Extreme weather events such as droughts and storms damage crops and threaten food supplies. In the Po Valley in northern Italy, corn is the most commonly grown crop, but it requires a lot of water to grow. As water is a scarce resource, a change in species and farming techniques is required.
The team behind GREAT LIFE worked with three demonstration farms in the Po Valley to help them adapt to climate change.
The farmers reduced their water consumption by switching to millet and sorghumwhich are more resilient to extreme weather conditions and require less water to grow than corn.
Project partners conducted experimental field trials with farmers, showing them how to best grow these grains and increase their resilience.
Additionally, both cereals are gluten-free and a healthy option for consumers. As the market for gluten-free products expands in the EU, this presents an opportunity for farmers to increase their income.
First results from the project’s Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) show that millet and sorghum have a lower global warming potential than conventionally grown maize – one hectare of sorghum or millet grown on the farms produces around 280 kg CO2eq. This is much less than the 2 300 kg CO2eq/ha emitted with a traditional approach.
In addition, resilient farming practices kept soil cover covered throughout the crop cycle, reducing soil erosion and preserving soil fertility. And the organic matter on the fields showed higher stability over three years with no significant changes from the beginning to the end of the field trials.
The team has built a BIG community by conscious consumers following in-depth stakeholder mapping of key players in the food supply chain. This community has raised awareness of the impact of food choices on the environment, health and the economy. It included a network of food professionals such as chefs, bakers, and restaurant owners who experimented with the grains.
The team even produced shortbread cookies from the three farms. The prototype product, made from millet and sorghum, was first evaluated in the GREAT community and in the canteens of the Municipality of Cento before going on sale.
An online communication campaign targeted consumers and authorities on the benefits of more responsible food consumption. The team also organized several events, workshops and webinars to raise awareness.
The project’s approach can be used by other European Mediterranean countries with semi-arid or arid climates. But it also applies to countries with a continental climate, as its repeat in the Czech Republic in 2021 shows.
GREAT LIFE supports the EU Adaptation Strategy 2021. It also contributes to the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which promotes organic farming and biodiversity on agricultural land, among many other measures.