Agriculture Products and Sustainability of Agriculture in Italy

Agriculture in Italy

Agriculture Products and Sustainability of Agriculture in Italy

Agriculture is one of the oldest activities undergone by the humans in order to sustain life. And it was the primary source of food and income for the majority of individuals across the globe. However, with the industrial and technological revolutions, more and more people begun to work within factories or corporations and less interest was given to agricultural activities. But even so, the technological developments were also adapted and integrated within the processes of growing animals and working the land, agriculture remaining the primary source of foods in the modern society.

The capabilities of each country to grow their own agricultural products depend on various features, such as labor force, access to commodities or land quality. A national agriculture worth analyzing is Italy.

Agricultural Production

Italy is the tenth largest global economy in terms of measured gross domestic product. Their GDP (purchasing power parity) of $1.786 trillion is basically formed from incomes deriving from agricultural, industrial and services operations. Once a leader, the agricultural operations now possess the smallest portions, only 1.9% of the entire GDP – industry accounts for 28.9% and services hold the majority with 69.2%. Also, today, only 5% of the working population activates in the agricultural sector.

The main agricultural products produced within Italy are “fruits, vegetables, grapes, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans, grain, olives; beef, dairy products; fish” (Central Intelligence Agency, 2008).

The statistics on the agricultural production within Italy in the beginning of the years 2000 were as follows:

the average production of cereals was of 20,584 (thousands metric tones), when the mean value for Europe was of 393,862 and the globe’s was of 2,075,387 the average production of roots and tubers was of 2,113, as compared to Europe’s 150,050 and the world’s 638,438 the average production of pulses was of 121, Europe’s was of 9,780 and the world’s was 55,469 the average production of meat was of 4,162 thousands metric tones, whereas Europe’s was of 50,296 and the globe’s was of 233,218 (Earth Trends, 2008)

Source: 2008, Agriculture and Food – Italy, Earth Trends

The general trend of the Italian agricultural sector is that of stagnation, towards even decline. “Despite government efforts, the agricultural sector has shown little growth in recent decades. The imports of agricultural products increased from $19.6 billion in 1987 to $20.9 billion in 2001. Italy has to import about half of its meat” (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007).

But the situation is not better across Europe either, where the national outputs decrease drastically. For instance, however the state officials have implemented numerous policies to protect the species and their habitats, the wildlife in the European Union continues to decline. Then, in terms of climacteric conditions and resources, they are all affected by the warming temperatures and large sources of fresh water are being constantly polluted. Also, the shortages and problems in the agricultural sector are affecting the general economic stability of the countries in the EU, as less and less jobs are occupied in agriculture. “Employment in agriculture is falling in the EU. This is affecting all Member States but in particular the countries with the highest levels of jobs in farming (Italy, Spain, Portugal and France). Each of these four countries lost more than one third of its farming jobs between 1987 and 1997″ (WWF, 2000).

Today, the agricultural sector in the European Union contributes in a proportion of 2% to the general gross domestic product and only 4.4% of the entire inhabitants work in cultivating the land or growing animals. They generally produce “wheat, barley, oilseeds, sugar beets, wine, grapes; dairy products, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry; fish” (Central Intelligence Agency, 2008). In terms of competition to the Italian agricultural products, the following table contains agricultural information on some of the countries in the European Union:


Agriculture in GDP (%)

Labor force in Agriculture (%)





Czech Republic





















United Kingdom

The general tendency is for the developed countries to become furthered from agricultural activities and focus on technological and industrial operations, for which they possess a sustainable comparative advantage, and then use these incomes to import agricultural products. The predominantly agrarian countries remain the developing and less developed ones, where cultivating the land and growing animals is the primary source of income. However, these countries seldom possess high technologies that increase the quality of the products or the efficiency of the processes; therefore, they have limited capabilities to compete in the international market.

3. Land Quality

Italy’s predominantly Mediterranean climate, alpine in the north and hot and dry in the south influences greatly the country’s ability to develop sustainable agricultural activities. Most agricultural activities are developed in the southern regions of the country, but this is generally less developed than the northern region, and reveals an unemployment rate of 20%. Due to the climatic variations, the land is generally rugged and mountainous, revealing only limited plain fields and coastal lowlands. Out of the total land available within the peninsula, only 26.41% is arable, 9.09% is used for permanent crops and the remaining 64.5% is has other uses (Central Intelligence Agency, 2008).

Due to the numerous complexities of the Italian agricultural system, but also the scarcity of arable land, the specialized environmentalists have proposed a division of the land. In this order of ideas, they divided the productive land into working units. “Land is organized into farms dispersed across the countryside. Each farm constitutes a single unified enterprise, and each includes a whole range of crops and livestock in the productive complex. The farm ideally comprises a variety of different resources: arable land (including, if possible, some well-watered plots), olive trees, vines, fruit trees, meadow, pasture land, and woods. The various resources are exploited in a closely integrated manner, in terms of crop rotation, labor expenditures, use of equipment and so on” (Silverman, 1968).

Other land considerations, relevant in the division of productive land into units, include:

the farm must large enough as to be able to support the working unit (the family) of 2 to 20 or more individuals the average size of a farm’s land is of 15 hectares the unit is generally passed on to the next generation, but its value varies and is being recalculated based on numerous features, including the capabilities and skills of the farmers or the climacteric conditions within one year the relationship between land and cultivators is given by the mezzadria, a contract between workers and land owners, stipulating that each gets half of the resulting products the mezzadria is renewed every year and the cultivators generally live on the land and are seldom changed (Silverman, 1968)

4. Agricultural Practices

The general tendency in regard to national agriculture is that of protecting it and ensuring its success, sufficiency and ability to satisfy the national demand. The fascists were among the first Italian rules who implemented protectionist policies. First of all, Mussolini aimed to reduce imports so to “free Italy from the slavery of foreign bread. […] From 1926 onwards import restrictions were placed on all agricultural commodities; beginning in 1929 subsidies were paid to encourage the export of certain crops; after 1930, acreage, output, and price controls were established by the government or by government-sponsored groups for most major crops. Legislation was passed to encourage ‘ruralization’ and internal colonization and there was even some attempt to halt the flow of people from the countryside to the cities. Tax laws and credit policies were altered on several occasions to assist agriculture” (Cohen, 1979).

Today however, with the ongoing chances affecting the micro and macro environments, the Italian agricultural sector is trying to adapt and better respond to the needs of the population. “In this particular innovative attempt to mobilize networks of people, animals, technologies and speciality foodstuffs into a sustainable farming system, these efforts are couched within a broader moral understanding of the particular value of rural ways of life, so that moves towards sustainable farmland management are inter-related with specific cultural, social and economic objectives” (Holloway, Cox, Venn, Kneafsey, Dowler and Toumainen, 2006).

A means to adapting the agricultural activities to the modern requirements is that of growing genetically modified products. These products are obtained through a series of man made interventions, which are generally aimed to increase the quantity and reduce the growing cycle of the items realized. The GM products have raised a series of issues, attracting both proclaimers and disclaimers. “GM is a special set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of such living organisms as animals, plants, or bacteria. Biotechnology, a more general term, refers to using living organisms or their components, such as enzymes, to make products that include wine, cheese, beer, and yogurt. Combining genes from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified,” “genetically engineered,” or “transgenic.” GM products (current or in the pipeline) include medicines and vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers” (Genomics, 2007).

But despite its registered success in the United States, the countries in the European Union, mostly Italy, France or Greece, but also others, have become affirmed as strong discailmers of GM. They mostly reacted in such a manner due to their ongoing battle against fast food, originating primarily from the U.S. And leading to unfavourable outcomes for the individual’s health. Italy has even subscribed to the Slow Food Movement, promoting the natural growth process, or the cultivation of organic foods, without genetic modifications or the excessive usage of chemical fertilizers. The Italian consumers and producers have become increasingly hostile towards the GM products and some of them have even been banned in Italy and some other European countries, such as Luxembourg or Sweden. However in the beginnings of biotechnology, Italy received the GM products, they now refuse them. Foremost, they implemented a clear set of regulations, including detailed labelling, without which the items are not allowed onto the Italian territory (Toke, 2004).

5. Policies

Realizing the weakening of the national agricultural system, the Italian officials have implemented a wide set of policies aimed to revive and strengthen the sector. The regulations were enforced by the European Union which in early 1960s implemented the Common Agricultural Policy. “The CAP is an EU policy that provides financial support and incentives to farmers and, under recent reforms, the wider rural community. Introduced in the early 1960s, its objectives were to:

increase agricultural productivity assure the availability of supplies ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community stabilise markets ensure that supplies reached consumers at reasonable prices” (WWF, 2007) significant stipulation of the Common Agricultural Policy was that of allowing state governments to offer subsidies to the farmers in order to modernize and improve their operations. In their beginnings, the subsidies were granted based on quantities produced; today however, they are given based on land or animals possessed, all of course within the limitations imposed by the European Union. “Both of these subsidy systems tend to provide farmers with an incentive to maximise production through intensive agricultural practices, with negative implications for the environment” (WWF, 2007).

6. Conclusions

In the contemporaneous society, technological innovations and improved services play a crucial role and most of the available jobs and GDP contributions come from these operations. However, agriculture remains the primary source of nutrient products, and the declining trends in cultivated land and grown animals have come to worry the state officials. Attempts have been made to integrate the hi-tech developments into agricultural operations, with both success and failure. The primary aim of the governmental institutions is to revive the agricultural sector and to achieve this, they offer various incentives and financial subsidies.

Works Cited

Cohen, J.S., February 1979, Fascism and Agriculture in Italy: Policies and Consequences, the Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 1

Cohen, J.S., Galassi, F.L., August 1994, the Economics of Tenancy in Early Twentieth-Century Southern Italy, the Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 47, No. 3

Holloway, L., Cox, R., Venn, L., Kneafsey, M., Dowler, E., Toumainen, H., Managing Sustainable Farmed Landscape through ‘Alternative’ Food Networks: A Case Study from Italy, the Geographical Journal, Vol. 172

Silverman, S.F., February 1968, Agricultural Organization, Social Structure and Values in Italy: Amoral Familism Reconsidered, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 70. No. 1

Toke, D., 2004, the Politics of GM Food: A Comparative Study of the UK, USA and EU, Routledge

Weirich, P., October 2007, Labelling Genetically Modified Food: The Philosophical and Legal Debate, Oxford University Press

2000, Agriculture in the EU, WWF, Retrieved at June 23, 2008

2007, Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms, Genomics, accessed on June 23, 2008

2007, Italy – Agriculture, Encyclopedia of the Nations, accessed on June 23, 2008

2008, Agriculture and Food – Italy, Earth Trends, Retrieved at June 23, 2008

2008, the World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, accessed on June 23, 2008

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