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A Bioregional Strategic Framework for a Sustainable Food System in Sicily

The 2050 Vision for Sicily is a Sustainable Food System where all the stakeholders proactively embrace Regenerative Agriculture.

Photo of Silvia Zingale
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Laboratorio Sicilia 2030

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

• AIAB Sicilia is a main partner of Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 in implementing the Sustainable Food System 2030 Vision, since its president is a founding member of Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 and the president of Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 is part of the executive of AIAB Sicilia. • Gaia Education is a leading international NGO in the Education for Sustainable Development and two members of Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 are Gaia Education’s educators • The Department of Agriculture, Food Science and Environment within the University of Catania, engaged in the dissemination of sustainable agricultural practices among the local stakeholders, is actually collaborating with the Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 for the implementation of the 2030 Vision • Distretto delle Filiere e dei Territori di Sicilia in rete approved the Vision 2030 proposed by Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 and committed itself to its dissemination and promotion among its many members.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Sicily, a region of Italy, covers 25,771 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 selected Sicily since it represents not only its birthplace but also its place of action, that is to say the place for which the Association aims to support sustainable development practices and initiatives in the different environmental, social, economic and cultural aspects. Besides, we selected Sicily because it will also provide a more tangible context to test the proposals of the Vision and to provide, if successful, a plan which can also be replicated within the other Mediterranean Bioregions to achieve greater environmental and socio-economic benefits.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Sicily is a region where you can discover both wonderful natural landscapes and artistic-cultural treasures. Within Italy, it boasts a unique food and wine heritage, producing excellent agricultural and food quality products. Although this, analysing the Sicilian agri-food system is a complex task because the richness in biodiversity and food heritage is clearly compromised by environmental and socio-economic degradation. Especially, Sicily is suffering due to the negative impact of industrial agriculture and its associated production and consumption patterns, that are progressively leading to fragmentation of the local ecosystem and traditional identity.

Sicily can be defined a region with a Mediterranean climate and due to its morphological complexity, it reaches very different temperature, humidity and rainfall values depending on the specific areas of the territory. These pedological and microclimatic conditions, in fact, have allowed several generations of farmers to select numerous cultivars of the main fruit, vegetable and cereal species and pass them down over the centuries. Actually, the majority of these varieties are at risk of genetical erosion, even though lots of consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their role in supporting the local economy.

Despite the significant decreases occurred over the last 40 years, the island has the highest utilized agricultural area in Italy as well as a large number of farms and farmers. Especially we can mention the continual increase in organic farming area and in the number of organic operators, respectively 427,293.79 hectares and 11,626 operators (the higher values within Italy). Dominant crops are cereals, olive, vine, citrus fruit, shell fruit, vegetables and fruit.

From a socio-economic viewpoint, there is an extremely high level of general under-employment and unemployment, especially among the youth, which consequentially leads to a high exodus of the population from the rural to the urban centres, whilst leaving an aging population to sustain abandoned rural areas. On a social level, the Sicilian population is exponentially affected by many non-communicable diseases linked to pollution and poor dietary patterns which exacerbate the onset of obesity, diabetes, tumours, cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases. In fact, a slow but concrete moving away from the traditional dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean Diet, has observed, especially in younger people. Furthermore, sedentary behaviours determine deleterious effects on health.

Fortunately, some local realities, for example those of AIAB Bio-districts, have started a process of sustainable development, by embracing organic agriculture and valorising local food products, but we are convinced that it still needs to be shared, supported and pursued by all the stakeholders to be really effective.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The specific challenges that the Sicilian agri-food system is currently coping with are: a predominant number of industrial specialized farms; water, soil and air pollution; 70% of desertification; reduction and endangering of native plant and animal species; unemployment and loss of jobs in the agricultural sector; aging rural population; abandonment of rural areas; poverty of a large part of population; exploitation of labourers and undeclared work; small negotiating position of producers; low presence of multifunctional agricultural enterprises; progressive disappearance of the Mediterranean Diet; rise in non-communicable diseases; and, fragmentation of cultural traditional identity. All these triggers, interdependent with each other, share the fact of all being strictly dependent and associated with industrial production and distribution, lack of environmental education and low sensitivity to sustainability issues among main roleplayers in society. 

All these challenges will be exacerbated in the future, especially if the transition to sustainability and resilience is not taken seriously. Should these current challenges not be addressed, then future challenges will manifest, such as: total dependence on external inputs; 100% of desertification and soil infertility; total loss of local biodiversity; inability to cultivate crops because of the increasing effects of climate change; total dependence on unbalanced diets based on junk and industrial food; major increases in dreaded diseases and general ill-being; but worse of all, the loss of institutional memory about time tested resilient traditional farming systems.

The loss of institutional memory will render Sicily helpless to remember how to make the transition to a positive future.  An island like Sicily, has a relatively easier transition process towards a more sustainable food system on a BioRegional basis than an adjacent mainland region, and for this reason, the loss of this opportunity can stymie and place at greater risk the adjacent Mediterranean regions from transitioning to a sustainable food system.  In other words, a successful BioRegional sustainable food system that is established on an island, has a better chance of facilitating the same transition of adjacent mainland regions, than if the island did not exist, thus promoting islands as BioRegional catalysts for change.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The 2050 Vision for Sicily is based on a Bio-Regional Development Programme (BDP) which encompasses the following four outcomes:

1. Creation of an Institutional Governance structure led by a unified public sector in consultation with all other stakeholders. This will include the broader stakeholder consultation in order to present this proposal, such as, educational institutions; public sector entities involved in environmental affairs, agriculture and economic development; farmers associations; entities involved in food value adding processing, logistics, distribution and sales; and investors.  In this respect, it would be desirable to involve the many associations and organisations that already play an important role in the regional context and that had been consulted during the development of the Vision.

