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FAO picks ancient olive agroforestry groves between Assisi and Spoleto as Italy’s first Global Agricultural Heritage site

This summer (2018) the olive groves of the slopes between Assisi and Spoleto, 9,000 ha of olive orchards placed on the slopes of the east-side hills of the Spoleto valley, were recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations as the first Italian Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS).

It is the first Italian site to receive the important recognition. Several important technical and cultural aspects contributed to this recognition, including the fact that this area has been essentially an agroforestry system where olive orchards were grazed and/or intercropped, thus providing many ecosystem services. But rumors report that a particular innovative agroforestry systems has impressed the FAO commissioners, thus having a decisive role in the decision to include this area among the GIAHS. This system, developed first within RDP funds of the Region of Umbria (project: olive asparago pollo) and then within research funds of the VII Framework Program of the EU (project AGFORWARD), is about using grazing chickens to weed and fertilized olive orchard and a locally important edible wild asparagus that is intercropped in the orchard.

This reduced the environmental impact of olive cultivation (no need for chemical fertilization and chemical/mechanical weeding), while increasing the production per hectare (olives + asparagus + meat), thus helping farmers maintain the landscape with profit. The steep terrain, often terraced, makes these orchards difficult to mechanize and weeding can become unsustainably expensive. Large animals may damage terraces’ walls and harm the trees. Small animals, like chickens, can do the weeding effectively, while not damaging terraces and trees.

Details on this project can be found on page 41 in the proposal submitted for the recognition of the AREA as a GIAHS.

A video on the project (for the time being in Italian, but soon to be subtitled in English) is available. Other details are available on the EURAF and AGFORWARD websites. 

Report by Adolfo Rosati