Ranked at No. 4 position in market growth for organic foods, Italy recorded a 20% increase in demand for organic foods in supermarkets in 2015
By His Excellency Lorenzo Angeloni
In September 2015, Italian Agriculture Minister, Maurizio Martina, commented that the over 55,000 Italian operators active in the organic sector are now the largest number in Europe, and organic produce is confirmed as an important part of the Italian agro-food, with a turnover of more than €3 bn and exponentially growing consumption. The Minister, speaking during the Universal Exposition, EXPO MILANO 2015—dedicated to the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, with a large area promoting biodiversity and organic produce—added that in the first half of 2015, the purchase of organic products increased by 15%. From now till 2020, Italy will invest more than €1.5 bn in this sector, aiming at reducing the environmental impact of farming and focusing on sustainable models.
In 2014, Italian acreage cultivated with organic methods increased by 5.4% over the previous year. This amounts to a rise of 6.9% of organic farming over Italy’s total agricultural area. Livestock breeding with organic methods registered a growth of 15%.
Change in Consumers’ Priorities
According to Agriculture Ministry data, the success of Italy’s organic industry is rooted in a change in consumers’ perception. Italians have started prioritising quality over quantity, and are willing to pay 15% more for organic products, according to Anabio, the association that represents farmers of organic products in Italy.
Additionally, more Italians are becoming vegetarian or at least, reducing their meat consumption. The European Vegetarian Union places Italy on top of vegetarianism in the EU, at 10% of the population. Such conscious consumers are prepared to divert towards organic produce the savings derived from reducing meat consumption.
Demand for organic food in supermarkets grew by almost 20% in the first half of 2015, according to Sinab, the National Information System on organic farming of the Italian Ministry for Agriculture.
Exports & Supply
As per a study of SDA Bocconi—Italy’s premier school of management, ranked as the 4th best international business school outside the USA—Italy’s success story in organic farming owes much to the climate and cultural diversity, which make the peninsula a top exporter of specialty foods and the 6th largest food producer in the world, despite the country’s rather small size. When it comes to organic food, Italy ranks 6th in the world, and 4th in terms of market growth. The organic market has been growing steadily (+220% in 10 years). Italy produces €3 bn worth of organic food each year, a third of which is exported, most of it to Europe. It may be added that Italy holds the distinction of being over 80% free of genetically modified cultivation, which adds to its food safety.
But the real secret of the success of Italian organic foods across the world lies in the supply side. Large-scale agriculture is not suited to the country’s terrain, where the lower average size of farms exposes small producers to the vagaries of commodity prices in world markets. The advent of organic agriculture in the ’80s has enabled the valorisation of products that were excluded from mass production, leading to the recuperation of many fruits and animal species. This development resonated with the needs of consumers, as the diffusion of the Slow Food philosophy well exemplifies, with its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses.
In this regard, it is worth noting that Dr Vandana Shiva, leader of the Indian organic food movement, who has been an Ambassador for EXPO Milano 2015, has been working closely with Italy for over 20 years on organic agriculture and is a strong supporter of the Slow Food movement and its chapter in India.
Bio-Districts: An Innovative Model
Italy’s economy relies on networks of innovative but small and medium enterprises, ‘The Italian Model’ as it is called. They are integrated in terms of sharing common services and infrastructures through a system of districts, or clusters. This model that, once extensively replicated and studied by economists all over the world, seemed to be threatened by the globalisation process, has instead proven very beneficial in the context of organic farming, spurring a development of Bio-districts.These are geographical areas where farmers, citizens, associations and public authorities enter into an agreement for the sustainable management of local resources, based on organic production and consumption (short food chain, purchasing groups, organic canteens in public offices and schools). In bio-districts, the promotion of organic produce goes hand in hand with the promotion of the land so that it can fully realise its economic, social and cultural potential.
The first bio-district was launched in Italy in 2009 by the Italian Association for Organic Agriculture (AIAB), in an area inside the National Park of the Cilento in south Italy. Today, it constitutes a permanent national and international workshop of ideas and initiatives. Bio-districts have hence multiplied.
In 2014, the Network of Bio-districts was acknowledged by government officials to represent an innovative approach that can contribute to the National Strategy on Internal Areas, proposed as a priority by the Italian Government in the framework of the Programme of the Structural Funds of the European Commission 2014–2020.
The Bio-districts formula further inspired the creation of INNER—the International Network of Eco Regions—to include Italian and European bio-districts, and aims to expand to Africa and Latin America.
Indo-Italian Economic Relations
India and Italy have always shared a good and constantly growing relationship through culture, industry and trade. Bilateral trade has reached the level of €7.3 bn.
However, despite the fact that Indians have adopted Italian food in a big way, both in restaurants and at home, Italian food exports to India are well below their potential, due to the complexities of the Indian regulatory framework.
With the explosive growth of the organic movement in India, cooperation in this area can however mutually benefit from increasing our sharing of experience in terms of cultivation methods and technology, organisational systems, and public schemes aimed at promoting this important sector and its contribution to sustainability and public health. Italian cuisine is one of the important pillars of the healthy Mediterranean Diet as recognised by UNESCO. The added value of Italy’s contribution to the organic industry can make it an important partner in furthering the growth of this sector in India.
The author is the Italian Ambassador to India