Olive cultivation is showing itself to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. The supply chain, therefore, needs to rethink its production model, one that protects the soil, optimizes water resources and makes the most out of production waste. From the field to the table, we report on the journey of sustainability undertaken by Monini.
Olive cultivation is one of the least environmental impacting supply chains among food production. Calculating the carbon footprint for every liter of oil produced, Luca Sebastiani, professor at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna of Pisa, claims that only 1.24 kg of CO2 is emitted. A good figure if we consider that olive groves take care of capturing carbon dioxide thanks to excellent storage capacities in both soil and wood.
Declines in production as climate crisis hits
Like so many other agricultural activities, however, olive cultivation is particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gases. The effects of the climate crisis are increasingly visible: from soil degradation to the overuse of pesticides, from severe water stress due to drought to the spread of pathogens such as Xylella Fastidiosa and phytophagous insects such as Asian bugs and oil flies. Negative impacts that go to affect the production of one of the most envied Made in Italy products.
According to the latest surveys carried out by Ismea, 315,000 tons of olive oil were produced for the 2021-22 campaign. This is a 15 percent increase over 2020, but we are far from what is considered a good year, such as the 429,000 tons in 2017 or the 506,000 tons in 2012. That Italian oil is not enough to meet domestic demand has been a known problem for some time. Therefore producers often have to run for cover by buying olives from other regions or from abroad – especially Spain – thus nullifying the principle of uniqueness of the product.
Given the critical nature of the supply chain and the effects of the climate crisis, the time has come for olive oil companies to rethink their production model in a sustainable way. Voted Sustainability Leader 2022 for the second year in a row by a survey by Sole 24 Ore and Statista, the Umbrian oil company Monini began its journey toward sustainability in 2020, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. With its sustainability plan A Hand for the Future, Monini made a commitment to achieve a series of goals contained in three macro areas by 2030, tracing the entire life cycle of oil: from the field to the table. Renewable Matter was able to analyze the Spoleto-based company's progress and achievements in its Sustainability Report 2021, produced in collaboration with The European House-Ambrosetti.
Monini's "in the field" projects
Monini has decided to focus on planting one million olive trees by 2030 following the guidelines of the European Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to halve the use of chemical pesticides and promote organic farming. Capable of adapting to very dry soils and mitigating the effects of desertification, the olive groves of the Bosco Monini – which is springing up between Umbria and Tuscany taking up mostly abandoned land – will be part of an ecosystem potentially capable of sequestrating up to 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide. By the end of 2021, 425,865 olive trees have been planted under organic farming, a method of cultivation that allows the use of only natural substances, excluding chemicals such as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. In this way, the Monini Forest can help protect biodiversity and help maintain the fertility of the soil, enriching its organic matter content and thus its biological activity. Preserving soil structure and increasing nutrient sources also help improve the quality of olive oil.
When every drop counts
For some years now, the agricultural world has been paying dearly for the prolonged droughts caused by global warming. This summer's devastating water crisis, which hit especially the North, is confirmation of this. Since the olive-oil supply chain is characterized by significant water consumption, Monini wanted to reduce its impacts by adopting precision irrigation systems, thanks to which water is released very slowly, passing the water through tiny labyrinths. This minimizes soil erosion and compaction, reducing water loss. In the first few years of implementation of the drip system, localized water distribution enabled the company to increase irrigation efficiency to 95 percent compared to an average efficiency of 70 percent with conventional systems. But it is not only the environment that benefits from this water saving: according to a study published by the Ministry of Agriculture Food and Forestry, controlled irrigation can lead to increased polyphenol content during the fruit development period, thus increasing the quality of the oil.
By-products and packaging: the circularity of olive oil
With the circular economy in mind, Monini is implementing a complete valorization of its production waste and a lightening of the packaging of its products. By-products are the residues of the oil extraction process and come in three types: olive pomace, vegetation water and pits. Together they account for an average of 85 percent of the residue from the milling process, the remaining 15 percent is transformed into extra virgin olive oil. Currently, thanks to modern mills, the company recovers 100% of the by-products both to produce electricity and for fertigation. More and more people are also demanding products that are traceable, of certified quality and distributed with packaging, that is as circular as possible. Thus, through blockchain technology, the Umbrian company wants to make its made-in-Italy products 100 percent traceable, eliminating too much packaging and aiming to trade in 100 percent recycled Pet bottles. As for glass bottles, on the other hand, Monini has already achieved a 60 percent recycled glass rate and is aiming for 100 percent by the end of the decade. Thus centering the true spirit of the circular economy.