Allegrini 2018

Italy’s agro-food system, challenged but resisting will restart the country

EU strategies and resources are fundamental, however. Nomisma, Unicredit and Slow Food at the “Forum of Economics” focusing on agro-food, commented

The “Forum of Economics: focus on agro-food”, organized by Unicredit, Slow Food and Nomisma, was part of the (online) meetings of the “Terra Madre Salone del Gusto” event. The message from the event is that Italy will be able to start up again thanks to its agro-food system, which is at the forefront in Europe for sustainability, biological productions, exports and added value (59 billion euros, puts Italy in third place in Europe, following France, at 78 billion euros, and Germany, at 61 billion euros. However, Italy is at the top for “turnover per hectare”, at an average of 2.583 euros (Spain is second at 1.240 euros, ed.) knowing that “values” such as Italian lifestyle, sustainability and health are increasingly important for purchasing decisions. Furthermore, diversifying channels and markets (most Made in Italy products) will be the decisive challenge. Finally, the Italian wine & food sector has once again confirmed its counter tendency to the crisis, including the Covid-19 emergency.
Denis Pantini explained that the numbers Nomisma reported describe a resilient sector that is also clearly in difficulty. Retail sales, on trend values between January and August 2020, generally grew +2.9%, exports +3%; however, they dropped after the first 3 months, “which definitely suggests, unfortunately, keeping in mind that infections are growing and new measures to contain the virus are stricter, a negative end-of-the-year financial statement”. The main “culprits” of the sector’s drop in performance and, especially for some sectors (in general, the greater added value ones, such as wine and cheeses, while mass consumption such as pasta and tomatoes, for instance, are growing) have been closing down restaurants as well as the entire out-of-home sector (which in Italy accounts for a third of food consumption value, but in countries such as the United States, it weighs up to 45%) and the almost total absence of tourists from abroad (in 2019, foreign tourists spent 10 billion euros in Italian restaurants). It is, therefore, essential to think about the European agenda, as the MEP Paolo De Castro and Francesco Sottile (Slow Food Italy), and many others, pointed out.
“The agro-food sector in the EU is the leading producing sector in terms of added value, exports and employment”, said De Castro, “the sector has shown resilience and strength during the challenges of Covid-19, which are not over yet. This is the reason that the measures Europe is implementing will be crucial. The Recovery Plan, totaling 750 billion euros, of which 209 billion euros assigned to Italy (8 billion non-refundable) that will be central for investing, including physical and digital infrastructures. Plus, the more than 10 billion euros allotted to Italy for Rural Development arriving between 2021 and 2022, will be vital to support the ecological transition, and corporate investments (where public co-financing could reach 75%, emphasized Paolo De Castro). All of these funds are part of strategies such as “Green Deal” and “Farm to Fork”, in which Italy is at the forefront of many European Union countries, and several goals are already within reach. For instance, we are already over 16% of the agricultural area in organic farming and the target is 30% by 2030. We have a clear path ahead of us, and although there are a myriad of problems, we will be able to tackle them”.

“This “annus horribilis’”, Francesco Sottile (Slow Food Italy) stressed, “has given us an extremely fragile vision of agricultural production, especially in the local food supply chains. This is where we must start to understand how to strengthen a production system that cannot stay on the sidelines of political interest, but must conquer more and more space and enhance its contribution in favor of a genuine ecological transition. We need policies that turn our vision to the small scale world, which is not called small scale because it represents a minority, but rather because it is made up of thousands and thousands of small farms that together represent the tiles of a mosaic of inestimable value, and the very important role they play from an agronomic, ecological, cultural as well as economic point of view. No policy can be shared that gives greater strength to the industrial agricultural world by creating fertile substrate for a production model that fails to take into account the value of biodiversity, in other words, the use of natural resources. If the agro-food sector in Italy and in Europe were managed with rules and opportunities that are the same for everyone, then we would finally start talking about a truly free market, conditioned only by skills and know-how.
“The Green Deal”, said Remo Taricani, Co-CEO the Unicredit bank’s Commercial Banking Italy, “poses challenges that can no longer be postponed in our agro-food sector. On the one hand, we will be able to count on the substantial resources from the EU Next Generation. On the other, we will all be called to carefully plan and share strategic interventions. We have started a partnership with Nomisma, based on this awareness, which will try to identify the main areas of intervention and the best equipped paths useful to our integrated supply chains, to meet the challenge and grow according to logic of sustainable development. Thanks also to the pan-European positioning of the UniCredit bank, we will be able to collaborate with the top international best practices, and get ideas for improvement to share with all the main stakeholders in the sector and in our territories”.
“The Italian agro-food system”, added Denis Pantini (Nomisma), “is resisting, but it is also suffering, due to a market scenario dominated by global uncertainty, in which our companies are called to deal with new challenges that the pandemic is constantly generating. The collaboration between Nomisma and Unicredit is ideal in such a complicated scenario. Through innovative analysis and strategically sharing the objectives among the stakeholders of the agro-food supply chains, there will be a better combination of private and public resources, which will ensure the complete success of the development projects, to be able to guarantee “sustainable competitiveness” to the Italian agro-food system”.
The system is made up of extreme but significant cases, such as the one Teresa Mascarello, at the head of the historic Barolo winery, Bartolo Mascarello, told us. “The choice my grandfather and my father made over their almost 100 years of winemaking, that is, to continue in the artisan dimension (5 hectares, 3 of which Barolo), respecting tradition and history, have always been our strengths. Another one of our strengths is direct and personal relationships with customers, whether they are restaurants, wine bars or individuals. Relationships built up over the years that have become lifetime relationships, which in this very challenging moment, reward companies like mine. Our production is small, our relationships are long established, and loyal. But, then, we are in a privileged condition and territory”.

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