Arrivederci Italia!

Some may argue that the ICABR presents just one side of an ongoing debate about food production, technology and trade.  Some would say that maybe the conference is a bit imbalanced in terms of representation.  Does balance then come with the fact that the Conference was set in Ravello, a designated GM-free zone? Perhaps not. But it is certainly an interesting dichotomy.

View from my balcony. Oh yeah. Awesome!

We arrived on the Amalfi coast on Sunday afternoon, a bit worse for wear after the heat of Capri which was compounded by an overindulgence in wine and food over the weekend.  The ferry heaved its way along the Italian coastline, passing by Positano (of “Under the Tuscan Sun” fame). Fortunately, my stomach behaved itself and I was able to enjoy the 1.5 hour journey.

Since its inception 16 years ago, the International Consortium on Agricultural Bioeconomy Research (ICABR), with the exception of only a year or two, has been hosted in Ravello, Italy.  Relatively speaking, it’s a small conference set in a small Italian community attracting around 120 academics, government and industry folks from all over the world.  The “home” for the event was the newly established Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium.

Sculpture by Igor Mitoraj at the Auditorium

I co-authored two papers for this conference. One on the development of science-based policies and regulations in developing countries and the other – perhaps a bit of a departure for both me and this conference – on university policy and incentives around social media practice.

But this gastro-academic odyssey from Spain to Ravello, Italy was not only about work.  I was able to catch up with some colleagues and enjoy some pretty great food and wine.  In fact, my room at the Graal had a spectacular view of the Mediterranean so I often hosted the colleagues (@lfec77 @karidoerksen etc) for a late afternoon siesta and drinks on my balcony (yes, we may have skipped out on the odd plenary session or two). Apparently, we were having too much of a good time because the uptight British couple in the room next to me complained; yelling from their balcony:

“How are we supposed to enjoy reading our books with all that racket going on!”

If they had listened a bit more closely, they might have discovered that what we were talking about was far more interesting than any ol’ book! #whatissharedonbalconyoverlookingMediterraneaninItalystaysinItaly

In addition to generating wine-induced noise pollution, we also enjoyed walking through the maze of narrow streets that ran through Ravello, seeking out new places to sample Italian fare and poking through ceramic/tile stores.  We managed to hit a “Wine and Drugs” store where we sampled some of the finest wines in Italy.  The bottles ranged from 90 Euros to well over 250 Euros.  And the “drugs” in “Wine and Drugs”, you ask? Our host claimed that the “drug” was this absolutely amazing balsamic vinaigrette that he offered us (he may have been pulling our naïve Canadian legs, though).  Anyway, the vinaigrette was spectacular.  It was as thick as maple syrup and it beautifully cloaked those gorgeous bits of pungent cheese.  These tidbits were the perfect match to our wine samples.

Overall, the ICABR in Ravello was a great experience.  I finally met Klaus Ammann face-to-face.  Ingo Potrykus gave a wonderful update on GoldenRice (due to arrive in the Philippines in 2013, after 14 years of red tape and political-regulatory wranglings). These latter two folks spoke in one of the parallel sessions. It thought it a shame that not everyone was able to listen to these gentlemen speak.  Alan Olmstead – an economic historian – also closed the conference with a great keynote on opposition to technology from a historical standpoint.  He reminded us of the controversy and once very vocal opposition to technologies and scientific advances of the past: Galileo’s telescope, the tractor, the railroad, TB vaccinations, etc.  Olmstead’s summary of these stories really put things in perspective.

The last session of the program was, by far, the most interesting: “The Political Economy of Biotechnology in International Agricultural Agencies.” This overview on what are presumed to be ‘quiet diplomacy’ strategies by international agencies was presented by Regina Birner and Jock Anderson. Responses to the paper came from a panel that included representatives from the FAO, IFPRI, the World Bank and the European Union.  The icing on the cake was when Tassos Haniotis of the European Union referred to – not once but twice – our joint paper on university policy and incentives for scientists to communicate (Ryan and Doerksen).  What a great way to end a conference! #validated!

So, I find myself in Rome – yet again – with one last night to enjoy Italy before I head home tomorrow.  It’s been two weeks. It’s time.  I miss my family, my critters and my own bed.  And the questionable odors emanating from my suitcase suggests that it is time to do laundry, too.

Quote of the day: “For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery — back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.” – D.H. Lawrence