Sustainable Agriculture


Agriculture is the practice and the art of cultivating the land to produce food, but also materials for other industries, such as clothing.  

Agriculture, as one of the first human activities, is classified as a primary activity in economic language, a category which includes all activities related to the environment, along with hunting, fishing, forestry, and resource extraction. Among them, agriculture has been crucial in the history of man for the transition from nomadism to sedentarism. Its centrality in social life is detected by the presence of myths, beliefs, cults associated with agricultural times and agricultural practices. 

Agriculture is also fundamental for the emergence of new social dynamics. In fact, humans have increasingly differentiated the products they cultivate to meet a growing population demand for food. The differentiation creates the conditions for the establishment of local identities, linked to food and to agricultural and production practices. Differentiation also creates the conditions for contiguous territories to exchange their products, expanding the possibilities of consumption for each population. Furthermore, the differentiation of cultivations contributes to the creation of increasingly vast exchange networks. The progressive development and innovation of infrastructure networks, roads, nautical routes, trains, highway networks and airplanes all contribute to facilitating more and more exchange between different places and populations, which over time are becoming more and more distant from each other. The ease of exchange of goods also increasingly determines the separation between places of production and places of consumption. In Roman towns and villages, or in medieval cities, agricultural production surrounds the walls and is part of the social scene. The acceleration of technological innovations, especially throughout the 20th century, distances agricultural production more and more from the tables of consumption. From the point of view of eating behaviours, these processes on the one hand have enabled a new mix of practices, foods and eating habits. On the other hand, the risks associated with intensive food production on a global scale have increasingly led consumers to re-evaluate local products and local production in a new way. Therefore, agriculture is considered in its ability to answer today's challenges: climate change and sudden hydrogeological events, inequalities, food security.  


Organic Agriculture 

"Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It emphasises the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfil any specific function within the system." (FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, 1999) 

Organic farming products are not always certified. In some cases, as in Italy, the bureaucratic and fiscal obligations of certification are excessive for small and very small farms. Products can circulate in informal markets, or in AfNs (Alternative Food Networks) that promote this type of production.  

Biodynamical Agriculture 

Biodynamical agriculture is a production system based on the theories of Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925), which refer to a holistic, mystical and spiritual vision of the contact between man and nature. For this reason, it is considered a pseudo-scientific method. However, it employs practices of the past, prohibiting the use of fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides. For this reason, it is a practice assimilated to organic production. Despite this, not all countries recognize and certify this method: in Italy, biodynamical production is not assimilated and certified as biological. In Spain, however, production from biodynamical agriculture is recognized and certified. 

Biological Agriculture 

Biological Agriculture is an integrated production system. It combines traditional production practices with technological tools, with the greatest possible respect for the environment. In biological production, combined with current certifications, a certain established margin for the use of chemicals is therefore allowed.   

The 20th century marked profound changes for agriculture. Technical and industrial progress, improved infrastructures, and increasingly widespread schooling changed societies, lifestyles, and also agricultural practices. In particular, after World War II, a new way of farming, radically different from the past, emerged. After World War II, in fact, the war industry was reconverted into a chemical industry. This led to the diffusion of chemical products to fertilize the land, insecticides, herbicides, antibiotics. The diffusion of these new materials radically changed the management of agricultural activity: harvests no longer depended on climatic uncertainties. Agricultural activities were also facilitated by the diffusion of mechanical vehicles that replaced animal traction and made it possible to cultivate ever larger portions of land. The new equipment and materials allow for a different kind of management. The model that developed during this period paved the way for what is known as conventional agriculture, in which the land was increasingly intensively exploited to respond to a growing demand for food products from a population that was seeing an ever-increasing increase in welfare conditions.  

However, during the 1960s, the risks associated with the intensive exploitation of land and animals, and the use of chemicals in farming and cultivation began to be felt. The New Social Movements (Melucci, 1989) are giving rise to a new concern for bodies and the environment. The closed production cycle takes on new meanings: it has always been practiced in agriculture with the aim of maximizing internal resources, but nowadays closed cycle production also become an integral part of the framework of personal choices and lifestyles, ideas, identities, values. This type of agriculture, which is opposed to intensive systems and reiterates pre-industrial agricultural practices, rejects the use of chemicals, or reduces it to a minimum, because the food produced is food to be consumed. Self-produced food therefore becomes a symbol of freshness and authenticity, embedding values, local competences and meanings.  

Peasant self-sufficient agriculture not only produces better quality and healthier food and raw materials, but also provides the tools for survival and the transmission of local heritage.  

