Goodbye Italian fruit. The crisis, and the solution

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italian fruit sales below-cost

Italian fruit is destined to disappear in a short time, due to below-cost sales and systematic payment delays that afflict farmers in Italy even more than those in other EU member states.

The fruit companies of the Cuneo area – as well as, at a national level, the COPOI (Coordination of Italian Fruit and Vegetable Producers) – continue the protest without however receiving any feedback from Coldiretti and Minister Lollobrigida.

1) Sales below cost, goodbye Italian fruit

Italian fruit growers, for several years now, have been forced to sell their products below production costs. Farms in the Cuneo area, for example, grow apples, peaches, plums, kiwis and blueberries of excellent varieties which – also based on the assessments made by ISMEA – should not be paid less than 0,45-0,55 euro/kg.

Prices however, are imposed by buyers – be they cooperatives, producer organizations (POs) or their associations (AOPs), or traders – and are always lower than the costs, which continue to rise, as the fruit growers of Saluzzo and surrounding areas denounce.

The farms are thus eroding their savings and trying to access credit not to invest but just to be able to continue working. With a double, concrete risk:

  • farmers are sooner or later forced to stop production, send workers home, close farms and/or sell off land, perhaps renting it out to be ’tiled’ with solar panels
  • Consumers will see Italian fruit disappear from supermarket shelves, replaced by that arriving at zero duty from Africa, South America and New Zealand.

2) Speculation to the detriment of farmers and consumers

Testimonials from Cuneo, Savigliano and Saluzzo – where the writer spoke at the Autonomous Italian Farmers’ demonstration on 21 March 2024 – show the gravity of the situation. In addition to sales below-cost are:

  • absence, or lack of essential elements, of supply contracts
  • biblical delays in payment, at least 6-9 months after harvesting
  • continuous increase in the costs of raw materials and labor
  • difficulties in finding labor in seasonal flows
  • business and supply chain risks are entirely borne by the producers.

Customers in turn pay for fruit, on average, at least ten times more than the price paid to the fruit growers. Food inflation is therefore often referred to as ‘greedflation’, i.e. prices increases dictated by the greed of operators downstream of the supply chain.

3) The historical indifference of Coldiretti (and politics)

The scandal of speculation on Italian fruit, to the detriment of farmers and consumers, has been highlighted in local news since 2005. Over 200 fruit growers from Cuneo, Savigliano and Saluzzo, in 2007, also denounced the indifference of  Coldiretti and politics to their difficulties, with a letter of which some passages are reported.

‘Apparently politicians no longer consider us even in the election campaign, perhaps there are few of us left and we count for little politically, but what are our union representatives doing? And what did the officials who frequent the halls of palazzo Rospigliosi, when the government was writing the financial bill?

Were they busy admiring the collection of paintings or thinking about how to get a few prestigious seats? They certainly didn’t think about defending the interests of those who, with the payment of membership cards and the high cost of union delegations, allow them to frequent certain environments (…).

We should take some time to protect our interests and remind ourselves that we are the owners of our associations and unions, and their officials are our employees who must work and look after our interests well, try to carry out our requests and needs’.

4) Francesco Lollobrigida and Alberto Cirio, useless words

The Monviso ‘Fruit Table’ – organised by Coldiretti and Confagricoltura, on 10 March 2023, without allowing the participation of the fruit growers who had requested it – once again recorded the useless words of Francesco Lollobrigida (Minister of Agriculture) and Alberto Cirio (Governor of the Region). Who, ça va sans dire, were careful not to address the causes of the crisis.

Italian fruit below cost
The table and the Monviso fruit district meet the Minister of Agriculture

The minister himself, through the multiple certified e-mails and countless phone calls from the undersigned to the secretariat and the head of cabinet, he was well informed of the dramatic situation that the fruit growers are experiencing. But to date our requests have remained unheard and nothing has been done’, explains farmer Silvia Brero.

5) Disasters of Italy, the insult beyond the damage

The undersecretary to the Minister of Agriculture Patrizio Giacomo La Pietra, reports Silvia Brero, has indicated that the only solution to solve the problem of undercosting is to denounce the unfair commercial practices to ICQRF. A real mockery, given that Senator La Pietra himself is the author of the amendment to the European delegation law which excluded cooperatives, POs and AOPs from the regulation of unfair commercial practices. (1)

Coldiretti it has in fact planned and achieved the boycott of the ‘Unfair Trading Directive’ (EU) 2019/633 at all levels, involving all the political forces at its service. There is no shortage of clues:

– speaker of the directive, where undercosting is not included among the commercial practices that are always prohibited, is Paolo De Castro. Who then, combined, was appointed president of the Italian supply chain in which the largest suppliers and customers of Italian farmers participate

– the ‘double-bottomed supply chain agreements’ with the representatives of the food industry and large-scale retail trade in Italy saw Coldiretti as the protagonist, as the writer reported at the time (2)

– the transposition of the directive, with the illicit exclusion of POs, AOPs and cooperatives (whose exemplary damage was shown precisely in Piedmont, in the milk supply chain, where Coldiretti also had a role. See note 3), is the result . (4)

6) Change course

Italian farmers and consumers should become aware that the serious imbalances still in force in the value chain derive from a political system subjugated to the claims of Coldiretti, whose interests are divergent if not antithetical to theirs.

It’s time to change course, with tractors in the squares as in the European elections of 8-9 June 2024. Tear up the ‘Minions’ cards, demand the immediate reform of Legislative Decree 198/21 in the terms already indicated, also in the political program of the undersigned (5,6 ).

In the secret of the ballot box, a revolution. #PeaceLandDignity

#CleanSpades

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) Dario Dongo. Unfair commercial practices and European delegation law, critical analysisGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.4.21

(2) Dario Dongo. Unfair commercial practices, double-discount supply chain agreementGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 7.3.21

(3) Dario Dongo. Unfair commercial practices, Italy tries to exclude cooperatives and producer organizationsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.10.21

(4) Dario Dongo. Unfair commercial practices, the troubles of the legislative decree† 198/2021. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 4.12.21

(5) Dario Dongo. #FarmersUnited, the manifesto 2 March 2024GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.2.24

(6) Dario Dongo. Peace, Land and Dignity. Our movement in the 2024 European electionsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.3.24