Innovation and quality are the two indispensable factors for a future of sustainable growth of the agri-food supply chains. This is the synthesis ofevent ‘Innovation for sustainable agri-food chains: tools, best practices, supporting policies’, organized by Nomisma, in collaboration with Philip Morris Italia and with the scientific contribution of the Food Trend Foundation. The workshop, introduced and moderated by Paolo De Castro, president of the Nomisma Scientific Committee, aimed to deepen through important contributions from experts and testimonials from top business managers, the role that innovation can play in making ‘sustainable’, in the various economic, social and environmental implications, the Italian agri-food chains.
Agri-food supply chains, key innovation to be competitive (VIDEO)
Between successful case history those of industrial tomato he was born in tobaccowhere important investments in innovation have been launched over the years, through supply chain agreements, aimed at guaranteeing greater stability and safety for farmers.
The current context characterized by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the continuous shocks on the energy and commodities market, to which the objectives of the ecological transition imposed by the Green Deal are added, risk putting a strain on a production system heavily affected by inflationary tensions and difficulties. of supply. According to the latest Eurobarometer, based on a survey carried out between the end of February and last March, one in two European citizens, when it comes to indicating the main responsibilities attributed to farmers, puts the production of sustainable and high quality food first. , while for another 26% the guarantee of constant supply of food becomes a priority. It is therefore quite clear that the quality of agri-food products, food security and sustainability must go hand in hand, together with investments in innovation to make Italian supply chains increasingly competitive and sustainable.
In the Italian panorama, many supply chains are not self-sufficient in themselves. If the self-sufficiency index is equal to 100 (measured by the ratio between production and consumption), supply chains such as that of wheat (both soft and hard), corn, meat (both beef and pork), milk are all below this value . This is also demonstrated by the trend in the import of agricultural products which in the last twenty years has grown by over 80%, reaching 16.3 billion euros in 2021. However, this is not a ‘food security’ risk. for Italian consumers: imports are necessary to ensure in a complementary way the full functionality of those value chains capable of supporting our export of food & beverage and tobacco derivatives which in the same period has more than tripled (+ 216%), passing from 14 to over 44 billion euros.
“In a scenario of war – explains Paolo De Castro, president of the Nomisma scientific committee – consumers ask farmers for sustainable and quality food. But in Italy for some supply chains it is not self-sufficient; I am referring to the supply chains relating to vegetable, dairy, barley, pork and cured meats, olive oil, corn, beef, nuts: this entails a significant dependence on foreign countries, especially to respond to a strong growth in exports of food & beverage and tobacco derivatives. Innovation will save us, but in Italy still few farms, only 11%, invest in innovation“.
On the other hand, the objectives indicated by Europe for climate neutrality require farmers to significantly reduce by 2030 in the use of agrochemicals and antibiotics (-50%) as well as fertilizers (-20%). The targets of the ‘Farm to fork’ strategy linked to the Green Deal are ambitious and certainly not ‘at no cost’ for community agriculture, given that the European Commission Research Center (JRC) has also assessed how tout court of such cuts in technical means could lead to a reduction in EU agricultural production of between 10 and 15% compared to current levels.
For Italy it is essential to guarantee security to its supply chains and to farmers because, in addition to guaranteeing the supply of various agri-food products, they are able to generate the ‘value’ required by consumers all over the world, necessary to preserve the competitiveness of entire national agri-food system. Stefano Vaccari, director general of Crea is convinced of this, underlining how “in a complex moment like the present one we must not forget that Italian agriculture is the first in Europe in terms of added value. We produce value, not food. This means that innovation and training are the natural tracks to run on the world market. In 2021, Crea developed over a thousand research projects, powerful pieces of growth for the agri-food sector. We now need to concentrate agricultural research efforts on a few, clear fields of action, such as genomics, precision agriculture, sustainability and agro-energy. Today, public scientific resources, especially those of the NRP, are extremely fragmented and not governed by the agricultural world: on this we hope that there will be a change of route”.
“In the next 12 months – he warns – there is no risk of a food crisis due to the quantities produced, but many risks are given by the uncertainties of the financial markets”. Vaccari then observes that “public support for Italian agriculture comes above all from the European Union and less from the State and this penalizes farms that are unable to organize themselves with the EU”.
