show that Italy is proud of its roots, but also that our future is being written right now. Politics can no longer just take care of insiders. Let us make sure the Universal Exhibition in Milan is a place for discussion and solutions.” In the acknowledgments made by the Prime Minister, Renzi recalled Letizia Moratti, the previous Mayor of Milan who, “first had the idea that Expo Milano 2015 could be a great opportunity for Italy." The celebrations ended with Premier Renzi signing the Milan Charter, with the Frecce Tricolori - the Italian Air Force’s aerobatic team - performing a fly-past over the Exhibition site at the end of his speech.

Food is a vital and highly-topical question for everyone everywhere, and implies addressing many challenges. Expo Milano 2015 brings together countries from all over the world that have been charged with illustrating their own interpretation of the theme, to include ways in which these challenges can be addressed. The theme is therefore of paramount importance to the development of humanity. The participation of International Organizations at the exhibition is therefore, key to its success. Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life means food security, access to food, and sustainability: all the central themes in the work and mission of some of the most important organizations worldwide.

The Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the involvement of the corporate world is also of major importance, as they both set to play leading roles at Expo Milano 2015, for it would be impossible to cover a theme so central to the future of mankind as Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life without the participation and contribution of that aggregate of non-governmental organizations and private enterprises.

A key aspect of the Expo is the array of countries from all over the world that have agreed to interpret the theme: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. Food is a vital part of daily life for everyone everywhere. It can bring together people of different cultures and religions, but also implies addressing many challenges. Every participating country has been charged with questioning and offering solutions to the major challenges related to the future of food, and each will provide those answers by drawing upon its own culture and traditions.

Participating Countries have had the opportunity either to build their own exhibition space (the Self-Built Pavilions), or to exhibit inside one of the nine Thematic Clusters. The exhibition site has thus been transformed into a mosaic of countries committed to creating awareness of a theme that is of critical importance for future generations. Expo Milano 2015: 184 unique days of culture and science, innovation and tradition, sustainability and solidarity where visitors can find over one hundred national cuisines each with their own tastes, aromas, and colors.

Expo Milano 2015 is a thrilling round-the-world trip brimming with surprises. Every pavilion offers a journey through the culture, perfumes, colors and traditions of its people. Many countries have also organized special attractions, live shows, architecture, design, flavors, nature and science united in a single space designed to offer an exciting experience to enthusiastic visitors. I hope that the Gambia pavilion will also harness this opportunity to ‘sell The Gambia’ and live up to the expectation of thrilling visitors.

The Gambia Cluster - Fruits and Legumes     

Support for Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSME’s) is the focus of investment programs in The Gambia. It is helping to combat poverty and improve farm incomes, and the Expo Milano 2015 is paying special attention to selected crops (peanuts, cashews, sesame, mango, and fruit and legumes). The Gambia has been recognized (and awarded) by UN agencies for her achievement in promoting food security through the ‘eat what you grow and grow what you eat’ slogan, through the efforts and drive of the country’s visionary leader, the president His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh.

The Gambia’s participation in Expo Milano 2015 is therefore focused on showcasing those agricultural practices that, even with the help of new technologies, are and will be able to ensure quality and sustainability, showing how through support programs for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) significant improvements can be made. Already about 70% of the agricultural labor force – which is composed mainly of women – work in this sector, generating 4% of the national GDP.

Fruits and Legumes in The Gambia are essential for assuring an income for local communities, ensuring food security and excellent products for export. The Expo presents an opportunity to not only showcase these foods, but also promote an exchange of experiences around technologies that can increase yield and reduce the waste of water and other precious resources.

In its 125-square meter exhibition space, located within the Fruits and Legumes Cluster, there will be a display of many Gambian gastronomical specialties that use some of these fresh and tasty products, to acquaint the visitor with the unique flavors of the Gambia. Other countries in the same cluster are; Benin, the two Guineas, Sri Lanka, Zambia (to name a few).

Between now and the end of the Expo, it is expected that a number of MSME’s would be supported to attend this event to showcase their products, creating a unique opportunity for The Gambia to demonstrate her potential and also give entrepreneurs the rare occasion to sell their products outside the Gambia. The Gambia week is slated for sometime in September, and since this Expo is not just about food, but culture, arts and craft etc, we expect that The Gambia will put up a big show at the pavilion, on that week to attract as many visitors as possible. So the Gambia Tourist Board, GIEPA, GCCI and all stakeholders involve in selling destination Gambia should embark on a crusade as early as now to start the planning, to get cultural performers, musical bands etc to Expo Milano 2015.

Projects and the Private Sector are also all encouraged to support producers and their organisations in the horticultural sector, and facilitate their trip to this important and ‘eye opening’ event. Producer Organisations (PO’s) play an important role in supporting smallholder farmers. They enable small-scale producers to better take advantage of opportunities offered in the market place and to make better use of the natural resources base. Some of the services they offer to their members include access to agricultural inputs, credit, training, storage facilities and agro-technology. By mediating access to these important services, PO’s have great potential to transform smallholder farming into a profitable enterprise. They also give smallholder farmers a voice in decision-making processes at all levels. They also represent a powerful means of supporting marginalized groups, such as youth and women, who are now attempting to adopt innovative approaches and tools (such as weather index insurance schemes) that have proved to be highly resilient to economic and environmental shocks.

The Expo Milano 2015 is therefore a platform for countries to learn and share experiences, woo investors, whilst leveraging the opportunity to access and trade within the international market. So, we should rise to the occasion and demonstrate our distinct African culture with a twist of Gambian specialty.

Writer: Banky Njie