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FASCINATION OF PLANTS: It’s no small step from the lab to the market

SILVIA MAIOLO describes Fascination of Plants Day, an initiative to raise awareness about sustainable agriculture and genetically modified crops, essential to feeding the planet.

(Infophoto) (Infophoto)

That the plant kingdom is of fundamental importance not only for agriculture but also for the production of paper, wood, textiles, chemicals, green energy, and drugs is evident, though perhaps people are not always fully conscious of it. In fact, despite the fact that some issues such as sustainable development or GMOs are on everyone's lips, the information being conveyed by the mass media is often rough, or worse, biased. Hence the importance of an initiative such as the one that took place last week in nearly forty countries around the world: the "Fascination of plants day", an event of enormous significance, realized with the coordination of the European Plant Science Organization (EPSO). The initiative seeks to play a valuable role as a "bridge" between the research community and society in order to provide the general public with basic knowledge and scientifically sound information for an informed debate.

Like what took place in Milan at the presentation of the event, sponsored by the National Research Council on "Agriculture of the future and the role of GMOs", held by Manuela Giovannetti, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Pisa, and Michele Morgante, Professor of Genetics at the University of Udine. It is worthwhile to summarize the main points of their discussion.

Let's start with this fact: according to an FAO report, one of the main challenges that the agricultural sector worldwide faces in the coming decades is having to produce 70% more food to sustain a further 2.3 billion people who will add to the 7 billion in the world today by 2050. The problem is that, even now, the current agricultural system is not at all sustainable. The food produced is not enough for everyone and it is not equally distributed (in rich countries waste reaches 30% of the food produced), while the environment is being damaged, every year more and more seriously.

The situation is likely to deteriorate rapidly, unless we proceed immediately to a drastic change of the trend with a second "Green Revolution". The first Green Revolution has already occurred, and in about fifty years, agricultural production has increased significantly. This was possible thanks to the introduction of hybrid vegetable varieties (obtained by crossing existing varieties with each other) and a massive use of chemical fertilizers. A decisive role was also played by the improvement of irrigation systems, the automation of much of the agricultural process and the use of plant protection products (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides). The higher productivity, however, brought with it a number of collateral problems that have been aggravated in time. In addition to entailing a high level of water pollution, intensive farming and the practice of monoculture resulted in a gradual erosion and impoverishment of the soil, inhibiting the proper development of beneficial microorganisms. The result is a growing dependence of plants on chemical inputs, in a vicious cycle that leads to a progressive deterioration of the environment.