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Sicilian farmers produce exotic fruits, encouraged by demand and climate change

When Sicilian farmer Rosolini Palazzolo first started growing papayas 11 years ago, hardly any of his neighbours even knew what they were.


Reuters 08 Aug 2018, 12:01 AM United States

When Sicilian farmer Rosolini Palazzolo first started growing papayas .. years ago, hardly any .. his neighbors even knew what they were.

Now, the southern Italian island famed for its picturesque orange and lemon groves .. dotted with the kind .. exotic fruit trees more usually associated with tropical climates - from papaya .. bananas .. mangoes.

"I get shivers when I eat mangoes now," Palazzolo laughed .. he recalled how unimpressed .. was when .. first tasted the fruit after buying one imported from Brazil.

The 39-year-old .. part .. a new generation .. Sicilian farmers producing exotic fruits - encouraged .. demand and made possible .. climate change.

"The temperature rise has been good for .. ... for these fruits," .. said .. he cut open a passion fruit.

Demand has also grown .. consumers have become more aware .. the health benefits .. eating fresh, locally grown papayas and another tropical fare, Palazzolo added.

"They got the information from the internet about vitamins and .. on, and they started buying. This was the process."

Others have followed suit. Letizia Marceno's family has been farming .. the outskirts .. Sicily's capital Palermo for seven generations and began growing bananas about eight years ago.

"It became more favorable and more useful .. cultivate the bananas," said Marceno, whose seven-hectare farm now has 1,200 banana trees growing alongside more traditional Sicilian fruit and vegetable crops.

Encouraged .. their success, they recently added avocados and mangoes .. their repertoire.

HOTTER AND DRIER

Average temperatures .. Sicily have risen about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) .. the last century, said local climate researcher Francesco Viola, who rarely saw exotic fruits .. greenhouses while growing up.

The trend .. also driven .. competition from cheap imports .. more traditional crops that have forced farmers .. diversify.

But there are threats .. the island's exotic fruits boom.

Farmers said while the new crops brought .. more money, costs were also higher .. tropical fruits need a lot .. water.

And while temperatures .. the island are rising, rainfall .. decreasing, according .. a 2013 paper .. researchers including Viola, who works .. the Sardinia's University .. Cagliari.

"The most likely scenario for Sicily .. the next years .. ... less rainfall and higher temperatures," said Viola, warning this could affect crop productivity.

Coldiretti, the influential Italian farmers' association, said climate change was influencing agriculture across Italy.

"The rise .. temperature has favored the launch .. tropical crops .. Sicily and Calabria," said its president, Roberto Moncalvo. "It also pushed .. the 'olives line' .. a point where now there are small olive oil productions even .. the Alps."

Water shortages are already a big issue for small farmers .. Sicily, said Francesco Sottile, a professor .. the University .. Palermo's Department .. Agriculture and Forestry Sciences.

Sottile now works .. help farmers grow the indigenous, drought-friendly vegetables that were forgotten when irrigation became available.

"We have a lot .. experience and tradition, mostly .. the internal part .. Sicily, for tomatoes, melons, eggplants, aubergines, peppers ... that are able .. grow with a very small amount .. water," .. said.

Sottile said .. remained optimistic about Sicily, where youth unemployment .. 2017 was almost .. percent, and .. percent .. the population lives .. or below the poverty line - double the national average.

"I have many agriculture students. They choose .. go back .. the farm after the graduation and that gives .. enthusiasm," .. said.

INNOVATE AND COLLABORATE

Scientists say the changes .. conditions could vary across Sicily, which .. the largest island .. the Mediterranean and has diverse microclimates and soil types.

Andrea Passanisi, a law-graduate-turned-farmer who grows avocados .. the shadow .. Mount Etna, said the rich volcanic soil and clear water provided ideal growing conditions.

Passanisi, who converted his grandfather's old vineyard and lemon farm .. years ago, said the island's agriculture industry must innovate and collaborate .. it .. to have a future.

He has brought together other Sicilian avocado growers under a single brand and now exports the popular fruit .. France and Poland. A third .. the sales are online.

"Altogether, .. Sicilia Avocado, .. have more than 100 hectares. .. just me? Only .. hectares," .. said.

Fruit farmer Palazzolo agreed that innovation was the key .. success - and was already thinking .. his next venture.

"You don't have the know-how, but .. one around you has (it) either," .. said.

"We want .. be the first coffee producer .. Italy. And when I traveled Cuba and I tasted the sugarcane rum, I said, .. have .. take this back'." 

(This story has not been edited .. Devdiscourse staff and .. auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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