ARCO’s researchers concluded the five case studies envisaged by The European Project Efeseiis, Enabling the Flourishing and Evolution of Social Entrepreneurship for Innovative and Inclusive Societies. Antonio Napoli, one of the founders of La Valle del Marro cooperative, has been interviewed to discover the work and mission of one of the most important Italian organizations, committed to fight mafia criminality and mentality. The cooperative is the practical implementation of “Libera Terra in Calabria” one of Libera Association’s projects to promote a sustainable use of the assets seized from organized-crime organizations and to make what has been stolen to the community, a valuable resource for its socio-economic development. Since 2004 La Valle del Marro has been farming plots seized from Calabrian mafia, within several municipalities of Gioia Tauro plain, 243km2 alluvial plain in the Southern Calabria region, birthplace of ‘ndrangheta, one of the most powerful mafia-type criminal organizations worldwide.

La Valle del Marro: change is possible, anywhere!

The conception of La Valle del Marro cooperative springs from the evolution of two intertwined movements, both rooted in the intention of explicitly fighting the mafia’s mentality. While, within a church courtyard in the homeland of ‘ndrangheta a group of young people was taking the brave decision of openly resisting the dominant attitude of mafia subjugation, at national level, Libera Association (established in 1995 to raise citizens’ awareness of organized crime’s actions, power and influence) succeeded in the collection of 1ml signatures, asking government for a greater commitment to the dreadful mafia issue. In 1996, the Parliament passed bill 109/96 and the possibility of repossessing communities of their resources stolen by mafia came true. In 2002, “Libera Terra in Calabria” project was launched, and in 2004 La Valle del Marro cooperative was established.

To this day the cooperative has been entrusted the management of 130 hectare area seized from Calabrian mafia through 30-year land loan for use contracts and it has succeeded in restoring about 90% of total lands. It is farming citrus, aubergines, olives and peppers within several municipalities of Gioia Tauro plain, and it is selling its products on three sales channels (mainly fair trade shops and large cooperative retailers).

Agricultural activities go hand in hand with diverse other initiatives to enhance the open disobedience against mafia’s actions of extortion and code of silence. Indeed, the cooperative is openly committed to foster the birth of a new model of society, based on active civil engagement and inclusion.

Just by way of example, it runs agricultural workcamps on mafia-seized territories, which are primarily enriching learning occasions, before being traditional farm working experiences. It proposes education for legality projects to schools and undertakes awareness campaigns. Moreover, by its legal nature, it aims at the integration into the labour market of disadvantage people. In line with this principle, 30% of the cooperative’s staff is made up of people with psychic and physical disabilities and it offers internships to minors with problems in custody of the foster care, and adults on probation, to support their social inclusion and personal growth.

Despite La Valle del Marro’s revolutionary business venture and social impact, its everyday work is often dismissed by the public actor and it is hindered by continuous ‘ndrangheta’s retaliations. Sale revenues are insufficient to bear land restoration costs and contingent expenses to tackle the damages of mafia attacks. The local and national civil society’s support is constant and strong but it is necessary a bigger effort by public institutions, in order to foster a real social change.