“True innovation – he maintains – is to enhance the entrepreneur’s knowledge, creating value means more entrepreneurship; for the agricultural entrepreneur it means being even more dynamic on the market. Also having more awareness of becoming from custodian of the territory to custodian of the cycle of life “.
“Precisely in the current world system – underlines Alessandro Apolito, head of the technical service of the presidency cabinet and secretariat general Coldiretti – there is a need for co-responsibility whose key word is supply chain. In the cereals sector, for example, there was a downward trend However, since companies believed in 100% Italian supply chains it has been interrupted. At the basis of sustainability there is also the fundamental pillar which is the fair price. We have a very important opportunity with the PNRR and according to Coldiretti we must focus on food and energy sovereignty and a better use of water “.
“The ecological transition – he underlines – must see the entire agri-food sector as protagonist. To do this, it is necessary to continue to support the investments of companies, focusing on innovation and agriculture 4.0 to reduce the use of resources and increase productivity. Pnrr go in this direction and Coldiretti, together with Filiera Italia, is ready to present many operational and sustainable projects “.
With respect to these objectives, there are also successful cases that demonstrate how these tools can favor the dissemination of innovative processes capable of allowing, at the same time, a 360 ° sustainability (environmental, social and economic) for the entire supply chain. This is what Gianmarco Laviola, CEO of Princes Industries Food, explained at the conference, who declared how “promoting sustainability in the tomato industry does not only mean introducing advanced technologies into our productions but investing in the role of the supply chain to give prospects for growth. to the sector, especially in a context of great international tensions and pressure on the costs of raw materials. Princes Industries food is committed in this direction to protect and support the ethical tomato and 100% made in Puglia all over the world, both through a specific and revolutionary supply chain agreement with Coldiretti both with concrete initiatives developed with workers’ representatives and associations that fight the phenomenon of labor exploitation “.
Another interesting case history where sustainability and innovation objectives have been achieved through supply chain agreements aimed at improving the agricultural product towards the new needs of the market and consequently generating that value recognized for Italian products is that of tobacco: the supply chain in fact, tobacco has the opportunity to explore new innovative solutions, which will make it possible to undertake the ecological and digital transition path more quickly, also in light of the new CAP reform and in line with the new European Green deal.
“The terms sustainability and transition – says Cesare Trippella head of leaf Eu Philip Morris Italy – are now common but 11 years ago they were viewed with a lot of skepticism. An innovative tobacco supply chain involving 25 thousand workers. In 2011 we tried to optimize as much as possible. the supply chain with a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Agriculture to guarantee our producers to have the certainty of the product that will be marketed “.
“We continue – he assures – to focus on our commitment for some time now aimed at guaranteeing a medium and long-term vision and investments on the eco-energy and digital transition, supporting ecological and social sustainability for an optimized and efficient supply chain, with focus on people. It is important to invest in human capital which sees 60% made up of women. We are doing a course to stay in generational succession within family businesses. All our fields are geolocated and traceability is a must of the our business and all our companies are periodically checked by our technicians “.
“In an increasingly complex and constantly changing macroeconomic context – warns Trippella – I believe it is essential to guarantee stability and certainty to growers and agricultural supply chains. Like Philip Morris, our commitment to the tobacco supply chain looks to the future and we have already demonstrated it with renewal of the agreements with Mipaaf. Our company is also at the forefront from the point of view of investments for the energy, ecological and digital transition of the tobacco supply chain: in line with the innovative vision of a smoke-free world, Philip Morris Italia already since 2011 it has undertaken strategic actions aimed at these transitions, obtaining successes in the reduction of CO2, in the responsible use of the water resource, as well as in the digitization of the supply chain “.
On a political level, Raffaele Nevi, responsible for Agriculture Forza Italia specifies that “I am worried because I have the impression that the war, instead of making us reflect and rethink our priorities, keeps us going as if nothing had happened. Europe is strategic and fundamental for agriculture and ‘there is a need for a long-term strategy and to build a new recovery fund.
“I believe – adds Mino Taricco, leader of the Democratic Party in the IX Permanent Commission – Agriculture and agri-food production in the Senate – that the ongoing change in awareness of sustainability in its various forms strengthens citizens’ thinking on this topic. The issue of supply chains is one of the frontiers of the future and their strengthening can really be a tool for a qualitative leap. These issues are central and on the agenda on which we are working in the committee and on which our commitment will remain very strong “.