Sustainability, authenticity and short supply chain in Sicily: The example of Valdibella and Paterna Bio

Valdibella's cooperative celebrates this year its twentieth birthday. After Italy, Belgium is the country where Valdibella exports more products. Paterna Bio exports the iconic Sicilian lemon all over Europe. [OSSINO/SHUTTERSTOCK]

Some Sicilian companies in the agri-food sector have chosen a different model of producing and selling. The idea is to recover the “human” contact with the product and with the consumer.  EURACTIV’s partner Sicilia Agricoltura reports.

It’s an agriculture that wants to be close to its client, to his tastes, to his well-being, even from thousands of kilometres away.

Theirs is a short supply chain model where the product – even if travelling a long distance – is not depersonalised by thousands of intermediate steps.

Moreover, there is the attention to the way the product is cultivated and harvested, choosing authenticity above everything else.

This, in brief, is the story of many Sicilian companies, including two that export all over Europe and in particular to Brussels, the “de facto” capital of the European Union.

They are Valdibella and Paterna Bio. The former has its core business in wine production but also includes oil, almonds and pasta in its offer, all strictly organic. The latter, which also fully converted to biological production a few years ago, cultivates lemons, one of the symbols of Sicily.

Innovation, sustainability, tradition

Valdibella was established in 1998 when some farmers in Camporeale, near Palermo, founded a cooperative: a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of goodwill but above all a common vision.

It promotes a wonderful territory, suited to agriculture and, in particular, to viticulture, and creates a sense of purpose for the many young people in that village who would have otherwise been forced to leave Sicily in search of fortune elsewhere.

It stems from a previous experience carried out at Camporeale, the Salesian community of Ithaca, from which the project started and then subsequently developed into a farming cooperative.

At the same time, the company chose to take the organic path, not just because of the nostalgia of the past but to innovate and give consumers the opportunity to taste good products that are respectful of nature and man.

And sustainability is certainly the leitmotif of everything that is done in Valdibella: “The agri-food industry”, reads the cooperative’s website, “does not create any link between producers and consumers. Instead, it spends more time calculating prices”.

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Valdibella represents another way of working.

Our customers, it says, whether they are distributors or consumers, share our vision, our ideas.

“They made their choices: ethical and ecological. We do not consider them as foreigners but as associates. They are interested in the whole production chain: how we plant, cultivate, harvest and transform. They also have a lot of experience and we profit from it. We take into account their advice and suggestions. We do not always agree but we take it into account as a contribution to “human biodiversity”.

The lemon as a symbol

The cooperative Paterna Bio has chosen a path that is similar in many respects, with some differences, also oriented towards the recovery of humanity in agriculture.

The company produces fruit and vegetables and, in particular, lemons that are exported all over Europe. The freshness of the various types of Sicilian lemons, their unmistakable smell and taste have conquered the European markets thanks to the added value given by “organic” cultivation.

The cooperative’s headquarters is in Terrasini, near Palermo, but the lemon plantations are scattered in various areas around the village. Lemons, like other products, are grown in this area of western Sicily and collected in the plant, where they are packaged and then shipped.

Here, the lemon is not just a fruit, it is a symbol of many things: history, organoleptic characteristics, varieties and types.

Because the lemon is a special plant that never ceases to bear fruit, it produces a different one each season, with a more intense or more delicate flavour, with a more pungent or “round” smell.

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In this case, the biological choice was not made by looking back but peering away: the turning point has both ethical reasons – the desire to produce in a healthy and responsible manner – and market justifications.

Today European consumers are more careful in their choices and their purchasing decisions are not driven only by economic factors but also by health considerations.

From Sicily to Brussels

Thanks to the short supply chain model, these products can arrive safely and involving few or zero intermediaries throughout Europe.

This is the case, for instance, of the market Terrabio, which was set up around ten years ago in Brussels.

This organic market lies in the heart of the historic Brussels neighbourhood Marollen, making it possible for clients to buy local products, but also wine, pasta, fruit and vegetables from Sicily, France and Spain, particularly during the off-season.

Short supply chain and fair remuneration for farmers are the essential goals that Terrabio pursues, as well as providing “good and healthy products for all and for everyone’s wallet,” as the market’s motto said.

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Measure co-financed by the European Union

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