A Successful, Sustainable Alternative to Monocultures
In Italy, agro-ecological practices provide a thriving alternative to a production model that is harmful to the environment, people’s health, and the local economy.
By Manlio Masucci
A growing number of local authorities, citizens’ committees, and independent researchers are calling for a more environmentally friendly agricultural production model that respects the environment, the health of citizens, the beauty of landscapes, and their cultural and social meaning. It is precisely in these areas that the first victories against intensive monoculture business are being recorded — forcing it to slow down its progress and to backtrack when confronted with strong opposition from local communities.
‘Noccioland’, a report published in the July 2020 issue of Terra Nuova magazine, analyzes the expansion of intensive hazelnut monocultures in Italy, driven by multinationals in the confectionery sector. The report also documents how good agro-ecological practices offer an environmentally and economically valid sustainable alternative.
The first victories against intensive monoculture business are being recorded — forcing it to slow down and backtrack.
There are several mayors who, under pressure from local city committees, have issued restrictive orders against monocultures and the chemical treatments that come with them. Among these, the ordinance of Montefiascone, a village on the shores of Lake Bolsena, is a model for all mayors who want their municipalities to start shifting towards transitionally freeing their territory from a production model that is harmful to the environment, people’s health, the local economy, and social fabric.
The survey starts from the region of Tuscia, in the province of Viterbo, home to 30 percent of Italy’s hazelnut groves. According to the report:
It is precisely the Tuscia region which represents the most important frontline of a conflict that seems ready to spread to other areas of the country. Tuscia, where the problems related to this intensive cultivation are more evident, has become a laboratory where it is possible to assess both the magnitude of the conflict and the contextual resistance of alternative models. This resistance is based on organic farming and the involvement of all local actors within virtuous economic cycles. This is, for instance, the objective of the Bio-district of Via Amerina and Forre, which, for almost ten years, has been trying to push the case for environmentally responsible agriculture.
Increasing expansion of hazelnut groves is being demanded by multinationals, such as Ferrero, which is offering attractive prices to producers. Yet the monoculture model is not the only one operating in the territory. Organic farmers are using local biodiversity and no pesticides to fight the most dangerous threat to hazelnut groves — the parasitic stink bug. Indeed, the profit margins of these organic farmers are significant due to the growing demand of the organic market. Economic sustainability is therefore within reach of organic producers and processors who intend to invest in new aggregation projects based on the enhancement of local supply chains, closed business circuits, and the circular economy.
Organic farmers are using local biodiversity to fight the most dangerous threat to hazelnut groves — the parasitic stink bug.
After reviewing the problems related to intensive monocultures, such as the case with drinking water in the municipalities surrounding the Lake of Vico, the survey reviews contributions from a number of experts from the University of Tuscia, ISDE (International Society of Doctors for the Environment) as well as environmental lawyers, who provide a detailed explanation of actions which could be taken at local and national levels for the protection of territories from the advancement of monocultures.
Economic sustainability is within reach of organic producers, who intend to invest in projects that enhance local supply chains, closed business circuits, and the circular economy.
This is an important handbook at a time when monocultures seem to be advancing rapidly in the country, as they cross the borders of Lazio to reach Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany. The good results obtained by territorial committees in Tuscia have led local representatives from other geographical areas to structure themselves into a national network to organize resistance to the advancement of hazelnut monocultures. The demands that come from the territories are for an eco-sustainable production model that takes into account the needs of soils, aquifers, landscapes, and the health of citizens, and does not only focus on the extraction of raw material and profitability for corporations.
The good results in Tuscia have led local representatives from other areas to organize a national network to resist the advancement of hazelnut monocultures.
Also of importance is the issue of farming subsidies, particularly European subsidies, which continue to benefit, to a large extent, conventional agriculture, thereby making it appear artificially sustainable. The real costs, whether social, environmental, or health-related, are in fact externalized and the perception of economic viability is obtained through market manipulation. As the report points out, not only does the conventional model directly damage organic production, but:
…without considering the economic damage to the community […], such chemical treatments have high costs both for the purchase of the chemical product and for the labour costs required for their application. In addition to this, there are increased irrigation costs, considering that chemically treated land is more thirsty than unharmed organic land, which has preserved its ability to retain water.
An alternative production model, based on an agro-ecological approach, is possible. There are now many municipalities that, in order to consolidate their common efforts, are moving towards the creation of biodistricts. From the results of the experience of many, it is in fact possible to show how a local supply chain, from production to processing and marketing, can work better than a monopoly that determines absolute control over prices.
Many municipalities are moving towards the creation of biodistricts.
The report is introduced by an open letter by Terra Nuova’s director, Nicholas Bawtree, to the president of Ferrero, Giovanni Ferrero, asking him that “corporate Nutella” starts facilitating the transition to a truly sustainable production model.
This article originally appeared in Navdanya International website under the title: Poison Free: the successful alternative to the expansion of monocultures comes from local regions. It has been lightly edited and is republished with kind permission. The author, Manlio Masucci, is the editor of the Noccioland report, Communication and Project Manager at Navdanya International, and a journalist who focuses on environmental, commercial, and labor market issues.
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