Cooperative in Calabria Offers Much More Than Good Olive Oil

The Nelson Mandela Social Cooperative produces high-quality extra virgin olive oil and promotes the social inclusion of refugees.

Nelson Mandela Social Cooperative
By Ylenia Granitto
Feb. 5, 2020 09:07 UTC
Nelson Mandela Social Cooperative

The Nelson Mandela Social Cooperative was founded in 2017 in Gioiosa Ionica, in the province of Reggio Calabria, by a group of local devel­op­ment experts, social work­ers and cul­tural oper­a­tors with the aim of pro­mot­ing the eth­i­cal employ­ment of young and dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple.

Our vision is to build up a path of par­tic­i­pa­tion, shar­ing, pres­ence on the ter­ri­tory and devel­op­ment from below,” Maurizio Zavaglia, city man­ager and coop­er­a­tive co-founder, told Olive Oil Times.

When you use our extra vir­gin olive oil, you can feel the taste of high qual­ity and the per­fume of sol­i­dar­ity and social jus­tice.- Maurizio Zavaglia, Nelson Mandela Social Cooperative co-founder

We cre­ated a social coop­er­a­tive focused on high-qual­ity agri­cul­ture, through which we can con­tribute con­cretely to sup­port­ing and pro­mot­ing this area, that has many resources but is char­ac­ter­ized by high unem­ploy­ment, espe­cially among young peo­ple,” he added.

To do this, their activ­i­ties are directed to the need­i­est, Zavaglia said. Especially refugees, migrants, those who run away from wars, con­flicts, atroc­i­ties, tribu­la­tion, drought and then have to risk their lives at sea in search of a bet­ter liv­ing prospect.”

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In recent years, mil­lions of peo­ple flee­ing war, famine and human rights vio­la­tions in their coun­tries — includ­ing Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and other areas of the world — have attempted to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

In search of bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions, these refugees have embarked on treach­er­ous, des­per­ate jour­neys, which often have deadly con­se­quences. Since 2013, about 20,000 peo­ple lost their lives dur­ing these voy­ages of hope.

Meanwhile, the south­ern coasts and bor­ders of Italy, Greece and Spain have wit­nessed the arrival of thou­sands of sur­vivors, many of whom have been helped by non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, state insti­tu­tions and vol­un­teers.

The coop­er­a­tive hosted and hired recently-arrived refugees in Italy through Humanitarian Corridors — a pro­gram launched in 2015 with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions of dif­fer­ent denom­i­na­tions (the Community of Sant’Egidio, with the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, the Waldensian Table) and the Italian gov­ern­ment — which makes it pos­si­ble to issue visas for peo­ple in con­di­tions of par­tic­u­lar vul­ner­a­bil­ity, allow­ing them to reach Italy safely.

The project is fully self-financed, we don’t use pub­lic resources and, there­fore, the only way to get ahead with our objec­tives of pro­mot­ing this ter­ri­tory and enhanc­ing eco­nomic and social inte­gra­tion is to be com­pet­i­tive on the mar­ket, car­ry­ing on high-qual­ity farm­ing,” Zavaglia said.

About 500 olive trees, inter­spersed with cit­rus trees, are scat­tered over a 20-hectare (49.4‑acre) farm lying on gen­tle hills slop­ing down to the Torbido val­ley, where the pres­ence of a river fer­til­izes the soil and favors lush veg­e­ta­tion.

This good land assists the Nelson Mandela mem­bers in pro­duc­ing a high-qual­ity organic extra vir­gin olive oil, with zero envi­ron­men­tal impact, as pro­duc­tion of sus­tain­able and healthy prod­ucts became an unmiss­able strong­point of their mis­sion.

We want to help peo­ple to build a life plan,” Zavaglia said, adding that often, even the best expe­ri­ences of hos­pi­tal­ity are con­cluded when nec­es­sary doc­u­ments are obtained by the guests.

The Nelson Mandela Cooperative

We real­ized that, instead, inclu­sion and inte­gra­tion in the ter­ri­tory through work are pos­si­ble,” he said. With the vision of sup­port­ing peo­ple who emi­grate in search of a bet­ter life, as well as that of the youth of the local com­mu­nity, we walk hand in hand fol­low­ing a path of sol­i­dar­ity… along which are built oppor­tu­ni­ties of dig­nity legal­ity, and respect of human rights.”

With these premises, they have recently started to wel­come other ben­e­fi­cia­ries of inter­na­tional pro­tec­tion, who are at risk of ille­gal employ­ment.

The most deprived peo­ple are at risk of labor exploita­tion,” Zavaglia said. It is our task to pro­tect them from the threat of gang mas­ter­ing. Here, their lives have changed, they are happy to coop­er­ate with us, and their work becomes valu­able and essen­tial for the Nelson Mandela pro­duc­tions.”

The group cur­rently con­sists of 15 peo­ple, which include coop­er­a­tive mem­bers, two vol­un­teers, two trainees and other col­lab­o­ra­tors dur­ing the tourist sea­son, while other mem­bers are about to join.


Ten peo­ple are involved in the pro­duc­tion of three mono­va­ri­etals, obtained from both sec­u­lar and young plants of the Nocellara Messinese, Carolea and Geracese vari­eties, the lat­ter of which is typ­i­cal of the area.

Thanks to a prun­ing sys­tem that favors the growth of the low branches of the trees the har­vest is easy and very safe.

Fruits are picked in early October and deliv­ered within a few hours to the mill, in order to obtain a prod­uct with high chem­i­cal and organolep­tic prop­er­ties which is dis­trib­uted in Italy and abroad through eth­i­cal pur­chas­ing groups, fair trade cir­cuits and other chan­nels of the social econ­omy based on respon­si­ble con­sump­tion.

At the end of the extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion in November, in order to ensure employ­ment con­ti­nu­ity, the oper­a­tors start to work mainly in the cit­rus orchard. In March, they return to the olive grove for prun­ing, which keeps them busy through­out the spring. Following this, the par­tic­i­pants will begin to pre­pare the tourist accom­mo­da­tions man­aged by the coop­er­a­tive, Villa Santa Maria, for the sum­mer.

We belong to civil soci­ety and, along­side many other peo­ple in Calabria, we work to make things bet­ter with tenac­ity and deter­mi­na­tion,” Zavaglia said.

Legality, inclu­sion, accep­tance, devel­op­ment, sus­tain­abil­ity, and respect for human beings are the ref­er­ence points of the Nelson Mandela Cooperative. When you use our extra vir­gin olive oil, you can feel the taste of high qual­ity and the per­fume of sol­i­dar­ity and social jus­tice.”


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