Reportage. Anti-war activists in Sardinia have arrived upon a clever idea: Give work to dairy farmers instead of RWM, the factory producing bombs for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Make cheese not war

The project is ready, and so is the plan: a seasoning room, rooms for dripping and smoking, hot rooms, cold rooms. All under one idea: to join together two Sardinian fights with one solution. On the one hand, the request to convert the RWM factory in Domusnovas and Iglesias, which produces bombs and ammunition on behalf of the German parent company Rheinmetall, and on the other, the shepherds’ struggle against sales prices that are so low they leave them little income.

The idea was put together by Sardegna Pulita and Donne Ambiente Sardegna, associations from Cagliari that have been committed for years to denouncing the export of arms to countries involved in armed conflicts (starting from Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing Yemen since 2015, and Turkey, the illegal occupant of North Syria) in violation of Law 185/90.

The project, they tell us, will be presented to the Rome offices of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economic Development on Nov. 28. “A concrete proposal for the Regional Dairy Center convergence platform in place of RMW” is the title of the project developed in collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Sassari, which aims to use the Recovery Fund.

“When the farmers march, the national media talks about it as if it’s a local folklore event, without looking at the economic drama,” explains Ennio Cabiddu, agronomist and one of the founders of Sardegna Pulita. “Sardinian shepherds are forced to make dramatic gestures, such as spilling milk, because our region has tied the fate of sheep’s milk to a by-product of Roman Pecorino cheese. A product that is not consumed here. However, for years now, Sardinian industrial dairies have been producing it, because they are exporting it to the United States.”

It was a goldmine, Cabiddu says—until the EU approved a subsidy to the companies for every quintal of Pecorino cheese exported. Then came the WTO, which, at the urging of the U.S., accused Europe of unfair competition: “Without that subsidy, the industrialists have recovered their losses by lowering the price of milk, which here, in Sardinia, is linked to the price of Roman Pecorino cheese, a monoculture that affects the entire chain of sheep’s milk.”

And this is where RWM potentially comes in, with a reconversion that would save jobs, creates new ones and ensure a fair price for the farmers and their 3.5 million sheep and half a million goats: “Our proposal is a provocative one,” Cabiddu continues. “A pilot dairy plant where other types of cheese consumed in Sardinia are produced. A dairy that makes the most of the value of local and valuable cheeses and shows that the price of milk can increase if it is no longer linked to Pecorino cheese.”

“It is obvious that RWM is not interested in this, which is why we need political action that would also free the workers. The site would be taken over by the region of Sardinia. After all, the site was already a regional heritage, it was a ‘munitions depot’ where ore used to be extracted, then it was converted from civilian use to war use.”

Under the plan, the workers currently employed by RWM would be hired by the dairy after a training course, which also solves the objections made by local unions (which stand in opposition to the guidelines of the national CGIL) against the conversion, due to the fear of a loss of jobs. “The actual number of jobs at RWM is 95, and not 300-400 as the company said. The others are holiday replacements or precarious without a fixed contract,” explained Angelo Cremone of Sardegna Pulita to il manifesto. “Yet, the company is talking about a crisis.”

In August, RWM put 90 workers on temporary layoff, and did not renew the contract of another 80 workers, as a result—or so the company claims—of the 18-month block (expiring in January) set up by the Conte 1 government in June 2019, which passed a motion to suspend the export of arms to Riyadh.

Despite the alleged crisis, the company proceeded with the enlargement of the factory. How is this possible? The annual budget explains it: in 2019, RWM Italia recorded revenues of €114,481,193, compared to €102,641,862 in 2018. It was a growth of around €11,839,000. “They have also set aside €40 million in expenses to expand the testing range, and got the approval from the municipalities of Domusnovas and Iglesias.”

This revenue, as Giorgio Beretta and Francesco Vignarca wrote in this newspaper on June 30, came from the QA208 Project. Beretta, an OPAL analyst, explains: “In RWM’s 2019 balance sheet, two orders are mentioned as contracted in 2018 for the supply of artillery and anti-tank rounds to Qatar, some produced in Germany by the parent company and some in South Africa. RWM claims that this is intermediation and logistics management, and that QA208 “does not generate production activity at the plants of RWM Italia.” This is not true: instead of producing the bombs for Saudi Arabia, RWM made €57 million worth of ordinance for Qatar. The company complained about the suspension of orders to the Saudis, while in fact it was working at full speed for Qatar.”

“We discovered that there are two authorizations, one for €230.8 million issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in normal form (productions in Italy exported to a country we know to be Qatar); another of €83 million, authorized in an abroad for abroad regime (export requested from Italy for products made elsewhere, in this case in Germany, and then exported to Qatar, without there being any specific movement through Italy). In summary: we found that authorization of €230 million, for which there was an advance payment of €57 million to RWM in 2019, was actually produced in the first half of 2020, shipped towards Qatar.”

And then there is Turkey, present militarily in the Kurdish Rojava: “The novelty is a 2019 authorization for the amount of €15,490,000 issued to RWM Italy, to be delivered to Turkey. During the 18 months of the block, RWM has not been idle, but has produced and exported arms to Turkey as well.” This despite the fact that Minister Di Maio, in October 2019, spoke of a review of existing contracts to Turkey following the invasion of Northern Syria.

And what about Saudi Arabia? The block has been “circumvented”: “We have a record authorization of €411 million in 2016, which at the moment has been paid for and half delivered,” Beretta concludes. “Perhaps the authorization was requested for an amount larger than what was necessary at the time precisely in the case of future embargoes. They were covered for some time without having to ask for new authorizations. In conclusion, RWM has bombs to Qatar worth €230 million in its order book, of which €57 million worth have already been exported, and €411 million worth to Riyadh, of which bombs worth at least €200 million have already been exported.”

“And there is more. In its budget, RWN writes that the restrictions decided by the government are preventing the fulfilment of contracts amounting to €330 million. If we consider that about €230 million concerns Saudi Arabia and Emirates, it means that it might have ongoing contracts for supplies to Turkey for over €100 million.”

The challenge of the pacifists is to make cheese instead of bombs: “There is an opportunity for the Recovery Fund for a territory that needs it,” Cremone adds. “In the food industry, Sardinia imports 85% of what it eats. We could invest in that milk that is being thrown away or sold for a pittance. One should make the most of the true Sardinian vocation. Domusnovas is the second largest center in Sardinia for the number of goats and sheep, it is a wonderful valley in the mountains. It’s not happening at the moment because the bombs are a good deal. But if you produce bombs, then you have to come up with wars.”

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