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Organic food and farming is gaining ground in Italy

by Massimo Agostini

Italians have a growing appreciation for agriculture with less environmental impact, or at least practiced with methods that are less likely to use synthetic chemicals, according to Agriculture Ministry data.

And consumers have proved it even more, since the demand for organic food in supermarkets rose by almost 20% in the first half of the year, according to Sinab, the National Information System on organic farming of the Ministry for Agriculture.

Last year, the areas cultivated with organic farming methods totaled 388,000 million hectares, an increase of 5.4% compared to 2013. And it is worth noticing that in a year, in absolute terms, more than 80,000 hectares were converted from conventional to organic farming.

The incidence of this surface on the total agricultural area in Italy was 10.8%, compared with 10.1% the previous year, an increase of 6.9%. The number of operators has risen as well (+5.8%), with 55,433 certified members, of which nearly 77% (42,546) is represented by agribusinesses, just under 23% (12,628) by processors and a fraction (259 units, equal to less than 0.5%) by importers.

An increasing interest in organic methods was also expressed by livestock breeders: the number of pigs has grown by 15%, that of poultry by 14%, while that of the cattle has slightly declined.

Meanwhile, the trend of increasing consumption has continued, with an estimated rise between 15% and 20% in the first six months of this year.

According to the final ISMEA-Nielsen data on sales in large retail chains (hyper and supermarkets, discount and self-service stores), the purchase of organic packaged products had already increased by 11% in 2014. And the product range on the shelves has expanded, with a rise of 14% in the organic products offered by most of the retailers.

In any case, the sector has already recorded a progressive increase in “observers” and employees. Not surprisingly, Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina recalled that the more than 55,000 operators involved in the sector are now “the largest number in Europe.”

And “organic food is confirmed as an important part of the Italian agri-food, with a turnover of more than €3 billion and exponentially growing consumption,” he said.

“In the first half of the year the purchase of organic products increased by 15%,” continued Martina. “It is not a coincidence that we strongly wanted to promote this reality at Expo Milano, with an area dedicated to biodiversity that is having much success with visitors. Until 2020 and together with the regions, we want to invest more than €1.5 billion in this area, aiming at reducing the environmental impact of farming and focusing on sustainable models.”