Wasps and weather threaten Italian chestnuts

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Roasted chestnuts are a familiar sight on Italy's streets - but the autumnal snack is under threat. Photo: Allen Brewer/Flickr
11:16 CEST+02:00
The sight, smell and taste of roasted chestnuts are one of the hallmarks of an Italian autumn - but production of the nuts has hit a "historic low" in 2016.

A combination of unfavourable weather and parasites targeting chestnut trees has led to a huge drop in production this year, Italian farmers' organization Coldiretti warned on Saturday.

In Salerno, the top location for chestnut farming, chestnut production could fall by as much as 90 percent, the local branch of Coldiretti said. The organization labelled the drop a "disaster" and met with local farmers over the weekend "to work out solutions in order to save the season". 

Chestnuts are produced in all of Italy's regions, but the majority are produced in the south, which has been badly affected by drought.

The trees have also been plagued by parasitic Chinese gall wasps, which were first recorded in Piedmont in 2002 and spread throughout the country. While northern areas have begun to recover, Coldiretti said that the wasps were responsible for "a real massacre" in the south.

Across the country, a historically low 20 million kg of chestnuts are expected to be produced. That compares to around 60 million in the early 2000's and 82 million a century ago.

"The situation affects not only producers but the whole supply chain, and many companies struggle to produce the minimum income needed to survive," Coldiretti warned.

Italy is likely to import chestnuts from neighbouring countries such as Spain, Portugal and Albania to meet demand; in 2015, around 32 million kg were imported, compared to just 6 million in 2010.

However, the farmers' organization warned that these imported nuts may be passed off as Italian or even local produce, pushing prices down for Italian producers and compounding the problem.

To help protect farmers, Coldiretti Salerno has called for increased checks on the origin of chestnuts sold in Italy, and for a new regional law to protect the product, offering farmers compensation. 

Chestnut trees, which make up ten percent of all Italian forests, are important not only because of the nuts themselves, but also for maintaining geological balance in hilly and mountainous areas.

'Made in Italy' under threat

In September, Coldiretti warned that 'made in Italy' olive oil was often anything but, with imported oils often passed off as Italian or sold in misleading packaging. 

The organization called for more checks to be put in place in order to protect Italian farmers, who are struggling due to the competition with cheaper foreign oils.  

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To make matters worse, year of bad weather led to a 38 percent drop in olive oil production in Italy, another historic low.

And Italian wines could also be under threat due to the impact of climate change; grapes are one of the most weather-sensitive crops and thrive in Italy thanks to its long, hot summers and cool, dry winters.

But a 2013 study by Conservation International warned that if trends continue at the current rate, Italy's famed wines could soon disappear from our tables.

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