ITALIANS GROAN OVER EXPANSION OF HAZELNUT PLANTATIONS
Hazelnut plantations in the Alfina plateau near San Quirico Castle in central Italy have come under fire, for threatening the water, land and air of an area formerly planted to various crops, the German news service Deutsche Well (DW) reported.
"Six or seven years ago this place looked completely different," Gabriele Antoniella said. He works as a researcher and activist with Comitato Quattro Strade, a conservation organization in Alfina. Antoniella estimates there are around 300 hectares (741 acres) of new plantations in the area, mostly owned by a few large investors. The plateau sits in the northern section of Tuscia, a historical region in Viterbo province and the heart of Italy's hazelnut production. Around 43% of the agricultural land in Viterbo is reserved for hazelnut orchards, the bulk of which goes to the confectionary industry for use in products such as nougat and chocolate.
The nuts have been grown for thousands of years in the southern part of Tuscia and have largely sustained its economy since production ramped up in the 1960s. But the intensification of monoculture practices and their expansion into new areas such as the Alfina plateau is an increasing concern for environmentalists. Several diverse crops have been replaced by hazelnut plantations, and hedgerows have been cleared to minimize the presence of insects. As the nuts are harvested once they fall, the ground beneath the trees is also usually kept completely free of vegetation.
"For us the hazelnut represents a great resource, but it's cultivated in an unsustainable way," said Famiano Cruciarelli, president of the Biodistretto della Via Amerina e delle Forre, an environmental organization in southern Tuscia. "Hazelnut monoculture has caused problems with water, soil, and air." The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides treatments, he says, is making the soil increasingly arid, which in turn has led to its erosion in some places. And during harvest season, clouds of dust are kicked up into the air by the heavy machinery. "That dust is full of chemicals, which are a big problem for people's health," he said. "Large quantities of fertilizers have been used in the intensive hazelnut cultivation, and they have ended up in Lake Vico," explains Giuseppe Nascetti, a professor at the Tuscia University who has been studying the lake for over 25 years. This has caused the proliferation of so-called "red-algae," which produce carcinogenic chemicals harmful to environmental and human health.