Georgofili World

Newsletter of the Georgofili Academy


Biodiversity and diversity of forms: the new geometry of urban green, 2015-05-08, 2015-05-08, Florence

The cultivation of orrises in Tuscany

Native or exotic? A widespread and often useless debate

The debate on the choice between exotic and native species has always been rather heated but often excessively simplified (native “good”, exotic “bad”). In particular, it is not supported by scientific evidence. This is especially true for parks and gardens in urban areas. The concept of native, strictly speaking, in an alien environment like that of our cities, does not make sense, therefore it seems appropriate to reconcile controversial positions and have an objective, rational approach rather than a subjective, empathetic and emotional one, as often happens.
First of all, the meaning of exotic should be made clear. In our common sense we associate this word with tropical and equatorial countries when, in fact, from the etymological point of view, the word derives from the Greek, exotikos, which in turn derives from exo, outside. It should refer to anything originating or being imported from other regions that are not necessarily warm and/or equatorial.

The landscape of Pompeii and the Vesuvius area during the Roman age

Direct and indirect damage by the emerald ash borer (AGRILUS PLANIPENNIS)

The damage caused by the emerald ash borer is not linked just to felling trees, transporting them to special dumps and replanting, but also to health problems that may worsen because of tree loss. Recent research has highlighted effects on health and wellbeing that further increase the problem. In fact, there has been increased mortality connected to cardiovascular and lower respiratory system diseases in the areas infested by this insect. The magnitude of this problem will increase as the infection has advanced and has appeared more striking in areas inhabited by people with an above average household income. In the 15 US states where research was carried out, the damage caused by the beetle have been linked to 6113 deaths caused by diseases of the lower respiratory tract and 15,080 deaths as a consequence of cardiovascular problems. 
For these reasons, the emerald ash borer clearly represents a real threat not only with regard to the landscape of a continent and because of the direct and indirect costs, but also a public health problem at a level that could become global. Managing this pest therefore requires maximum cooperation between the countries involved and those that soon may be. Epidemics, even in the plant world, are like a fire: a small fire can be controlled, but when it blazes up, it is almost impossible to extinguish, as the numbers go up exponentially.

Farmers, the reasons for French unrest

Californian oil / Italian oil

In a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine (January 25-31, 2016), an article appeared by Peter Robinson and Vernon Silver with the title “A Californian Olive Grower Says His Oil Is Better Than Italy's”.
The title in itself could be interpreted as praising Italian olive oil. If a Californian olive grower promotes his extra-virgin olive oil by saying that it is better than Italy's, it may be inferred that he considers Italian Extra-Virgin Olive Oils as the touchstone of olive oil quality. The article, however, offers quite a different impression.
Before presenting my point of view, let me first clarify this prejudiced discussion.
I'd never say that Californian oils are of lower quality than Italian oils. Such a statement would be unfair and false. There are very good Californian extra-virgin olive oils (and I know some of them very well), and there are also very common or even bad Italian olive oils (and I know some of them as well). But the approach of the article is questionable and seriously damaging to the reputation of Italian olive oil. Unfortunately, this practice of degrading a product is often exercised around the world, particularly in business competition, and is often aimed against the excellence of some Italian foods.
Now, let's get to the point.
It is misleading to compare a Californian (or any other country's) olive oil produced and sold by its producer with olive oils sold by commercial companies as blends of extra-virgin olive oils of various origin. The article correctly cites Jean-Louis Barjol, the executive director of the International Olive Council (IOC), who said “it is rather a question of commodity vs specialized product”. I totally agree: when we are talking about commodity, the basic tool of competition is price, whereas when we are talking about a specialized product, it is quality that counts.

What is a green city?

