green and tech interviews

“Fruit and veg producers are waiting for 5G” / INTERVIEW

Italian companies will have to manage the arrival of e-commerce and new supply chain patterns.

WHAT does the fruit and vegetable sector need from a regulatory point of view? “Ours - replies Nicola Cilento, the national vice-president of Confagricoltura, one of the most important agriculture association in Italy - is the only sector that has been completely handed over to the European Union. But the Italian government must take action with regard to both physical and non-physical infrastructure. In recent months the problem of maintenance has surfaced, from the disaster in Genoa to the closing of the viaduct near Arezzo, which will create problems of distribution in Umbria and central Italy for fruit and vegetable producers as well as others. The government must put infrastructure, such as roads, ports and railways, at the centre of its agenda, not to mention the non-physical infrastructure.”

Are more e-solutions needed?

“Confagricoltura would stress that the Italian agricultural system needs broadband and 4G network. In the United States, there is already 5G in the countryside. In rural areas, having a telecommunications network is quite essential. Farmers need to be on the internet. We are asking to get there faster. Producers in South America and Africa, even without any physical infrastructure, are able to come to market thanks to the Internet. Even Amazon is affected by the agricultural sector, which also concerns me, because I fear the market monopoly.

Will e-commerce break through into perishable products as well?

“We need to be ready because e-commerce will also affect our industry. Otherwise, Italy risks losing important pieces or even entire supply chains. We’re in the middle of a major change. And I would say that it could turn out for the worst if we are not good at handling it, or for the best, if we know how to make it an opportunity.”

What role does the European Union have for you?

“We are on the verge of a budget reform for the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) after 2020, which is intertwined with the elections to the new European Parliament and will be postponed by one year. We need to consider the available resources, which are smaller and smaller because of Brexit, welfare, migration, and defence. We must try to maximise resources to make it more competitive, because other countries, such as Russia, Egypt and Turkey, are not stopping. In the past, the CAP, under pressure from the northern countries, was seen as a system of environmental protection.”

What is the situation in Italy with regard to infrastructure dedicated to cold chain transport and logistics?

“The infrastructural issue is important for the fruit and vegetable sector, but Italy has invested little and is behind, compared to Germany and Spain, for example. 50% of Italian fruit and vegetable production is in the South. We know that the South is struggling when it comes to infrastructure and logistics. The sector is therefore exposed to the country’s shortcomings in this area. Lack of investment leads to losses in GDP. In Spain the transport of fruit and vegetables costs an average of €1.2 per kilometre, while in Italy it costs 1.6. This is another reason why Spain is more competitive on European markets: because it has optimised its logistical facilities and its ability to aggregate and package the product. In addition, in Italy there is a fragmentation of companies and therefore of investments and a limited ability to act on a larger scale. A farm in Italy has an average of 7 hectares, while in Spain it is 30 hectares, and in France, 50 hectares.”