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WILPF Italy has joined a campaign led by Sardinian peace activists to convert an arms factory into a production facility for locally in-demand cheeses – a sustainable solution that will save lives and strengthen the local economy by supporting traditional farming practices. Learn more and get involved!
Instead of producing weapons, why not make cheese?
That proposition – make cheese, not war – is at the heart of an ongoing campaign to convert a Sardinian arms factory into a production facility for locally in-demand cheeses.
The campaign, launched in 2020 by Sardinian grassroots groups Sardegna Pulita and Donne Ambiente Sardegna, is being supported by activists throughout Italy – including members of WILPF Italy, who were the first to join forces with the two groups and are assisting with organising protests and raising awareness.
The initiative has a two-fold goal: to stop the development and export of weapons and to improve the economic well-being of Sardinian dairy farmers, who are grappling with low sheep’s milk prices that prevent them from making a liveable wage.
“In Sardinia, sheep’s milk is being used to produce Roman pecorino cheese – a cheese that is not consumed here, but rather exported to the United States and other countries,” says Ennio Cabiddu, an agronomist and one of the co-founders of Sardegna Pulita. “Production of the cheese was previously subsidised, but the subsidy has been cancelled – leading the production companies to recover losses by lowering the price of milk. This has created an unsustainable way of life for Sardinia’s farmers.”
Meanwhile, a factory called RWM Italia in the island region’s southern province – home to many of Sardinia’s shepherds – is employing local workers to produce bombs and ammunition for its mother company in Germany, Rheinmetall. The weapons have been exported to Saudi Arabia and used in the conflict in Yemen, where they have been directly linked to the deaths of Yemeni civilians as the population struggles to survive in the midst of the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
While the Italian government recently announced that it would be revoking arms transfer licenses to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – a major win for peace activists – the move only applies to those countries and to export of missiles and aerial bombs; it does not apply to licences for other weapon systems still ongoing. RWM is also continuing to produce weapons that are now being sold to other countries in the region, such as Qatar.
A local solution to an international concern
In an effort to both halt the production of weapons and offer a sustainable solution for the local economy, last year the two groups – Sardegna Pulita and Donne Ambiente Sardegna – developed a proposal to convert RWM into a space for making cheeses commonly consumed by the local population.
“This is a real, tangible solution that will save lives abroad and improve the lives of people in Sardinia,” says Cabiddu. “By transitioning this factory to a facility for producing a variety of in-demand cheeses, jobs will be retained, the price of milk will increase, and the local economy will become more prosperous.”
Together with WILPF Italy, the campaign organisers have taken a number of steps to draw attention to their proposal over the past several months. Last December, the activists held a press conference in front of the Ministry of Economic Development to share details about the proposal and demand government action. In January, the proposal was virtually presented to the Minister of Economic Development. The group is now waiting for a meeting with members of Italy’s current government following the appointment of Mario Draghi as the country’s new prime minister in February.
As the activists made clear, there are many reasons why the government should support this initiative – primary among them the fact that Italy’s own legislation on the licensing of arms transfers (Art. 1 (3), Law No. 185 of 9 July 1990) envisages for the government to arrange “measures capable of supporting … the conversion of defence industries to civilian use.”
WILPF Italy takes it up with the United Nations
In partnership with WILPF’s International Secretariat and other feminist Italian organisations, WILPF Italy has also taken a leading role in advocating for the collective demands of Italian peace activists through United Nations human rights mechanisms.
For example, the groups have recently made submissions to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that highlight the negative human rights impacts of Italy’s arms transfers in importing countries. Both committees have asked specific questions about Italy’s role in arms transfers to which the government will have to respond in its upcoming reports on how the country is fulfilling its human rights obligations under these treaties.
“Weapons produced in Italy are having horrific impacts on people and communities in Yemen and other countries, and we demand an immediate end to Italy’s role in the conflict,” says Enrica Lomazzi of WILPF Italy. “Through our grassroots and UN-based advocacy efforts, we stand in solidarity with port workers and arms factory workers in Italy who themselves are protesting Italy’s destructive military activity and calling for peaceful, sustainable solutions to job creation at home.”
The campaigners are hopeful that the project will be funded through the European Union’s recovery fund, which is designed to support sustainable post-COVID-19 recovery solutions and is currently going through the process of ratification.
Get involved by demanding action!
WILPF’s global community can support the campaign by putting pressure on the Italian government to take action. Speak out about the campaign on social media using the hashtags #MakeCheeseNotWar, #StopVenditaArmi, and #StopRWM, encourage activists and allies in Italy to get involved, and share this post with your network. Every act of resistance makes a difference!
For more information
To learn more about the Sardinia campaign, please visit the following resources:
- Press Release: The Italian Government Revokes Bomb Export Licenses to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
To learn more about WILPF Italy’s advocacy efforts with the United Nations, please review the following recent submissions or view the full list of submissions: