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Legumes, a neglected wealth

The production of legumes in Italy starts to grow again, and nevertheless suffers from foreign competition 'low-cost'

The cultivation of legumes in Italy, drastically decreased since the 60s, it starts to grow again. In particular for chickpeas and lentils. However, the recovery is threatened by foreign competition 'low-cost', which continues to dominate the national market.

Dependence on foreign legumes it does not help the conservation of Italian soils. Legumes - beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, broad beans - are indeed a precious resource for the agricultural territory. Because protein crops, sown in rotation with cereals such as wheat, naturally enrich the soils.

Legumes, a turnaround in Italy

The national production of chickpeas and lentils is bringing Italy back to a leading role. Eighth in Europe, with approximately 200.000 tons of product, in the overall production of dried legumes. This is what emerges from the report on legumes and protein crops - in the world, European and Italian markets - presented in Bologna on 5.10.18, by the Areté research institute, on behalf of the Agri-food Cooperative Alliance.

In 2017 the approximately 100.000 hectares cultivated in the Bel Paese (+ 35%) they produced 190.000 tons (+ 37%) of legumes. Particularly marked is the increase in chickpea crops (+ 72%, second in Europe only to Spain), lentils (+ 60%, fifth European production) and peas (+ 52%).

The value of legumes in the field

The production of dried pulses in Italy has undergone a drastic decline over the past half century. From 640.000 tons in the past to 135.000 tons in 2010, there was a contraction of 81%. Which inevitably resulted in the impoverishment of agricultural soils.

Legumes fail in fact nitrogen to the soils where they are cultivated. This characteristic has led to defining them as 'improving' crops, as they are able to improve the productivity of agricultural land. In rotation with cereals (soft and hard wheat, barley, spelled, rye), they reduce the use of agrotoxicants. (1)

Foreign competitionlow-cost'

In spite of the recovery of indigenous crops, the Italian legume market continues to depend on abroad to a significant extent. In 2016, our country imported 65% of the legumes used for direct consumption and further processing. Almost double the European average, which stood at 33%. 

The price of foreign legumes it is undoubtedly competitive. Their large-scale production has drastically lower costs, despite the fact that the territories are less suited to these crops. To the point that drying, in cold climates (Canada and Central Asia), is realized using chemistry rather than nature.

The absence of news onorigin on the label it in turn plays a decisive role in the unwitting choices of consumers. Who would certainly be inclined to favor the purchase of food Made in Italy: (all the more so as it is commodities, cheap vegetable protein). But the regulation 'Planet Earth origin' has in fact excluded - or in any case nullified, with completely generic terms ('EU / non-EU ') - the obligation to indicate the origin of the primary ingredient. (2)

The unsuspecting consumers therefore they will continue to buy mainly dried legumes with agrotoxins in distant countries. Until they are put in a position to be able to make truly conscious choices, thanks to the necessary indication on the label of the origin of the raw materials. As European citizens in fact ask, in thepopular initiative 'Eat ORIGINal! Unmask your food ', which Great Italian Food Trade supports unreservedly.

Marta Strinati and Dario Dongo 


(1) Cf. 'Minor legumes (chickpea, lentil, cicerchia, broad bean)', monograph edited by Massimo Zaccardelli and others, 2009, on https://www.politicheagricole.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeAttachment.php/L/IT/D/e%252F1%252F7%252FD.070973f9d78d99d49494/P/BLOB%3AID%3D9712/E/pdf

(2) See reg. EU 2018/775

Marta Strinati
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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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