Before proceeding to answer this question, a few terms must be defined. First, even if the specific challenges that the city centers are facing are often highlighted in articles, the term "city" generally refers to a broader metropolitan area. For example, "Milan" represents the large metropolitan area surrounding the city, not just the city lying within the city limits. The same applies to other major cities in different parts of the world, such as Chicago, London, Tokyo, São Paulo, etc.
A metropolitan area is made up of a central area containing a substantial population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that nucleus. Metropolitan areas may therefore include several cities/urban agglomerations. Focusing on metropolitan areas makes sense because the majority of people and jobs are concentrated in metropolitan areas (over 50% worldwide and 70% in Europe), but outside of the proper “center”.
Defining a "green" metropolis is a more difficult task. Most of us have an intuitive sense of what defines a green city, like Portland, Oregon, as compared to urban centers defined as "gray", like Mexico City.
Apart from having cleaner air, green cities also encourage "green behaviors", like the use of public transport, with their environmental impact being relatively low so as, in some cases, to almost arrive at zero impact. Can this definition of a green city be translated into objective indicators of urban environmental quality?

History of Italian agriculture and agricultural landscapes in the late Middle ages

From farm cooperation to territory building: a French case study

Soil degradation in Italy

Soil degradation is a major environmental problem worldwide, and there is strong evidence that the soil degradation processes are an immediate threat to both biomass and economic returns, as well as a long-term threat to future crop yields. The vulnerability of the European soils to the degradation processes is certainly high and it strongly increases in the Italian soils due to the higher variability of the environment.
21.3% of the national soil cover is at risk of desertification (41.1% of centre and south Italy).
Main soil degradation processes are erosion, flooding and landslides, losses of organic matter, sealing, aridity, contamination and salinization following the impact of human activities. 
Soil degradation during the last 40 years caused a decrease of about 30% in their water holding capacity and a proportional shortening of the return time of catastrophic events.
Soil degradation has also caused an impairment of several other eco-services, e.g., quality of foods and landscape. 

At the European level the estimated costs of some aspects of the soil degradation can be the following:
erosion: 0.7 – 14.0 billion €,
organic matter decline: 3.4 – 5.6 billion €,
salinisation: 158 – 321 million €,
landslides: up to 1.2 billion € per event,
contamination: 2.4 – 17.3 billion €,

Since agricultural conventional production systems have resulted in excessive erosion and soil degradation, there is need to control and fight such degradation.
Scientific results have clearly showed that the agricultural management systems can play an important role in preventing soil degradation provide that appropriate management practices are adopted. Long-term field experiments in different types of soils have shown that alternative tillage systems, like minimum tillage, ripper subsoiling, etc., improve the soil structural quality.

Preservation of agricultural landscape Vs food security

Some Italian regions are enforcing autonomous “regional-landscape schemes” (without excluding agricultural land), erroneously referring to our Constitution that obviously could not deal with “landscape protection” without considering what was expected by the laws in force at that time in our country that wisely and clearly excluded agrarian land.
The idea of also “safeguarding” agrarian land came out only in the final decades of the 20th century with the political increase of European environmentalists and their abuse of power even in the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). These are requests which we can all share as regards those principles designed to properly protect a habitat in which it is possible to survive but without abandoning the equally important production of food.
Instead, at the beginning of 2000, the "Codice Urbani" was published in Italy; it used the term “Conservation of agricultural landscape”, an expression that must be understood to have only one possible and feasible meaning, namely, as requiring the “land use conservation of the rapidly diminishing arable lands. The subsequent attempts to impose a static utopia on agricultural activities thus seem focused precisely on annulling the freedom of businesses (not just farms) by opposing their ongoing need to adapt and change products and techniques according to the changing needs of the times and the markets. Instead all the risks, production costs and taxes have been left to the businesses while imposing (through spurious mandatory landscape planning measures decided at the top) what, how and where to cultivate, and moreover with no assumption of responsibility and the consequent proper indemnities. 

