The term ‘neorurale’ has been coined to refer to agricultural land that is repopulated with wild areas to encourage biodiversity and the resulting positive effects on soil fertility and fight against desertification. The concept has been applied to an 1,500 ha area of rural land known as La Cassinazza.
“The project was initiated in 1996,” says CEO Piero Manzoni. “When land used for rice cultivation in a series of paddy fields and nothing of wider ecological value was set to return part of the landscape to its previous natural state while still retaining rice cultivation.”
Over time, trees and hedges were planted and water channels, wetlands and the ecosystem was rebuilt to encourage native plants and fauna to repopulate the area. The result is a new ecosystem where ducks, deer and many other animals co-exist peacefully with modern agriculture.
“The success of the project can be explained by the philosophy of a circular economy used by nature,” says Mr. Manzoni. “Many of the problems with modern agriculture arise from the intensive use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides to replace the nutrients taken out of the soil by crops so that the land can be replanted. Learning by Nature, a new technology, called Nutrient Recovery Center, has been developed. Such technology demonstrated already the capacity to increase harvests by as much as 36% per hectare, while reducing costs and environment impact.”
“By treating organic matters in an innovative way and rebuilding ecosystems, we enrich the soil, allowing crops to grow strong and well balanced and saving biodiversity,” says Mr. Manzoni. “Together with technology, around the agricultural fields we created conditions that encourage the proliferation of protecting ecosystems.” This method is called Environment Field Margin.
What NeoruraleHub achieved has been possible with the smart application of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. The imminent change in the CAP should encourage such an approach and foresees incentives not just for production but strictly linked to the contribution, while producing food, to create positive externalities such as better CO2 sequestration in soil, less soil degradation and landscape regeneration.
“Despite the challenges, we remain very optimistic about the future,” insists Mr. Manzoni. “We have a steady stream of visiting academics coming to see what has been achieved here.”
In NeoruraleHub many other challenges have been addressed such as energy saving in a very innovative way, utilizing the heat content of the water traditionally used for irrigation saving about 40% compared to traditional technologies.
Innovations are also studied and developed along the whole agri-food industry, up to industrial transformation and distribution. This is done at the Innovation Center Giulio Natta, within the NeoruraleHub area where renovated agricultural buildings have been converted to host value-added companies, start-ups and laboratories to cultivate and test innovation.
NeoruraleHub also initiated a similar project in Kenya where it is supporting the local population and helping them to cultivate crops preserving natural habitats, and keeping the wildlife safe. NeoruraleHub is even involved in companies in North America. “It is no secret that we are at an environmental tipping point in so many areas,” says Mr. Manzoni. “We know that we are doing our part to improve things – there is no better feeling.”