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Sustainable agriculture, the ABC

The concept of 'sustainable agriculture'is evoked by everyone, often inappropriately. The talk about the 'integrated struggle' is denials by the data on pesticide sales (also of contraband, via Amazon) in continuous growth, while rural areas are being blighted with no respect for ecosystems and populations. And large showers of fake news they rain constantly on organic products, fiercely opposed by seed monopolists and poisons. Better then to clarify the concepts, with the ABC of sustainability in agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture, values ​​and basic concepts

THEagriculture has a significant impact on ecological balances, positive or negative, rareneutral mind. By sustainable agriculture (or environmentally friendly) we mean the activityà able to:

- improve qualityà the environment and natural resources on which production depends,

- provide food and fiber useful to meet human needs,

- improve qualityà of life, for farmers and society as a wholeà,

- contribute to the local economy. (1)

THEsustainable agriculture it is therefore part of a systemic vision inspired by authentic values ​​of civilization and environmental protection. It is based on the integrated approach and tends towards the organic production method. The goal is unique, to produce without polluting, while preserving resources environmental that sustain life. Without falling into the blunder of the run-up to productivity is instead it causes deterioration of resources environmental, speculation and market distortions.

The integrated approach expresses a model of agriculture consistent with the objectives of sustainability. We intervene on the production system by evaluating its various components and interactions (both structural and functional), trying to favor new balances between crops and the environment. With the aim of achieving, through multiple and synergistic interventions, a level of efficiency based on the best techniques that tends to maximize results within the limits of sustainabilityà environmental.

Integrated defense (or 'fight'), the rules in force

Agricultural production in Italy it is a quality agricultureà in its various expressions, to be appreciated also for the continuous expansion of crops Biography. However, it needs to be reviewed scratch the impact of production on the environment and the health of populations, in the face of a clear discrepancy between the highest principles and the reality of the fields. Integrated pest management is (in theory) prescribed to all farms on every crop, without any exceptions whatsoever. And the duty of sustainable use of plant protection products is expressed in a series of interventions, specified in detail in the so-called PAN (National Action Plan).

Lintegrated defense is defined by Legislative Decree 150/2012 through the following principles and criteria:

- prevention through technical-agronomic methods. Rotations, densityà of sowing / planting, associations, variety choice, fertilization, etc. Including hygiene measures for facilities and equipment,

- pest monitoring through scientifically sound observations, warning systems, prediction and early diagnosis, qualified professional consultants and technical assistance bulletins,

- definition of interventions on the basis of scientifically reliable threshold values ​​(to be considered, where possible, before treatment),

- privilege of sustainable biological methods, physical and other non-chemical methods, where they allow adequate control of harmful organisms,

- use of selective plant protection products to minimize adverse effects on human health, non-target organisms and the environment,

- reduction of the quantities of products used by reducing dosages and intervention frequencies or following localized treatments,

- product rotation in order not to induce resistance in pathogens,

- verification of the degree of success of the applied defense strategies. (2)

Organic and certified integrated production. Rules and trends of the market

Certified quality systems to which the agricultural production models can be traced back are essentially two:

1) organic production. The European regulations in force for almost four decades, they govern the organic system throughout the supply chain, 'from seed to fork' and 'from feed to fork'. From agriculture andbreeding, the transformation, the logistics and distribution, every operator involved in the EU is subject to specific obligations. The control and certification criteria are also defined, which is entrusted to accredited third-party bodies as delegated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Tourism (MiPAAFT).

The biological system expressand the highest level of environmental protection (biodiversityà, soils, waters, air), of the human populations e animals. With a favorable impact onwhole communityà and the ecosystem. Providing the use, where necessary, of only the products listed in a positive list of permitted substances. (3)

Italy is in second place in the EU in agricultural production (after Spain, with 9 million hectares and 68 thousand farmers) and in first place for the number of certified organic processing companies (18 thousand). Retail sales of organic products continue to increase, having exceeded 2018 billion euros in Europe in 37 (+ 10,5% compared to 2016), and producers have also increased (+ 4%). (4)

2) P.certified integrated production. The Quality Systemà National Integrated Production (SQNPI extension) is subject to specific national legislation, has environmental value and provides for the reduction of interventions with chemical products, both for nutrition and for the defense of plants. (5) The aim is to guarantee qualityà of the final product significantly higher than current commercial standards, by adhering to technical standards of 'integrated production' subject to certification by accredited third-party bodies.

The production iintegratedin the SQNPI system it is defined as an agri-food production system that uses all the means of production and defense of agricultural production from adversitiesà, minimizing the use of synthetic chemicals and rationalizing fertilization, in compliance with ecological, economic and toxicological principles. Memberships are growing, with over 10.174 certified companies covering over 149.000 hectares of crops. (6)

The SQNPI system differs from the simple (how rare) compliance with the legal obligations on integrated defense in several respects:

- concrete application of the national guidelines for cultivation and integrated pest management,

- verification of the actual compliance with the aforementioned criteria, through audits and third party certification,

- enhancement of the low environmental impact production model, thanks to the license to use a specific collective brand.

Finally, they are added some voluntary schemes and standards, in turn subject to certification by independent third parties:

- GlobalGap. Private certification scheme, emphasizes the safety of food products and bases the effectiveness of the result on advanced risk analysis models,

- Uni 11233: 2009. Technical standard shared with an environmental objective. It collects the best practices in agriculture, with a view to reconciling production needs and responsible use of pesticides,

- VIVA. Project activated by the Ministry of the Environment in 2011 to improve sustainability performanceà of the wine production chain referring to four indicators (air, water, territory, vineyard).

Dario Dongo and Donato Ferrucci


(1) The concept of sustainable agriculture is developed by the SAA (American Society of Agronomy) exactly 40 years ago, back in 1989

(2) See Legislative Decree 150/2012, Annex III

(3) See reg. CE 889/2008, Annexes I and II

(4) IFOAM 2019 data presented at the 30th edition of Biofach, on 13.2.18 in Nuremberg

(5) See law 4/2011. Ministerial Decree 8.5.14 introduces the SQNPI trademark and its conditions of use

(6) 2017 data, source www.reterurale.it


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