Initiative in Italy to Restore Olive Cultivation in The Apennines

The 1,200-kilometer mountain chain is home to 207,000 hectares of abandoned olive groves which could substantially increase Italian olive oil production.

Castelmezzano village in Apennines Dolomiti Lucane. Basilicata, Italy
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jul. 5, 2023 16:08 UTC
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Castelmezzano village in Apennines Dolomiti Lucane. Basilicata, Italy

Twenty-five thou­sand hectares of olive groves located on the slopes of the Italian Apennine Mountains could be restored to pro­duc­tion in a mat­ter of years, revers­ing a long-run­ning trend of aban­don­ment.

According to the Italian National Olive Tree and Olive Oil Academy, restor­ing 5,000 hectares of olive orchards in a moun­tain­ous region such as Abruzzo could fos­ter a 40 per­cent increase in regional annual olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Much of the agri­cul­ture in the Apennines can be restored, improved and made more pro­duc­tive, and pro­duc­tion costs could be low­ered.- Riccardo Gucci, pres­i­dent, Italian National Olive Tree and Olive Oil Academy

The rel­a­tively low moun­tain range, which spans more than 1,200 kilo­me­ters, is home to 207,000 hectares of olive groves. They rep­re­sent approx­i­mately 21 per­cent of Italy’s olive cul­ti­va­tion sur­face area.

During a recent national meet­ing in Casoli, Abruzzo, hun­dreds of experts, researchers, pro­fes­sors, agron­o­mists, econ­o­mists, entre­pre­neurs and pub­lic offi­cials focused on reviv­ing the Apennine olive grow­ing tra­di­tion.

See Also:Thousands of Hectares of Abandoned Olive Groves Set to Be Sold in Italy

Given the high vol­umes of olive oil con­sump­tion in Italy and the trend of shrink­ing Italian olive oil pro­duc­tion, the acad­emy noted how sig­nif­i­cant such an ini­tia­tive could be.

According to the International Olive Council, Italy will con­sume more than 486,000 tons of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year, more than any other coun­try. However, national pro­duc­tion only reached 235,000 tons in the last sea­son.

Academy data showed that in 2022, Italian olive oil pro­duc­tion accounted for less than 48 per­cent of domes­tic con­sump­tion, lower than any pre­vi­ous record. The shrink­ing yields also affect the national olive oil trade bal­ance, as imports exceeded €2.2 bil­lion while exports reached €1.9 bil­lion.

Much of the agri­cul­ture in the Apennines can be restored, improved and made more pro­duc­tive, and pro­duc­tion costs could be low­ered,” Riccardo Gucci, pro­fes­sor for the agri­science depart­ment at the University of Pisa and the academy’s pres­i­dent, told Olive Oil Times.

That can hap­pen, and it is already hap­pen­ing in some areas, where pub­lic ini­tia­tives sus­tain the devel­op­ment of olive farms and the strength­en­ing of the exist­ing ones,” he added. Not all the tra­di­tional olive grow­ing in those areas can be recov­ered. Still, a part of it might improve.”

Elena Sico, direc­tor of Abruzzo’s regional agri­cul­ture depart­ment, said dur­ing the meet­ing that new funds are being planned to sus­tain the fur­ther devel­op­ment of exist­ing farms. European and regional funds are focused on upgrad­ing olive mills and improv­ing stor­age and bot­tling oper­a­tions.

We raised pub­lic fund­ing to 65 per­cent for those oper­a­tions,” she said. We are also wait­ing for the go-ahead from the national Ministry [of Agriculture] to sup­port up to 80 per­cent of their invest­ments in the younger oper­a­tors start­ing their activ­ity,” she said.

However, chal­lenges abound. Many olive orchards in the rural areas of the Apennines are not cul­ti­vated by farms or com­pa­nies. Most of the time, it is local fam­i­lies own­ing small or very small olive groves,” Gucci said.

That also means that those fam­ily orchards, which might need costly restor­ing oper­a­tions, fall out­side the scope of the devel­op­ment pro­grams, which are meant to sus­tain com­pa­nies, not fam­i­lies,” he added.

