Italy Investing €3B to Convert a Quarter of Farm Land to Organic by 2027

The announcement came after a study determined organic agriculture can cut production costs for farmers.
Jun. 17, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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A new study on sus­tain­able strate­gies to stem the spread of pests and dis­eases in Italy has shown that organic veg­etable farms can cut phy­tosan­i­tary treat­ments by 40 per­cent com­pared to con­ven­tional farms.

The OrtoAmbiente study, financed by the north­ern Italian region Emilia-Romagna, mea­sured the ben­e­fi­cial impact of an inte­grated organic approach to crop defense over the last three years.

We can­not hope to go on pro­duc­ing high-vol­ume yields and high-qual­ity prod­ucts if soil fer­til­ity keeps declin­ing.- Matteo Mancini, tech­ni­cal coor­di­na­tor, Deafal

University of Bologna researchers have shown that apply­ing best prac­tices, such as fos­ter­ing bio­di­ver­sity, can sig­nif­i­cantly reduce the use of chem­i­cals and pro­duc­tion costs.

The results of the study con­firm the strat­egy of the Italian gov­ern­ment and local farmer asso­ci­a­tions to con­vert more land to organic agri­cul­ture.

See Also:Studying Plant Reactions to Environmental Stressors Key to Sustainable Agriculture

The Italian gov­ern­ment plans to con­vert 25 per­cent of the coun­try’s farm­ing land to organic agri­cul­ture by 2027, a mas­sive effort fueled by more than €3 bil­lion from the national strate­gic plan to imple­ment the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the recov­ery and resilience plan and the recently approved law on organic agri­cul­ture.

More incen­tives in the next few years may also come from other CAP funds. Under its Farm to Fork strat­egy, the European Union plans to con­vert 25 per­cent of all agri­cul­tural land to organic prac­tices by 2030.

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Organic farm­ing is the strate­gic resource we need,” said Minister of Agriculture Stefano Patuanelli dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion in Rome ded­i­cated to the organic expan­sion strat­egy.

According to the min­istry, Europe pro­duces enough food to be self-suf­fi­cient. Skyrocketing prices for many agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties are mainly due to spec­u­la­tion fueled by the uncer­tain­ties con­nected to the Russian inva­sion of Ukraine.

Elsewhere, such as in Africa, the min­istry acknowl­edged a con­cern­ing and loom­ing food cri­sis that is pro­jected to worsen soon.

Patuanelli has described the new law and the funds as engines for a green tran­si­tion” des­tined to improve farm­ing prac­tices, food qual­ity and pro­mote Made in Italy prod­ucts in for­eign mar­kets.

At the same event, the lead­ing Italian organic farm­ing asso­ci­a­tions pre­sented a bio-deca­logue of actions that should ensure that farm­ers are rewarded for con­vert­ing to organic prac­tices and that con­sumers can access organic food at an equal price.

Such actions include fis­cal ben­e­fits for farms that con­form with the plan, mea­sures to pro­mote organic farm­ing in less devel­oped areas and sup­port for farms that fos­ter bio­di­ver­sity by inte­grat­ing agri­cul­ture, live­stock and for­est activ­i­ties.

The asso­ci­a­tions have also asked for closer coop­er­a­tion with the restau­rants, com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paigns to inform con­sumers about organic agri­cul­ture, new track­ing tools, sim­pli­fied bureau­cracy and manda­tory organic farm­ing in nat­ural areas.

One of the major obsta­cles in any strat­egy to trans­form Italian agri­cul­ture is the age of the aver­age farmer,” Matteo Mancini, agron­o­mist and tech­ni­cal coor­di­na­tor for organic and regen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture at the non-gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tion Deafal, told Olive Oil Times.

In many sec­tors, includ­ing olive grow­ing, most farm­ers are between 60 and 75 years old,” he added. In our classes and our expe­ri­ence, that type of farmer is rarely inter­ested in catch­ing up with a new approach to farm­ing.”

In the cur­rent sce­nario, where the mar­ket is quickly evolv­ing, and the impacts of cli­mate change are ampli­fied, inno­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy become essen­tial but are often out of reach for older farm­ers.

