Italy: the lost chance for farming innovation

The traditions can be preserved just whether the generational change results in the overturning of the conventional perspective.

Giulia Di Crescenzo
Mar 6, 2018 · 5 min read

Yesterday, my friend and I attended a conference on “light hemp” included in the Forum “Tipicità” in Fermo (Marche, Italy).

The Forum was quite disappointing to us. There were several stands assigned to the local agribusinesses, but no one dedicated to the many farming activities hit by the earthquake. Furthermore, there was almost no representation of the youth who works in the field. The only young people present were involved in the parents’ business. It has, as always, been a lost chance to show the tradition revised by innovative practices not only in the farming field but also in the craft industry.

However, My friend and I have seized this opportunity to inquire on the current situation of farming in the Region, particularly how the last week of snowfall has affected the local small-scale agribusinesses. All the operators in the sectors, with whom we have spoken, complained a bad year caused by the drought of the last summer, aggravated by the weather conditions of the last week that has already damaged their crops. In fact,they explained to us the snow settled on the ground wasn’t thick enough to cover the vegetables and it has resulted in freezing the water below.
The only activities that might benefit from these weeks of non-stop raining, alternating with the snow, will be in the sector of mushroom production.

Despite everything, when we tried to suggest the indoor options, they were mostly reluctant at the idea. They just looked at this climate situation according to the traditional perspective of farmers, not understanding that it’s going to get worse and much more shaky. They rightly accept, following the country wisdom, that the weather conditions aren’t under their control, but in the same time they don’t seem fully aware that they’re tackling an exceptional phase of the planet.
Even if the stubborn deniers of the Climate Change are still too many, also in the highest places, the evidence of what it’s going on all over the world is here in front of our own eyes.

Yesterday, during the conference on the “light hemp” I asked why the Italian producers aren’t choosing the soilless and indoor farming methods and it was answered to me that they’re not a comprehensive solution since a higher quality product needs sun. None of them wonders if perhaps the typical Italian climate is going to irreversibly change. What would it happen to our food supply chain if the winter will be dominated by constant raining and the summer by drought? These are key questions to keep in mind to not risk losing Italian culinary traditions.

I’m really concerned and worried by this issue, since the welfare of my Country is mainly based on the farming industry. The income of several families depends on it and with the unemployment rate widening, we can’t afford the lost of further jobs. Besides, it’s the only field for which we’re world-renowned, that we haven’t sold out to any foreigner company, yet.
But how can it be saved if the farmers don’t swiftly change their mind?

It’s a big dilemma. It’s an almost conservative and competitive sector. It doesn’t really exist a cooperation chain in Italy, since as I already mentioned, most of the farming activities are small-scale and family-run. So, at the end the generational change if it occurs, it doesn’t result in an overturning of the conventional perspective. The young agripreneurs just adopt their parents’ view as a matter of fact. There’re few cases when in some areas where the agricultural community is much close-knit, when a young idea spreads over the surroundings and infects other agribusinesses to collaborate for the same collective productions.

One of these examples was represented at the conference by a 25-year-old guy, who started with his parents’ company’s 40-hectare cultivation of canapes in Brescia and promoted this type of produce within the local community of farmers, who then became his associates. After the collection of all their crops, the production is sent to processing plants where the hemp is transformed into flour, pasta, oil… Nonetheless, the fact remains that they’re dependent on the threshing work of the contractors on their lands.

The farming of hemp for the production of derived products from the stem and the seed requires great extensions of arable lands, whereas the production of its flower is a separate issue. Indeed, it takes a meticulous and daily process of selection of the female seedlings from the male ones, since the former produces marijuana. Furthermore the female plants under conditions of distress risk of becoming hermaphrodite and consequently useless for the purpose of producing. So, according to me,it’s advisable to run this kind of production indoor, as already do in most of the Countries. Especially since the collection of the flowers is by hand and so it’s very expensive in terms of labor.

This was what one of the first producers of hemp in the Marche Region was telling us. He pointed out how this type of production in Italy is mainly a passion than a profitable activity and as a matter of fact, he explained us that whether he includes the hours of workforce inside the final price, it would be exorbitant. But it’s a complete nonsense. There is plenty of new methods to grow plants lowering the amount of manpower needed, without affecting the quality of the end product. Besides the 25-year agripreneur made clear that there is a further risk in farming hemp for flowers on land: the absorption of heavy metals present in the ground.

Nevertheless, these business realities prefer to whine instead of converting themselves into economically sustainable facilities. Meanwhile they complain the distribution phenomenon Easy Joint, that to satisfy the market demand, imports “poorer-quality” products from abroad, failing the production capacity in Italy. And they blame whoever,desperate to sell, lowers the market price of the hemp products derived.

Do you think it makes any sense?

Italy is a Country hit by the recession and most of us, included my family, is just worried in finding some short-term solutions to pay bills and maintain our families, but this is time to cooperate and invest into innovative options, because there’s no way out at the moment. Or at least, I don’t see it. I just see a never-ending tunnel that it’s getting darker while the time flies away and the opportunities go by with it. Changing is the only chance we have to preserve the traditions of this Country. We can’t count on the State and we should rely our future in the community’s hands.

When my friend and I asked to the farmers what was their plan in the case the weather conditions aren’t going to get better, they answered: “We’ll roll up our sleeves.” I didn’t understand. My friend translated: “It’s a way less rude to mean failure.”

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