2. Embed Trans-Disciplinary Education Courses in Sustainability within the whole education sector, from university, to schools, to vocational training. This outcome also provides for the promotion of ecoliteracy campaigns, able to continually sensitize the actors of the local food system value chain, such as distributors, wholesalers, retailers, but more importantly, the consumers, so that conscious decisions are made which supports the local bioregional agricultural sector.    

3. Establish a dedicated Programme Management Office to provide administrative and technical support in order to align public and private sector budgets and projects with sustainable agriculture. This entails the engagement of key public sector stakeholders to resource the PMO with green development professionals who will carry out that task and support Regenerative Agriculture and its value chain.

4. Establish a dedicated Monitoring and Evaluation service that will draw independent progress reports for all stakeholders involved. This is a trans-disciplinary function which will measure the overall impact of the BDP by means of several baseline indicators like Carbon Sequestration one and others among those conceived within SDGs and local public sector agencies, as well as those provided from other possible entities, specialized in the assessment of agri-food systems sustainability.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Incubation: 2020 to 2024

All stakeholders find the courage to support wholeheartedly the BioRegional Strategic Framework for a Sustainable Food System for Sicily.  This in turn facilitates the establishment of a BioRegional Development Programme for a Sustainable Food System for Sicily (BDP-SFSS), which is piloted in several existing BioDistricts in order to consolidate and strengthen these initiatives.

Growth: 2025 to 2029

All stakeholders have now fully trusted and adopted the BDP-SFSS which is now rolled out to all regions in Sicily, thereby creating a mosaic of BioDistricts, each with their own dedicated sub-programme within the broader BDP-SFSS.

Pioneering farmers begin cash in on carbon investments through regenerative agricultural practices.

Consolidation: 2030 to 2039

All stakeholders become optimistic for a sustainable food system that shows positive rewards as crop yields improve through the restoration of soils and biodiversity.

Stakeholders begin to convert en-masse from industrial to regenerative agriculture until the whole island is fully certified regenerative (a new standard beyond simple organic certification).

The boundaries of the BioDistricts become fuzzy as they merge into one whole BioRegional whose food system has become fully sustainable and not dependent on any external inputs or other imported foods.

Farmers reap the fruit of carbon investments as their regenerative agricultural practices begins to yield an additional income stream.

Community well-being shows marked improvement as instances of dreaded diseases is significantly reduced due to the adoption of nutritious food in the Mediterranean Diet.

Dissemination: 2040 to 2050

All stakeholders work harmoniously for the greater good and share their successes with lessor folk in Sicily, thereby elevating the overall well-being and quality of life for all in Sicily.The success of this BDP is disseminated throughout the Mediterranean region and elsewhere in the world. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The 2050 Vision for Sicily was developed on the assumption that the Sicilian agri-food sector challenges previously shown can be addressed only when all the stakeholders decide to take a pro-active response together with the complete embracement of regenerative or agroecological farming techniques. This will lead to an Abundance Scenario, in which stakeholders, embedded with ecoliteracy, will support Regenerative Agriculture with the ensuing attributes of environmental restoration, massive carbon sequestration, climate Change mitigation, resilience to external market forces, high level of food security and food sovereignty, restoration of cultural landscapes. The Strategic Framework informed by 2050 Vision comprises the goal, values and overarching objectives, as well as the critical success factors, action plans and key performance indicators, as shown in Figure 1. The Vision will address all the six themes in the following ways:

  • Environment: this dimension will have several advantages, since reforming food and farming systems by moving away from industrial orientation and organization toward diversified agroecological systems mean restore ecosystems and make them resilient to different kinds of stress.
  • Diet: the BDP will include sensibilization initiatives that will spread the importance of Mediterranean Diet for health, environment, society and culture.
  • Economics: the collaboration between the different stakeholders will activate circular economy processes in the local territory, producing and consuming local food products with less miles and enhanced nutritional values.
  • Culture: changes in food production and consumption models will not merely influence the nutritional value of food products and the environment but rather the culture, the identity and the tradition of Sicilian people, making them active part in the process of territorial regeneration.
  • Technology: the BDP will provides sustainability education for all the actors, including farmers, processors, food technologists, researchers and investors who will be able to enhance local food products through the development and the application of innovative green technologies. Among these latest, we identified : blockchain in order to guarantee food traceability, green food technologies in order to reduce the environmental footprint of food processing operations, the implementation of Life-Cycle-Assessment studies in order to assess the overall impact of food products and chains, smart and eco-friendly food packaging solutions, reuse of by-products and agricultural waste as new ingredients or for energy production, apps against food waste and many others.
  • Policy: the creation of an Institutional Governance Structure will involve the commitments of policy makers, in order to accelerate the systematic change that is required

It’s important to highlight that all the specific Sicilian challenges previously shown convey in a complexity gap, which the Vision try to address through the ecoliteracy of stakeholders involved in the food system. The knowledge process required to do this should be conducted in a manner which inculcates a trans-disciplinary whole systems thinking approach which allows to better understand the earth systems, the agricultural sector, the greater food economy, the circular economy, food value chain, food and nutrition, health and wellbeing, education and cultural issues.

A slideshow of the research paper work-in-progress that elaborates this submission is attached, together with other supporting documents. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hello again!

The following link may be of interest to continue refining your 2050 Vision. Here you will find the invitation to an upcoming Future-casting Webinar, and a recording of our recent Systems Thinking Webinar:

This is the moment when you can connect with other Visionary teams, provide feedback and get inspired by other submissions.

Warm regards,