Experts: Sustainable Farming Will Play Key Role in Post-Pandemic World

The population's priorities will shift in a post-coronavirus world, demanding ethical and sustainable production from farmers and distributors in the years ahead.

By Ylenia Granitto
May. 7, 2020 13:19 UTC

Water in Venice’s canals runs clear, dol­phins and whales are spot­ted off the ports, deer and bears roam in urban areas. 

Half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion has spent this spring locked up at home, and reports from around the globe indi­cate that pol­lu­tion is sig­nif­i­cantly decreas­ing while nature qui­etly returns to areas from which it had been chased away.

Everything is con­nected — what we do to the world comes back to affect us.- Margherita Monti, envi­ron­men­tal anthro­pol­o­gist

The European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satel­lite has revealed a dras­tic decline in nitro­gen diox­ide (NO2) lev­els in north­ern Italy since the coun­try went into lock­down on March 9. Everywhere, there are clear signs of how human activ­i­ties have impacted the envi­ron­ment, seen in stark relief now that we have reduced our tread on the land­scape.

These devel­op­ments have not gone unno­ticed by experts, many of whom believe that agri­cul­ture can have a major role to play in a bet­ter, post-pan­demic world.

European Space Agency

See Also:Sustainability

There is finally full aware­ness of the impor­tance of the envi­ron­ment,” said National Association of Olive Oil Cities founder Pasquale Di Lena, who has a long his­tory of pro­fes­sional expe­ri­ence in the olive farm­ing sec­tor. We became aware that too often our ter­ri­to­ries have been raped by a sys­tem which exploited the resources as if they were unlim­ited. But the earth needs respect.”

According to the last report on land use by the study cen­ter of the Italian Environment Ministry (Ispra), dur­ing the last six years, Italy has lost areas that were capa­ble of ensur­ing the absorp­tion of 2 mil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide (CO2) and pro­duc­ing 330,000 tons of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and 2,200 tons of wood prod­ucts.

In a new suc­cess­ful sys­tem, the first step is to stop the abuse of the ter­ri­tory,” Di Lena said. The qual­ity of pro­duc­tion also depends on how the land is man­aged, and this puts agri­cul­ture at the core of a new devel­op­ment model.”

He called for lim­i­ta­tions on indus­tri­al­ized agri­cul­ture and for gov­ern­ments to adopt fair, sus­tain­able poli­cies.

Other stake­hold­ers agree that con­ser­va­tion of bio­di­ver­sity depends upon the pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment and proper man­age­ment of nat­ural resources.

Following a sus­tain­able path, agri­cul­ture will play a lead­ing role in the post-pan­demic world,” said Maurizio Pescari, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tant with 25 years of expe­ri­ence in the olive oil sec­tor.

Angelo Bo

Pescari said olive farm­ers are already aware of the role that bio­di­ver­sity plays in the olive har­vest and pro­duc­tion of oil, and that the cur­rent pan­demic should under­score how impor­tant it is to main­tain a healthy ecosys­tem.

Players in the indus­try have already started to redesign their role, to over­come not only the Covid-19 emer­gency, but also the effects of sec­tor-spe­cific prob­lems like Xylella,” Pescari said. In order to excel, pro­duc­ers must put respect for the con­sumers first … we can already see how their choices in a time of quar­an­tine include a renewed atten­tion to the food they put on the table daily.”

He observed that agri­cul­ture was one of the few sec­tors that did not shut down entirely due to the pan­demic, and pre­dicted that, despite an unsta­ble and com­plex mar­ket, grow­ers would be able to sell their har­vests.

Since the start of the lock­down mea­sures, the demand for pro­tected des­ig­na­tion of ori­gin (PDO) olive oils has increased, olive oil pro­ducer and brand care con­sul­tant Mariagrazia Bertaroli told Olive Oil Times

In my opin­ion, this is a great oppor­tu­nity for a re-brand­ing oper­a­tion,” Bertaroli said. We can re-setup the olive oil sec­tor, estab­lish­ing new rela­tion­ships, chang­ing some aspects.”