The impact of introduced exotic insect plant pests on Italian urban forest trees

Agriculture, soil management and prevention of hydrogeological instability – the farmer’s role

The correct management of agricultural and forestry land is fundamental for maintaining the environmental and climate balance at both local and global level and for reducing the risk of hydrogeological instability.
Farmers have always played a positive role in the Community, producing food and preserving the environment.
The agricultural sector is facing major challenges: producing more food to guarantee global food security and ensuring greater sustainability in the sector in the future. Against the backdrop of climate change, farmers are being asked to make additional efforts towards broad mitigation and adaptation actions. The challenges facing the sector will only be able to be met with more agriculture and more farmers and, in particular, by way of the family-farming model.
We need to recognize the value of farmers as ‘custodians’, for their multi-functional activities and the way they protect the land, and take into account the central role played by the economic sustainability of agricultural holdings. 
Strong opposition is needed to land consumption and the abandonment of marginal agricultural areas and more focus must be placed on research and innovation. We also need investments which help to develop mechanisms to encourage farmers and their families to apply best practices. Here, new European instruments under the second pillar of the CAP could provide an important incentive. However, the benefits of greening are less clear and it seems instead simply to put at risk the already fragile economic situation on farms.

Biodiversity and its Preservation

Biodiversity is a hymn to the comprehensive meaning of the nature that surrounds humankind and which we have been called to admire, use, improve, and preserve for ourselves and future generations. The beauty, harmony, and complexity of this world and its landscapes have been cherished, portrayed, and enriched by human works. Poets, painters, scientists, singers, and even simple tourists have sought out the most fabulous landscapes that, unfortunately, are more often at risk because of the human interventions that, knowingly or not, cause serious damage to nature's beauties. 
Biodiversity gives life continuity as it permits ecosystems to adapt, overcoming the changes of natural events by ensuring a population’s fitness or biological success and its ability to synchronize with environmental changes over space and time by protecting ecosystems from the damage caused by changes in the environment. The plant and animal species populating an ecosystem have as a common characteristic harmony with the environment and they influence each other. However, their complexity lets them adapt to a variety of climates and pathogens as well as to their own and human dietary need, and have a positive relation to the ecosystem’s productivity as they use completely different resources.

"On the utility of a common currency in the various European countries, and the difficulties that stand in the way of its implementation" *1

Though taken for "a utopian dream", Cini wrote, the idea had already been voiced as far back as 1582 by Gasparo Scaruffi from Reggio (1519-1584), who envisaged a single currency in pure gold and silver that could be "compared" to all the existing currencies, so as to overcome the "great confusion" generated by the excess money in circulation at that time *2.  Scaruffi’s proposal however, was not acted upon.
Cini was aware of the difficulties that hindered the carrying out of such a plan, by individuals resistant "to changing rather long–standing habits, in the infinite number of calculations that are done at all times", to the necessity of establishing rules under which the new currency would have weight, size, and a material common to each State, namely, that it would always have "the same standard."

Xylella: a modern italian tale

Opening of the Georgofili Academy’s 262nd Year

The Birth of an Academy: Ubaldo Montelatici and the Georgofili

Food and sustainability. The Problem.

The World Total Biocapacity is 1.78 global hectare  (gha) per capita (Italy is 1). The Footprint Network  calculates that the current World Ecological Footprint of Consumption is 2.7 gha per capita: 1,5 times more resources than the Earth can provide. In case of business-as-usual scenario (BAU) in only 15 years the Humanity will need two Earths to survive. That is unsustainable.
In 2030 we will be 8 billion and F.A.O. projects that by 2050 we will be about 10 billion, 3 more than today, for which we need to produce additional food in a quantity that we ate in the last 6000 years. 149 million km2  is the total land area of the world, of which 30% is used for agriculture. UN estimate that we lose 23 ha per minute (12 Mha/year) because of degradation and desertification, an area where we could produce 20Mt cereals each year. Restoring just 12% of the world’s degraded agricultural land could feed 200 million people by 2030, while also strengthening climate resilience and reducing emissions. 

Quantification of soil losses due to erosion, pollution and urbanization