Mancini said the aver­age Italian farm is usu­ally smaller than 11 hectares, qual­i­fy­ing those com­pa­nies as small farm­ing oper­a­tors.

Most of the time, such a farm can­not adopt inno­v­a­tive pro­grams nor sup­port spe­cial train­ing for its per­son­nel,” he said.

Be it organic farm­ing or a more inno­v­a­tive regen­er­a­tive approach to agri­cul­ture and soil, a gen­er­a­tional turnover is needed.

We live in a coun­try that shares with many oth­ers an ongo­ing process of deser­ti­fi­ca­tion,” Mancini said. We have lost many points of organic car­bon in the soil, and that boosted the deser­ti­fi­ca­tion processes, which is now affect­ing between a third and a fourth of our coun­try.”

While some of the new funds will be devoted to research­ing organic farm­ing meth­ods and cre­at­ing incen­tives for farm­ers, Mancini empha­sized the need for a more com­pre­hen­sive approach focused on soil health.

We can­not hope to go on pro­duc­ing high-vol­ume yields and high-qual­ity prod­ucts if soil fer­til­ity keeps declin­ing,” he said.

Natural resources are lim­ited, and we need to live in the most sus­tain­able way,” said Maria Grazia Mammuccini, pres­i­dent of the organic food pro­duc­ers asso­ci­a­tion FederBio, dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion in Rome.

Mammuccini has warned that the over­shoot day in 2022, wor­ry­ingly, has been placed in May.” Earth Overshoot Day, cre­ated by the Global Footprint Network, estab­lishes the day of a given year when humanity’s demand for nat­ural resources exceeds what Earth can regen­er­ate in that same year.

This indi­ca­tor is launch­ing man­i­fest warn­ing sig­nals: we only have one Earth, and we need to respect it,” she added.

According to Mammuccini, organic agri­cul­ture is a pro­duc­tion sys­tem that defends soil fer­til­ity, fos­ters bio­di­ver­sity and the health of the habi­tat and the peo­ple.”

It also con­tributes to com­bat­ing cli­mate change and stim­u­lates the cir­cu­lar econ­omy, [which is needed] to ensure a future for younger gen­er­a­tions,” she added.

The new Italian law and the bio-deca­logue pre­sen­ta­tion fueled the debate on organic agri­cul­ture which was sparked in recent weeks by Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald, who asked the world to shift away from organic farm­ing.

According to Fyrwald, who heads one of the world’s largest agri­chem­i­cals pro­duc­ers, organic farm­ing yields are sig­nif­i­cantly lower than those com­ing from con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture. He also stressed how rel­e­vant genomic edit­ing and sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy might be in enhanc­ing food pro­duc­tion in wealth­ier coun­tries.

That opin­ion should not come as a sur­prise,” Mancini said. What we have learned in the field is that there is no magic bul­let. If a solu­tion is out there, it comes from var­i­ous approaches to farm­ing. For sure, indus­trial food pro­duc­tion should focus on sus­tain­abil­ity.”

When com­pared to con­ven­tional farm­ing, organic farm­ing might see reduced yields between 10 and 30 per­cent, depend­ing on the sec­tor,” he added. That is why we also need to focus on more inno­v­a­tive agro­nomic and tech­ni­cal approaches, such as work­ing with soil restora­tion, micro-organ­ism repro­duc­tion, bio-enhancers obtained by the pro­duc­tion wastes and work to bet­ter the income for the farm­ers and reduce their costs.”

Back in Rome, Patuanelli said recent export fig­ures pointed to demand for organic and sus­tain­ably-pro­duced prod­ucts, which he believed should gal­va­nize the sec­tor.

Our food export boom reported last year, with a record turnover of €52 bil­lion, tells us that Italian agri­food can reach high-value mar­kets,” he said. We should not think that today’s choice is between eco­nom­i­cally sus­tain­able and envi­ron­men­tally friendly pro­duc­tions.”

That is an impos­si­ble choice because each of those two kinds of sus­tain­abil­ity, with their social impact, can­not exist with­out the other,” Patuanelli con­cluded. We can not afford it.”



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