New tools against climate change is what has been achieved by the GECO2 project, which started in 2019 and is now in its final phase with the presentation of its final report at Macfrut 2022. The fruit and vegetable sector is fully involved in this project with a number of both large and small-scale enterprises.
The underlying theme of GECO2 is how the agribusiness industry, which is one of the hardest affected by global warming, can play an active role in reducing carbon dioxide in the air. As a result of increasingly sustainable farming practices, huge amounts of carbon can indeed be stored in soil and biomass. The idea behind it is to incentivize these good practices which can be later bought and sold in a special market open to farmers and companies interested in balancing their emissions through dedicated farming protocols, supportive IT tools and a reference brand for communication.
A total of 158 Italian and Croatian farms participated in GECO2, with a total of 205 experimental fields covering 1,877 hectares. The farms were located in Emilia-Romagna (32), Apulia (23), Molise (5), the Marches (21), Dubrovnik (24), Zadar (34) and Split (19). Among those involved were large fruit and vegetable producers, such as Apofruit, and consumer giant Coop Italia, which decided to support the project. The sectors involved were those of fruit growing, viticulture and olive growing. The average value of carbon capture and storage per hectare in GECO2 fields was 3 tons. Overall, the activities from 2019 to date have resulted in the storage of more than 6,500 tons of carbon dioxide.
"Agricultural enterprises traditionally do not participate in voluntary carbon markets, partly due to a matter of cost and dimension. This experimentation opens new positive scenarios for the sector, and the simple and accessible model of a voluntary market on a regional scale that has been tested by the project can already be replicated and expanded. We believe it represents an interesting foundation for future developments, especially in the context of the new agricultural and environmental strategies outlined by the European Union," explained GECO2 project manager Antonio Cinti.
The aim of the project
GECO2 built a fully operational voluntary carbon credit market from the ground up, creating both the IT calculation tools and the online platform for the intersection of supply and demand.
"This project highlights that the capture of carbon dioxide is possible in agriculture and generates interesting earnings and carbon credits for farmers," said Cristian Maretti, president of Legacoop Agroalimentare nationwide. “There is interest in supporting more sustainable agricultural supply chains and therefore there is a potential for the voluntary market to work."
It has also defined an adjacent farming protocol, by identifying and promoting 10 cultivation methods that encourage carbon storage in soils and biomass. These include everything from organic management to conservation tillage, from the use of cover crops to the integration of hedges, rows and forest patches in fields, as well as the reuse of woody residues and green residues as a source of organic matter in the soil.
Also included are the use of organic soil conditioners, no use of synthetic fertilizers, reduced use of pesticides and optimal recycling of organic matter, as a result of the biomass produced within the experimental fields. The training phase was very intense, with 42 seminars (18 in the preliminary phase and 24 in the pilot phase) aimed at farmers, businesses, public administrations and citizens. The project communication is supported by a 'CO2 free' label.
GECO2, financed by the European Union's Interreg program, started in 2019 and has eight partners from the Adriatic regions of Italy and Croatia: Arpae Emilia-Romagna, Legacoop Romagna, the Marche and Molise regional institutions, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari, Rera sd for the coordination and development of Split Dalmatia Province, Agrra-Zara and the Dubrovnik Neretva Region.