Italy invests 3 billion euros to convert a quarter of agricultural land to organic by 2027

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

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

We cannot hope to continue producing high yields and high quality products if soil fertility continues to decline.– Matteo Mancini, technical coordinator, Deafal

Researchers from the University of Bologna have shown that applying best practices, such as promoting biodiversity, can significantly reduce chemical use and production costs.

The results of the study confirm the strategy of the Italian government and local farmers’ associations to convert more land to organic farming.

See also:Investigate plant responses to environmental stressors essential to sustainable agriculture

The Italian government plans to convert 25% of the country’s farmland to organic farming by 2027, a massive effort fueled by over €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 farming.

Further incentives over the next few years could also come from other CAP funds. As part of its farm to fork strategy, the European Union plans to convert 25% of all agricultural land to organic practices by 2030.

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

According to the ministry, Europe produces enough food to be self-sufficient. The surge in prices of many agricultural products is mainly due to speculation fueled by uncertainties linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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

Patuanelli described the new law and the funds as drivers of a green transition” aimed at improving agricultural practices, food quality and promoting Made in Italy products in foreign markets.

At the same event, the main Italian organic farming associations presented a biodecalogue of actions which should ensure that farmers are rewarded for their conversion to organic practices and that consumers can access organic food at an equal price.

These actions include tax benefits for farms that comply with the plan, measures to promote organic farming in less developed areas and support for farms that promote biodiversity by integrating agricultural, livestock and forestry activities.

The associations also asked for closer cooperation with restaurants, communication campaigns to inform consumers about organic farming, new monitoring tools, simplified bureaucracy and compulsory organic farming in natural areas.

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

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

In the current scenario, where the market is rapidly changing and the impacts of climate change are magnified, innovation and technology become essential but are often beyond the reach of older farmers.

Mancini said the average Italian farm is typically less than 11 hectares, calling these companies smallholder farmers.

Most of the time, such a farm cannot adopt innovative programs or support special training for its staff,” he said.

Whether it is organic farming or a more innovative regenerative approach to agriculture and soils, generational renewal 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 this has stimulated the processes of desertification, which today affect between a third and a quarter of our country.

While some of the new funds will be spent on researching organic farming methods and creating incentives for farmers, Mancini stressed the need for a more holistic approach that focuses on soil health.

We cannot hope to continue producing high yields and high quality products if soil fertility continues to decline,” he said.

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

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

This indicator sends clear warning signals: we only have one Earth, and we must respect it,” she added.

According to Mamuccini, organic farming is a production system that defends soil fertility, promotes biodiversity and the health of habitats and people.

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

The new Italian law and the presentation of the biodecalogue have fueled the debate on organic farming that has been sparked in recent weeks by Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald, who has called on the world to move away from organic farming.

According to Fyrwald, who runs one of the world’s largest agrochemical producers, yields from organic farming are significantly lower than those from conventional farming. He also highlighted how gene editing and similar technologies could be relevant to improving food production in wealthier countries.

This opinion should come as no surprise,” Mancini said. What we have learned on the ground is that there is no magic bullet. If a solution exists, it comes from various approaches to agriculture. Of course, industrial food production should focus on sustainability.

Compared to conventional farming, organic farming could see yields reduced by 10-30%, depending on the sector,” he added. This is why we must also focus on more innovative agronomic and technical approaches, such as working with soil restoration, the reproduction of microorganisms, bio-improvers obtained from production waste and working to improve incomes. farmers and reduce their costs. ”

Back in Rome, Patuanelli said recent export figures indicated a demand for organic and sustainably produced products, which he said should galvanize the sector.

Our food export boom reported last year, with a record turnover of 52 billion euros, tells us that Italian agribusiness can reach high-value markets,” he said. It should not be thought that today the choice is between economically sustainable production and respectful of the environment.

It is an impossible choice because each of these two types of sustainability, with its social impact, cannot exist without the other”, concluded Patuanelli. We can’t afford it.”

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