20 November 2020

Pantelleria takes up the challenge of chemical-free agriculture


The National Parks Administration, the University of Palermo and Novamont have started tests on pelargonic acid, a natural herbicide that does not pollute the environment, water or soil

by Emanuele Isonio


The Italian agricultural sector remains the holder of a sad record: it has the highest pesticide consumption in Europe by unit of cultivated surface area, 5.6 kg per hectare per year. This is twice as high as France and Germany. This leads to extensive pollution of water resources: according to ISPRA – the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research – Italy’s surface and underground water reserves contain a cocktail of 175 different pesticides. This poses a threat to the environment but also to human health: exposure to pesticides leads to increased risk of tumors both in adults and children and of metabolic, neurodegenerative, pulmonary, cardiovascular and renal pathologies.

The path of natural herbicides

This snapshot explains the importance of sustainable agriculture projects, which demonstrate the possibility of abandoning the chemical abuse of the land. One such project is being developed on the island of Pantelleria. The project involves the National Park Administrative Body, the Department of Agricultural, Food and Forest Sciences of the University of Palermo and Novamont, the leading Italian company in the bioplastics and biochemicals sector. Work is underway in Pantelleria National Park to test the effectiveness of pelargonic acid.

The advantages of pelargonic acid

This natural herbicide has a crucial difference compared with products made from traditional chemicals: under normal conditions of use it does not pose a risk to microorganisms in the soil and aquatic organisms. In addition, it does not have any negative effects on the environment, water or soil – in fact it biodegrades quickly – nor does it interfere with biodiversity. What’s more, it has no residual effects, meaning it does not act on the germination of seeds in the soil. Pelargonic acid does not work by systemic action and therefore does not destroy roots.
On an environmental level, this substance occurs naturally and is obtained from a vegetable oil which does not contain synthetic adjuvants.

First step on the road to sustainable agriculture

“The experiments with pelargonic acid are the first phase of a plan of activities within the park,” explained Antonella Lusseri, head of communications for the Pantelleria Island National Park. “They aim to verify the use of natural products and techniques for the transition to sustainable agriculture.” The project has five main objectives: maintain biodiversity, maximise the use of all production components, design systems with a low environmental impact, reduce the use of traditional plastic to avoid dispersal and accumulation in the soil, and finally experiment with innovative agronomic practices that make it possible to reduce consumption of water, energy and waste production.