As hazelnuts spread across the hills of Italy, farmers worry about their land

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Giacomo Andreocci, who runs a small organic farm in the mountains north of Rome, said that he feels like part of an endangered species-thanks to the chocolate sauce that millions of people love.

The land he cultivated in the city of Vignanello used to grow a variety of mixed plants, including olives, grape vines and hazelnuts.

But recently, driven by Ferrero, the Italian company that makes Nutella, many surrounding valleys have switched to intensive hazelnut planting, and single plantations have replaced grass pastures, small farms and rows of vines.

“The large-scale outbreak of hazelnut cultivation has triggered rapid changes in the ecosystem around us so that nature can no longer sustain it,” said Andre Ochi as he walked along a trail on the farm, where he planted A series of crops.

“Now there are hazelnut trees everywhere… They are devouring all our land resources.”

Ferrero, the manufacturer of Nutella, aims to increase the production of Italian hazelnuts by 30% to 90,000 hectares by 2025 © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The changes that frustrated Andre Ochi encompassed a range of global themes, from food security and international supply chains to growing environmental problems.

Ferrero’s decision to re-launch part of its nut supply from Turkey (its main supplier and the world’s largest producer) responded to the manufacturers’ calls to shorten the supply chain, promote local production, and strengthen supervision of sustainability and labor rights.

Ishan Das of Freeworld Trading, a British nut trader, said: “In general, consumers are becoming more aware of how their products are made and where they come from.”

But Ferrero’s transformation has caused environmental problems and divided the local community into those who welcome the opportunity to maximize income and those who believe that the resulting monoculture will create an environmental dead end.

Since the 1960s, hazelnuts have been grown around Vignanello. But according to a plan called Progetto Nocciola Italia or the Italian Nut Project in 2018, Ferrero plans to increase national production by 30% to 90,000 hectares by 2025.

The world’s largest hazelnut buyers are under increasing pressure to increase local purchases. Italian politicians criticized the private group for relying on Turkish supplies. Ferrero also faces competition from the Italian food group Barilla, which has launched a spread made from “100% Italian hazelnuts.”

Ferrero said its return plan focuses on areas where hazelnut orchards can be integrated with other crops, adding that it also hopes to prevent the abandonment of non-arable land.

The tree diagram shows the global hazelnut production in 2019

However, environmental experts point out that this has led local farmers to plant nut trees in places that do not grow naturally, such as near the sea. Intensive agriculture can also deplete underground aquifers and rob habitats of local species.

“The more we adopt this approach, the more we are headed for no return,” said Goffredo Filibeck, an environmental researcher at the University of Viterbotucia.

Environmentalists also say that monoculture helps spread plant diseases and insects, leading to increased use of pesticides and herbicides. However, the Italian government’s national recovery plan has an agricultural component of 6.8 billion euros, part of which aims to promote organic agriculture, improve biodiversity and reduce the use of chemicals.

“When there is biodiversity… you have a perfectly balanced system,” said Fernando Testa, an agricultural technician working in Vignanello.

Ferrero strongly refutes the claim that his actions damage the environment.

“Hazelnut cultivation has not destroyed the Italian countryside; in fact, the country has a long history of hazelnut cultivation and is one of the main producing countries. Companies in multiple industries are using Italian hazelnuts,” it wrote to the Financial Times. The statement said.

The company said it has brought together agricultural and scientific experts to tackle sustainability challenges and promote best practices through its sustainability plan. Many Italian farmers also welcomed the income from nut cultivation.

“This debate is surreal,” said Lorenzo Bazzana of Coldiretti, the Italian farmers’ union. “Single cultivation, whether it is wheat, corn or vines, is nothing new… Each entrepreneur has his own choice and is responsible for pursuing the right agronomic techniques.”

In 2018, producers protested Ferrero in Rome: Monoculture is believed to spread plant diseases and insect pests, leading to the use of more pesticides and herbicides © Stefano Montesi/Corbis/Getty Images

The Italian debate comes at a time when the global nut supply chain is facing increasingly stringent scrutiny.Ferrero Monitoring sustainability In its supply, California almond growers are strongly opposed to the large amount of water used, and the cashew nut supply chain from Africa to South Asia has also raised concerns about labor practices.

Growing more nuts in Italy will help Ferrero shorten some supply chains and improve its monitoring capabilities. At present, it buys one-third of Turkey’s annual production, accounting for 65-70% of the world’s hazelnut production, and it also comes from Chile and Georgia.

But with the development of the Italian hazelnut industry, growers are facing pressure to maintain high-quality supplies.

“The market must continue to supply. It wants perfect hazelnuts and it wants to be fast,” said Marcello Lagrimanti, who started growing hazelnuts in Vignanello in 2017.

Andre Ochi investigated the farms around him, saying that he understood the neighbor’s motives, but was worried about what it meant.

“From an economic point of view, now [this] Is the best thing. When a large company arrives, the local community will focus on products that pay off. Created jobs and wealth,” he said.

“But what have we left for future generations? If we continue to plunder the land like we do now, there will only be deserts left.”

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