23 July 2021, Rome: The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, during a field visit today to several small-scale producers in Italy’s southern Campania region, underscored the importance of linking tradition with innovation to achieve more sustainable agri-food systems.
The visit followed the Director-General’s participation in the G20 Environment Ministers’ meeting in Naples on Thursday where he stressed how the need to meet a growing demand for food and other agricultural products, must be achieved whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving biodiversity, sustainably managing natural resources, and protecting and restoring ecosystems.
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During the visit the Director-General praised the farmers for their production methods for lemons, wine and mozzarella that link tradition and innovation, respect the environment, limit their impact on natural resources and reduce their climate footprint.
“Product differentiation and quality is the key, which can be ensured through a combination of innovation and sustainable plantation,” Qu said. He also encouraged the embracing of new ways to increase market access for products. “E-commerce is a new business mode for your lemons to reach more diversified and high-income consumers,” the Director-General added.
One of the farms visited, the Azienda Agricola Buonocore located on the steep slopes of Maiori on the Amalfi Coast produces the area’s signature product, lemons, otherwise known as Amalfi’s “yellow gold”, through the age-tested technique of terracing. A traditional way of maneuvering hard-to-cultivate land, terracing allows farmers to work with the uniqueness and limitations of the surrounding landscape.
From rice and wheat to olives and lemons, terrace farming has a long agricultural heritage, one that has been recognized and celebrated through the FAO-led Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) initiative.
Resilience and “extreme farming” are also celebrated at the Marisa Cuoma winery, a vineyard that clings to the rocks of Furore as it slopes down to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The grape varieties adapted to these settings have been carefully selected and nurtured by the local small-scale producers through techniques and practices handed down over generations. The values of upholding tradition and respecting the land are ones that resonate globally for many small- scale producers who have to face and resolve increasingly complex, climate-driven challenges in difficult, or even extreme, locations. Much of FAO’s work focuses on how, through innovative agricultural techniques, technologies and best practices farmers can make use of natural resources to construct decent livelihoods, while still protecting and preserving the environment for future generations.
The FAO Director-General also visited the Fattorie Garofalo which showcases the production of another famous regional favorite, Mozzarella di Bufala (water-buffalo mozzarella). The farm prides itself on adhering to the traditional methods of producing this highly-valued cheese while also championing the product on the global market. With the farm situated near natural parks and forests, the producers have made it their mission to preserve the ecosystem and protect the local flora and fauna. They have also focused their efforts on reducing emissions. Through photovoltaic systems and biogas, the farm is able to generate 10 000 000 kWh of renewable energy per year, covering the majority of their plant’s energy requirements with the eventual goal of being energy self-sufficient.
The farms visited by the Director-General represent best practices that link tradition and innovation, and demonstrate how many small-scale producers in Italy, as in so many parts of the world, have time and again proven themselves as custodians of some of the world’s most precious landscapes and resources.
The Director-General pointed to the diversity of the Italian farming system including horticulture, crop production and animal husbandry. “Through innovation and learning from traditional experience we can achieve food diversity and through food diversity we can meet the demand of future consumers. But to have food diversity we first need to protect biodiversity and the environment,” he said. “I think we can learn a lot from the Italian experience and share it with other countries,” Qu added, noting that FAO can assist in this.
FAO in its work supports smallholder producers worldwide to find the sustainable, innovative solutions suited to their specific situations in a context where climate change is making farming more unpredictable and traditional practices more difficult.