Bertaroli said that con­sumers have begun to pay atten­tion to pro­duc­ers’ eth­i­cal choices, and pre­dicted that com­pany ethics would become more impor­tant in the post-Covid-19 mar­ket­place. She argued that the olive oil indus­try should respond to con­sumer inter­est in sus­tain­abil­ity and related fac­tors by cre­at­ing a plat­form to cer­tify and track socially, eco­nom­i­cally, and envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able com­pa­nies.


The results of an April sur­vey on brand growth dur­ing times of cri­sis sup­port Bertaroli’s obser­va­tions. The sur­vey, by research firm Ipsos, con­cludes that, as con­sumer pri­or­i­ties with adver­sity, they are likely to pri­or­i­tize good cit­i­zen­ship and mind­ful con­sump­tion over other fac­tors.

In a post-pan­demic world where the con­sumer con­text may yet shift again, peo­ple will remem­ber what role brands and com­pa­nies did or did not play in their lives dur­ing times of adver­sity,” researchers wrote in the sur­vey.

Thinking about how pro­duc­ers should approach a poten­tial shift in con­sumer pri­or­i­ties, agron­o­mist Angelo Bo pre­dicted the estab­lish­ment of a new pact of trust with con­sumers.” Producers should strive to pro­vide authen­tic prod­ucts, man­ag­ing their groves bet­ter and more effi­ciently, said Bo, who spe­cial­izes in organic olive farm­ing.

They should be as sus­tain­able as pos­si­ble. Then we should fine-tune our pro­duc­tion processes, pay­ing atten­tion to the hyper-com­plex­ity of the olive ecosys­tem, aim­ing to enhance that com­bi­na­tion of ter­ri­tory, bio­di­ver­sity and agro­nomic tech­niques capa­ble of giv­ing unpar­al­leled fruits,” he said. And this involves a work of con­tin­u­ous adap­ta­tion.”

Bo said the pric­ing frame­work should reflect the real value of the work it takes to pro­duce high-qual­ity prod­ucts while fairly com­pen­sat­ing every­one involved and pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment in the process. He noted that arti­fi­cially low prices often result in under-com­pen­sa­tion, fraud­u­lent or ille­gal activ­ity, or sim­ply an unrea­son­able per­cep­tion by the con­sumer of what con­sti­tutes fair remu­ner­a­tion.

But even if every­one agrees that food should be pro­duced sus­tain­ably, a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion places pres­sure on food sup­ply chan­nels. Population pro­jec­tions for 2050 exceed 9 bil­lion peo­ple. How will the world pro­duce enough food to feed every­one while also try­ing to reduce the impact on the planet?

Environmental anthro­pol­o­gist and world her­itage spe­cial­ist Margherita Monti said, There is no sin­gle, glob­ally applic­a­ble man­age­ment solu­tion because agri­cul­tural prac­tices depend on site-spe­cific vari­ables, such as cli­mate, ecol­ogy, geog­ra­phy, demog­ra­phy, afflu­ence and reg­u­la­tion. Nonetheless, sus­tain­abil­ity prin­ci­ples can be applied across dif­fer­ent man­age­ment sys­tems.”

Monti said that we now live in a new era, dubbed the Anthropocene era, char­ac­ter­ized by humanity’s heavy influ­ence on Earth’s nat­ural sys­tems. Though the aver­age global citizen’s health has improved over the last past cen­tury, the health of our planet has sharply declined — a story told by cli­mate change, decreas­ing bio­di­ver­sity, short­ages of arable land and fresh­wa­ter pol­lu­tion. Damage to our envi­ron­ment puts recent and frag­ile pub­lic health gains at risk.

We have dra­mat­i­cally affected our global food pro­duc­tion sys­tem, the qual­ity of the air we breathe and of the water we drink, the hab­it­abil­ity of the places where we live, and our expo­sure to infec­tious dis­eases. Everything is con­nected — what we do to the world comes back to affect us,” Monti said. Understanding and act­ing upon these chal­lenges call for mas­sive col­lab­o­ra­tion across dis­ci­pli­nary and national bound­aries to safe­guard our health.”


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