The Presidia began in Italy in 1999 as the working arm of the Ark of Taste. The Ark had at that point catalogued hundreds of products at risk of disappearing; the Presidia represented a more practical project, with Slow Food deciding to make a concrete contribution to the world of food production, and help artisan food producers directly. Presidia projects are about relaunching products under threat and assisting a group of producers to continue their work by creating a viable market for their product. The Presidia, which began with just two projects in Italy, now encompasses more than 270 projects all over the world.
The Presidia represent a cultural and financial challenge: to raise the profile of ancient crafts. Whilst open to innovative technology, the chosen projects conserve traditional foodways and folk knowledge. To be effective, Slow Food, enlisted the help of experts to assist them in understanding each unique Presidia, firstly to decide on its feasibity and secondly to understand fully how to assist producers, and to develop production and marketing techniques which allow their product to become economically viable. This is why a Presidia must have a local coordinator present to follow the development, and a producer group.
Originally, Presidia were defined solely as local projects that focus on a group of producers of a single product. However, International Presidia projects can be developed along new lines, e.g. to promote raw milk cheese, involvement of women or schooling for the producers children in environmental practices. In these cases that Presidia are not only about preserving a gastronomic tradition but also may develop a product for example providing technical advisors, organising work experiences or buying equipment.
For some Presidia, a little assistance goes a long way: all it takes is to bring together producers, help them coordinate marketing and promotion and establish quality and authenticity standards for their product. Other products take more effort to save: sometimes it’s necessary to build a dairy or an oven or develop new ways to use or prepare a particular food.
Slow Food Presidia work in different ways, but the goals remain constant: to promote artisan products, stabilize production techniques, establish stringent production standards and, above all, to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods.
Presidium products have not only conquered cooks and gourmets, but have also won over everyday consumers. The success of the presidia has proven that consumers are willing to pay fair prices for quality products, which are hence economically feasible to make.
The general objectives of the presidia are numerous, complex and multifaceted, but can be boiled down to four areas. The economic aspect is obviously vital (presidium products were disappearing because they were no longer profitable and in order to continue their activity, producers have to have economic assurance about the future), but another three factors are also crucial: environmental, social and cultural aspects.
Economic objectives (increasing producer incomes, developing local driven activities, increasing employment) are the only ones that can be measured using quantitative indicators: variations in price, quantities produced, numbers employed. The other aspects require a different approach and are more difficult to classify and compare using standard parameters, but they are perhaps the most interesting and important dimension of presidium activity.
Environmental objectives (defending biodiversity, improving the sustainability of products) are essential for all presidia. Every set of production rules requires producers to eliminate or reduce chemical treatments, guarantee animal wellbeing (using extensive farming systems, adequate space, no forced feeding), defend, where possible, local breeds and native vegetable varieties, use ecological packaging, and to favor the use of renewable energy.
Social objectives (improve the social position of producers, strengthen their organizational capacity) can be measured by seeing whether the presidium has created an association or other organized body, if producers have improved their ability to form relationships with public and private institutions, if they are more widely known and if their voice has greater weight, thanks to media attention.
Cultural objectives (strengthening producers’ cultural identity and promoting production areas) are linked to the ability of the presidium to stimulate publications about the local area, the creation of tourist routes and other cultural initiatives, the restoration of old buildings, etc.