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All you need to feed, heal, house yourself, and get around ecologically – the Primevere eco-expo in Lyon brings visitors all this as well as, we hope, eco-sponsoring.
Organic, natural, renewable, ethical, fair trade… these are the words on everyone’s lips and publicity stands.
As the programme announces, the theme of the 21st session of the Primevere (Spring) eco-expo is “information and communication.” For me, this focus takes on a particular sense as I put it in the context of my ongoing search for financial sponsors of the Develotour Asia project: to be able to act for sustainable development, we first need to know how to inform and communicate our motivation and aims. This is what brings me here, briefcase full of leaflets, press packs and letters to potential sponsors. The same documents sent by post in preceding months have mounted up on desks and finished in the rubbish. To meet potential sponsors in person is to have the chance of bringing one’s project to life. After so many phone and email disappointments, I am now convinced that nothing can replace direct human contact. And when it comes to direct contact there is no shortage of it here in Lyon: 450 stands, 33,500 people, 120 public talks, events and displays. I wave through the passages with no predefined direction. Diligent, a cyclo-wood-turner produces spinning tops on his pedal-powered wheel. On another stand, a geodesic dome – geometry at the service of the natural habitat, while nearby solar-powered toys and gadgets move with no batteries. A t-shirt display tries to engage passers by to campaign differently. Alternative and participative, a free software workshop offers to bring solidarity to IT. Cedric, a young volunteer with WWF France, tells me about the urgent need to protect wild salmon in the Loire and Allier rivers, threatened by dams that block its migration path to where it reproduces. He deplores the stance of public institutions, which lend a much more sympathetic ear to fishing associations, concerned only about falling catches, than to conservationists: “We need to think in longer time-scales, beyond personal interests. To destroy living species is to break the secular equilibrium between man and nature, and in the end to lose them.” On the gardening front, Robert F, a regular at the salon, came to renew his stock of tomato seeds of ancient varieties. “Being diabetic, I pay particular attention to nutrition. I recently discovered that I was allergic to gluten but it is difficult to avoid it as it’s present in almost all our dishes.” At the food hall, Véronique F lets herself be tempted by a few organic specialities: vegetable pancakes, vegetable pâté… Any idea what “criques” are? A sort of pancake made with potatoes, stuffed with mushrooms and olives… shame I’m not hungry any more! The hemp beer, however, is impossible to resist. I make friends with Jacques and Susana who are presenting “La Revue Durable” (“The Sustainable Review”), an independent bimonthly they created in 2002. I ask about the history of their project. “It was extremely difficult to find funding at first,” they tell me. “We would have given up if not for the support from a banker that came by chance. “ They advise me to try and sell my project by emphasising the ethical aspect. I try my chances with the renewable energy specialists using a new angle: “To cross Asia by bike is to show that we can get by without petrol. We prefer to give you publicity than to be sponsored by Total.” The argument is convincing, the leaflet does the rest. Nevertheless, most of the exhibitors at the salon run small local companies and don’t have much financial muscle. But what’s important is the participation, even if only symbolic. After the inevitable visit to the dry toilets – 100% natural compost – I approach a water treatment device distributor, then a company that makes educational eco-toys, and finally an ethical travel firm. The latter organises ethical tours in most of the Asian countries we will pass, the profits serving to help development in local villages. Pierre, the company director, is sorry not to be able to help us and seems ready to move sky and earth to find a solution. A bit further, I present the project to a company that commercialises natural products originating on the Silk Road, in particular soaps. Passing onto the textile domain, I find a silk and natural fibre underwear manufacturing workshop, then another hemp clothing maker, and receive a warmer welcome each time! A little digression about hemp – the controversial plant wins all the prizes when it comes to multiple uses: textiles, drinks, cosmetics, food, herbal medicine, construction, insulation… hemp is to ecology what the pig is to charcuterie! The show closes for me on that optimistic note. I have distributed around 20 leaflets and ten complete press packs. The seeds of the project have been sown in a rich, well worked soil free of chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Let’s hope that the coming harvest will be good! For more information on the Primevere show, go to http://primevere.salon.free.fr