In recent years, consumer demand for local foods, produced organically, has increased, along with attention to health, well-being and the environment. Consumers are looking for local food not just as a product, but as a re-connection with nature, local community and food. In urban areas, this re-connection occurs through food distribution channels other than large-scale distribution, the Alternative Food Networks. Through these channels, local agriculture is valorised and allows the circulation of economic, social, environmental and cultural capitals between the city and rural areas.  

Moreover, peasant agriculture is fundamental for the preservation of the territory and the landscape: industrialized societies have immediately experienced the exodus of peasants from the countryside to the cities and factories in search of new lifestyles and new opportunities. The abandonment of land by peasants, a process already identified by Max Weber at the end of the 19th century, becomes extremely widespread during the 20th century. This abandonment has important consequences from an environmental, social, economic and cultural point of view in inland areas. For these reasons, agriculture plays a key role in rethinking land and responding to depopulation, climate change, pollution, and food contamination.  

Thus, despite the widespread use of intensive methods, agriculture for self-sufficiency and family production continue to survive taking on new meanings all over the world with different forms, lifestyles and productions. By feeding millions of people around the world, small-scale local agriculture ensures food and survival, preserves the land, allows trade and commerce, limits the monopoly of large food corporations and preserves biodiversity.  

The fashion industry is among the most polluting in the world because it intensely exploits the soil and the environment. The cultivation of fibre extends over large plots of monoculture, and is managed with the use of herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers. The intensive exploitation of land involves enormous risks for the environment and for people: the treatment of such large crop areas involves pollution of groundwater, soil, air. Moreover, agriculture for the purposes of the fashion industry implies the use of enormous amounts of water. For these reasons, the fashion industry is increasingly rethinking its relationship with agriculture in a sustainable way.  

Certification systems offer in this sense the assurance of a production that limits its impact, also in response to the demands of more conscious consumers.  

This concerns not only large companies, but especially younger companies and start-ups. Innovating agriculture in a sustainable way for the fashion system means limiting processing waste. Some of the paths that are opening up at the intersection between fashion and agriculture concern precisely the reuse of agro-food production waste to obtain new textile materials.  



International network that promotes organic agriculture through work-hospitality exchange. It involves small and very small farms that produce for self-consumption and for the market using organic and biological methods. 

RSR is an informal network that promotes and protects biodiversity. It promotes the formal and informal exchange of seeds outside the agribusiness monopoly market. 

GenuinoClandestino is an informal network founded in Bologna with the aim of protesting the Italian regulation on certification. It contributes to spread a model of participatory certification, based on the horizontality between producers and consumers.  

Trade Association of Italian Farmers 

Trade Association of Italian Farmers 

Slow Food is a movement to protect and safeguard biodiversity and local excellence. Born in Piedmont by Carlo Petrini, the movement has spread throughout the world. 

RIE is a network involving Italian ecovillages. In the life of ecovillages, food and its production play a very important role. Ecovillage communities produce organically or biologically, and mostly for their self-consumption. 

a) Academic /peer reviewed 

Caillavet, F., Guyomard, H., & Lifran, R. [Ed. by]. (1994). Agricultural household modelling and family economics. Elsevier. 

Brombin, A. (2015). Faces of sustainability in Italian ecovillages: Food as ‘contact zone’: Faces of sustainability, ecovillages and food self-sufficiency. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(5), 468–477. 

Kontogeorgos, A., Tsampra, M., & Chatzitheodoridis, F. (2015). Agricultural Policy and the Environment Protection through the Eyes of New Farmers: Evidence from a Country of Southeast Europe. Procedia Economics and Finance, 19, 296–303. 

Messori, F., & Ferretti, F. (2010). Economia del mercato agroalimentare. Edagricole. 

Montanari M. (2004) Il cibo come cultura, Editori Laterza, Bari 2010.  

Renting, H., Marsden, T. K., & Banks, J. (2003). Understanding Alternative Food Networks: Exploring the Role of Short Food Supply Chains in Rural Development. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 35(3), 393–411. 

Sacchi, G. (2019). Social innovation matters: The adoption of participatory guarantee systems within Italian alternative agri‐food networks. Strategic Change, 28(4), 241–248. 

Van der Ploeg J. D. (2013) Peasants and the Art of Farming: A Chayanovian Manifesto. Fernwood Publishing, Winnipeg, Canada.  

Varotto, M., & Lodatti, L. (2014). New Family Farmers for Abandoned Lands: The Adoption of Terraces in the Italian Alps (Brenta Valley). Mountain Research and Development, 34(4), 315–325. 

Wilbur, A. (2013). Growing a Radical Ruralism: Back-to-the-Land as Practice and Ideal: Growing a radical ruralism. Geography Compass, 7(2), 149–160.