While many local admin­is­tra­tions in the last decades have deployed pub­lic ten­ders and funds to encour­age more young olive farm­ers to start busi­nesses, the mea­sures have not stopped the trend of aban­doned olive groves.

Even gen­er­ous ini­tia­tives such as giv­ing away large pieces of agri­cul­tural land to young farm­ers wish­ing to install in the rural vil­lages were not sig­nif­i­cantly suc­cess­ful,” Gucci said.

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According to Gucci, the labor short­age impact­ing the Italian agri­cul­tural sec­tor demon­strates that dif­fer­ent areas of oppor­tu­nity often attract the younger gen­er­a­tions.

It is not just a ques­tion of eco­nom­ics,” he said. It also depends on the social con­text; some­times they shun fatigue-inten­sive activ­i­ties; they look for free­dom.”

See Also:Rehabilitating Olive Trees in Aragón to Stem Spain’s Rural Exodus

As the num­ber of res­i­dents in most of the Apennines con­tin­ued to fall over the last few decades, the pres­ence of ter­ri­to­r­ial ser­vices and local insti­tu­tions decreased, which led to fur­ther aban­don­ment of those areas by the younger gen­er­a­tions.

To reverse that, Gucci envi­sioned a new approach to rural areas often bur­dened by old infra­struc­tures.

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How can you ask young farm­ers to change their lives and invest in rural areas where they do not have an inter­net con­nec­tion, where they would not know how to get their kids to school, where there are no oppor­tu­ni­ties for intense social inter­ac­tion?” Gucci asked.

He said plenty could be done to help rural areas decon­gest cities and improve the qual­ity of life of many.

There are so many com­pa­nies and pro­fes­sion­als work­ing remotely nowa­days; think of a mechan­i­cal engi­neer or a pro­gram­mer who does not need to go to a com­pany cam­pus in the city every day,” Gucci said. Just like young farm­ers, they could see the oppor­tu­nity to improve the qual­ity of their lives in revamped and mod­ern­ized vil­lages.”

He noted how research cen­ters and uni­ver­si­ties do not need large cities. Universities are increas­ingly locat­ing their cam­puses in areas that need to be regen­er­ated, such as aban­doned indus­trial areas,” Gucci said. They could also be part of a dif­fer­ent approach to rural areas 50 or 100 kilo­me­ters away from the city.”

Gucci stressed how even minor reforms could pro­vide a rel­e­vant out­come. For instance, we could pro­vide a ded­i­cated tax regime to olive orchard own­ers who are not a com­pany, not a farm, but take care or could take care of their land,” he said.

According to Gucci, these olive tree own­ers in the Apennines should be able to deduct the costs of main­tain­ing an olive tree ter­race in their fields from their taxes.

Such deduc­tions are already pro­vided for a num­ber of upgrades that can be done to houses, such as installing a more sus­tain­able cen­tral heat­ing unit,” he said. But we do not have any­thing like that yet if one main­tains dry walls or ter­races for olive trees.”

That would sus­tain the main­te­nance oper­a­tions, stim­u­late the local econ­omy by giv­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties to small repair com­pa­nies, and in the long run, would even mean more taxes for the state,” he added.

According to Gucci, the future of olive farm­ing and agri­cul­ture in the Apennines requires invest­ment in local infra­struc­ture and incen­tives to keep agri­cul­tural land in a pro­duc­tive state.

Today, it is pos­si­ble to bring back pop­u­la­tion in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers in those vil­lages, where the qual­ity of life would imme­di­ately improve,” he said. It does not mean pur­su­ing a bucolic idea of agri­cul­ture deprived of mod­ern infra­struc­tures.”

We can­not con­sider the long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of olive grow­ing in those hills and moun­tains as we always did,” Gucci con­cluded. Today, it is com­pletely up to the indi­vid­ual to assume all the costs and risks of main­tain­ing that tra­di­tion alive. This means to cul­ti­vate the past and at the same time to be con­fined in awk­ward back­ward­ness.”



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