The fields around Malles in the heart of the Venosta Valley in northern Italy are right now surrounded by thousands of yellow and red apples, ready to be harvested.
These apples – the real “gold” of this area – will soon be produced completely without pesticides.
How did this village of 5000 inhabitants, close to the Austrian and Swiss border, become a lighthouse for an organic future for Europe’s agriculture?
Simply, the residents could no longer tolerate seeing pesticides spread season after season around their houses, gardens and fields. They abhorred toxic poisons in their food and water.
The local municipality finally caved into mounting pressure on the issue and ran a public referendum – resulting in 75% of voters choosing to ban all pesticides from the entire village area.
The decision came as no surprise to Claudio Porrini, an entomologist at Bologna University, and an expert in this field who knows the situation well in the village.
“Beekeepers are desperate there, they have high losses of bees that are linked to heavy use of pesticides,” he said. “The valleys are narrow in the area with orchards alternating with schools, sports facilities and forests.
“In order to cohabit, we need to reduce the use of pesticides. The treatment with those chemicals can lessen the aggression of parasites, but it creates other problems. Pesticides are sprayed in a way that only a small part hits the target, the rest is spread into the environment. It’s clear that if orchards are near the houses the opposition grows,” Porrini said.
So it’s easy to understand why the people of Malles prefer to strengthen organic production instead of continuing to use pesticides. Their far-reaching decision will encourage and increase environmental friendly tourism, creating bicycle and hiking trails or farm visits – bringing accumulative benefits to the people in the valley.
Even more important is the example it will set to other farmers using pesticides in Europe that applying ecological farming practices to grow healthy food in balance with nature does work.
The Malles town council has to now consider the referendum results and make the necessary changes to regulations. But it’s clear that this consultation should have a domino effect on the whole apple district in the north of Italy, starting from the nearby province of Trentino.
Congratulations to Malles and its people who promoted and conquered this referendum, and let’s hope this initiative will be taken up by many other towns in Italy, all over Europe and the world.
For Malles this means healthy apples and pesticide-free food for the benefit of people, our bees and other pollinators, our agriculture and our environment.
Who will be next?
Federica Ferrario is a Senior Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace Italy.
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