Small-scale farms are the backbone of the Mediterranean farming sector, whereas agriculture advances are targeted to large farms; however, the average land farm shrinks and the ongoing climate change makes farming prohibitive, especially for small-scale farms. Mediterranean agriculture is relatively more intensive in terms of per ha labor and output, but undermined by strong land fragmentation, making farms too small to be viable due to high production cost. The result is land abandonment and rural population ageing, since farming sector is unattractive to young farmers. Although efforts have been made to reallocate small farms and increase average farm size, several factors have hampered the progress. Agriculture intensification and mono-crop cultural approach has caused soil degradation and organic matter loss, with high impact on small-scale farms viability. Besides, conventional crops cannot feed the growing population and alternative/complementary food sources such as wild edible plants (WEPs) could be an important addition to human diet. Mediterranean agro-ecosystems host a rich patrimony of WEPs that have always been an important food source, while they are able to grow under arduous conditions and low input regimes. The main goal of VALUEFARM is to exploit selected WEPs of the Mediterranean basin as alternative crops, focusing on small-scale farms through the production of high added value products. Innovative farming systems will be designed based on traditional cultivation knowledge to allow the shift from mono-crop approach to sustainable and diversified cultivation systems, as well as to soil improvement. Physical and living lab platforms will be key elements for transferring the proposed farming systems to the related stakeholders. The interdisciplinary approach of the consortium allows the elucidation of the complex interaction of plant x environment, with special focus on soil conditions.
The main goal of VALUEFARM is to valorize Mediterranean small farms by introducing wild edible plants of the Mediterranean (WEPs) such as Crithmum maritimum, Portulaca oleraceae, Sonchus sp., Scolymus hispanicus, and Cichorium spinosum as complementary crops within a competitive farming sector and a climate-changing world and cropping them in a sustainable point of view. The assessment of using WEPs in arduous conditions (drought and salinity stress) and marginal soils with low organic matter, compacted, or eroded where conventional crops cannot be cultivated will also be carried out; we will also assess the contribution of WEPs cultivation to soil properties improvement by reducing or eradicating the use of agrochemicals, and by introducing the use of a more sustainable agriculture with biostimulants, biofertilizers and biopesticides and the use of tailored composts. Finally, the selected WEPs will be assessed for their nutritional value and bioactive compounds content in order to select and propose those farming systems that increase the quality of the final product and its added value.
The key objectives of the proposal are summarized as follows: 1) to propagate and cultivate selected WEPs species, 2) to describe and evaluate agronomic performance of WEPs through laboratory-based research and farm experimentation in order to establish best practice guides of plant requirements with respect to mineral nutrition, soil and climate, environmental footprint (low GHG emissions, water and energy use), 3) to evaluate the potential of cultivating WEPs in degraded soils and assess their soil improvement properties, 4) to diversify existing farming systems from monocropping to agroecological systems rich in diversity through the incorporation of WEPs in mixed and intercropping systems and crop rotation programs combined with legumes, 5) to evaluate innovative approaches (biofertilizers, biostimulants or tailored composts that include beneficial microorganisms plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR); plant growth-promoting fungi (PGPF); arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF)), 6) to analyze chemical composition, nutritional value and bioactive compounds content of WEPs, 7) to increase knowledge and public awareness on the nutritional value and the bioactive compounds content of WEPs, as well as on their environmental impact (resistance/tolerance to drought and salinity stress factors), 8) to create physical labs through a network of farmers for the on-farm demonstration and to implement living lab platforms for technological transfer in each zone of the project of the obtained key results, both of which will facilitate the adaptation of Mediterranean small-scale farms to the proposed farming systems.
1. The exploitation of WEPs in innovative farming systems; 2. The compilation of best practice guides regarding the cultivation of WEPs within the context of small-scale farming under diverse environmental conditions in order to assist farming management in regions and climates where conventional crops are difficult or unprofitable to grow; 3. The improvement of soil quality in small scale farms through sustainable farming techniques; 4. The adaptation of small-scale farming sector to the ongoing climate change with the adoption of alternative/complementary crops acclimatized to arduous conditions (water shortage, salinity, soil degradation) and redesigned farming systems tailor-made to small-scale farm needs and resilient to climate uncertainties; 5. The documentation of nutritional and chemical composition of WEPs so as to facilitate their further exploitation in pharmaceutics and cosmetics, in the design of “healthy” and “functional foods” and the better establishment of the so-called “Mediterranean diet”; 6. The definitive evaluation of the environmental footprint, climatic and soil requirements of WEPs under small-farm scale cultivation, focusing on their potential use as ameliorative species (e.g. in mixed-cropping, inter-cropping, successive cropping, crop rotation) and the sustainability of agro-ecosystems through the decrease of synthetic inputs, the optimized use of natural resources and circular bio-economy principles; 7. The demonstration and sharing of the created innovation with on-farm activities and the establishment of physical and living labs so as to allow integration and adoption of innovation among the targeted stakeholders during and after the completion of the project.
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