The Farm to Fork Strategy, a cornerstone of the European Green Deal, underscores the urgent need to enhance sustainable agriculture. This strategy arises from the necessity to combat climate change, promote sustainable development within the European Union (EU), and create food systems that are both fair and environmentally responsible. At present, agriculture occupies approximately half of the habitable land globally, with over 11 million km2 of arable land dedicated to crop production alone. However, intensive agriculture exerts a substantial toll on the environment, depleting natural resources and contributing significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The environmental impact of agriculture is a global concern, as crop production for human consumption alone is responsible for more than 21% of worldwide GHG emissions, equating to approximately 2.8 Gt CO2 equivalent (CO2-eq) emissions. Within the EU, Italy ranks as the third-largest emitter of GHGs, accounting for 418 kt CO2-eq emissions, following only Germany and France. The transition towards sustainable food systems is essential from both environmental and economic perspectives, as it not only presents new opportunities throughout the food supply chain but also attracts an increasing number of consumers seeking environmentally friendly, climate-conscious, and economically viable food products.
Achieving sustainable agriculture necessitates novel strategies, including the measurement of environmental impacts associated with agricultural production and industrial processing. This also involves embracing circular economy principles. Various tools rooted in the life-cycle approach have been introduced in environmental accounting to address climate change. These tools include input-output analysis, material flow analysis, life cycle assessment (LCA), and metrics like eco-balances and carbon or water footprints. Among these, the carbon footprint (CF) has been particularly effective in quantifying GHG emissions, identifying their sources, and pinpointing opportunities for reduction throughout agri-food supply chains. The CF is defined as the amount of GHGs emitted during the production and treatment of food waste, equivalent to the radiative forcing exhibited by the unit CO2 emitted, typically expressed in kg CO2-eq. It plays a pivotal role in identifying critical sectors where policymakers can intervene to implement energy-efficient measures that reduce environmental costs.
Globe artichoke stands as one of the most widely produced vegetables globally, with a total production of 1.52 Mt in 2020, making Italy the top producer with over 0.37 Mt. However, from an environmental perspective, globe artichoke production contributes to GHG emissions, with a carbon footprint estimated at 0.86 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of fresh product. In this context, the current research focuses on evaluating the CF of the globe artichoke supply chain in the province of Foggia, located in Southern Italy, a region known for being the Italian leader in globe artichoke production.
In a new study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cleaner Production by Professor Roberto Leonardo Rana and Associate Professor Mariarosaria Lombardi from the University of Foggia (Italy) together with Research fellow Christian Bux from University of Bari Aldo Moro (Italy) assessed the global warming potential of the entire globe artichoke supply chain, encompassing GHG emissions from cultivation to industrial processing, and identifying the most impactful stages. They also proposed strategies for reducing GHG emissions by optimizing the artichoke supply chain, aligning it with circular economy principles. The new study represents the first comprehensive assessment of the CF for both the agricultural production and industrial processing stages of the globe artichoke supply chain. This novel approach expands the system boundaries for estimating GHG emissions in this specific supply chain. The CF calculation is increasingly vital for supporting GHG mitigation actions, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 13 of the UN Agenda 2030, and contributing to the European Green Deal’s objective of achieving zero GHG emissions by 2050.
The first step in calculating the CF is to define the system boundaries, encompassing all relevant stages of the artichoke supply chain. In their study, the supply chain was divided into five stages: Agricultural Production; Post-Harvest Handling and Packaging; industrial Processing; transportation; and Retail and Consumption. The first stage includes all activities related to artichoke cultivation, from land preparation and planting to harvesting. It encompasses the use of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, as well as on-farm energy consumption. Secondly, after harvesting, artichokes undergo various post-harvest operations, including cleaning, sorting, and packaging. These activities consume energy and materials. Third, artichokes may be processed into various products, including canned, frozen, or preserved artichoke hearts. This stage involves industrial processes that consume energy and produce emissions. Fourth, the transportation of artichokes from farms to processing facilities, distribution centers, and retail locations incurs emissions from vehicles and energy consumption. And finally, Retail and Consumption’ stage encompasses emissions related to refrigeration, storage, and cooking or preparation of artichokes by consumers.
The authors calculated CF by summing the GHG emissions from all stages of the supply chain, considering the emissions associated with each unit of artichoke produced. The CF is expressed in kg CO2-eq per unit of artichoke. Once the CF is calculated, it is analyzed to identify the stages of the supply chain with the highest emissions (hotspots). Strategies for reducing emissions in these hotspots are then proposed. This may involve optimizing agricultural practices, improving energy efficiency, or reducing waste. In line with circular economy principles, the authors also explored opportunities to reduce waste and enhance resource efficiency within the artichoke supply chain. This includes considering strategies such as recycling, reusing by-products, and minimizing food loss and waste.
In conclusion, the researchers addressed the critical issue of sustainability within the globe artichoke supply chain in the Foggia province of Southern Italy. By assessing the entire supply chain, from agricultural production to industrial processing, the study provided a comprehensive understanding of the CF of globe artichokes in the case- study area. They successfully identified hotspots within the supply chain and proposed strategies for emissions reduction in line with circular economy principles. Ultimately, the findings of the Italian study will contribute to the broader goal of achieving sustainable agriculture and reducing GHG emissions in the context of the European Green Deal and global climate objectives.
Roberto Leonardo Rana, Christian Bux, Mariarosaria Lombardi, Carbon footprint of the globe artichoke supply chain in Southern Italy: From agricultural production to industrial processing, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 391, 2023, 136240,