SAIRISI: A Project on Sustainable Rice in Italy

26th July 2016

SAIRISI is a SAI Platform project initiated in February 2016 by our members, namely, UnileverMigrosEbro Foods (Mundi Riso), and Kellogg’s in partnership with Ente Nazionale Risi, the Italian Government’s National Rice Research and Agronomy Centre. The objective is to promote sustainable rice growing through collaboration with farmers, rice millers, retailers and food companies.

In June 2016 SAIRISI partners met at the Ente Risi Research Centre, near Milan for field-visits to the rice region. More than 70 farmers and rice millers were present to share agronomic and environmental best practices in rice farming.

The field-visits took place after 3 training sessions held in March from which partners learnt about soil, nutrient management, precision agriculture, crop protection, environment and biodiversity, and on the latest EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). On the 22nd June, partners had the opportunity to see firsthand innovative “climate smart” practices including mulch and subsoil drip irrigation.

The second day  of the SAIRISI meeting started with a visit to Ente Risi’s experimental rice fields to illustrate its research activities on the use of different fertilizers, water management systems and weed suppression.  Participants had the opportunity to visit two farms where best agronomic and environmental practices in the region are implemented: Giuseppe Casalone’s Farm in Confienza e Riccardo Braggio’s in Zeme.

The Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) evaluation performed with Ebro Foods farmers had identified several of these good practices as gaps and learning opportunities , including precision agriculture, conservation agriculture, use nutrients and fertilisers, cover crops and environmental, agronomic and biodiversity improvement practices supported by the CAP/PSR. Next year an improvement plan will be based on the FSA results to ensure the project is in line with the needs of all the partners and addresses all the improvement opportunities detected. 

Marco Romani, agronomist at Ente Nazionale Risi highlighted the importance of SAIRISI project for the rice value chain in Italy: ‘Initiatives like the one led by SAI Platform are relevant for raising the awareness of new production targets which allow a competitive distinction for the final product’.

The day after the visits a restricted number of technicians, millers met to discuss GHG emissions in rice farming, a key sustainability issue for SAI Platform members. Alessandra Fusi, a researcher from Manchester University introduced the topic of Life Cycle Assessment and showed the results of research on rice GHG emissions conducted in Spain by Ebro Foods.

The reduction of GHG emissions is at the core of the sustainability strategy of many companies in the food & beverage sector in line with the COP21 Paris Agreement. The control and potential mitigation of methane emissions in rice is crucial for the future of rice farming and SAIRISI group wants to be prepared for this challenge. ‘SAIRISI project is unique in its nature: farmers, rice millers, companies and retailers have found an implementation platform to improve their sustainability’ Paola Castagna, agronomist at Ente Risi highlighted.

Given the success in terms of attendance and the positive feedback after these meetings, the participants will meet again on 6th September at the Natta farm Cascina Darsena, near Milan to discuss the the 2nd roll-out of SAIRISI project.