Many species of Mediterranean woodlands offer edible seeds or fruits. Some of them have been traded since Antiquity, but others are only locally used due to limited supply or to perishability. The most emblematic and valuable gourmet nut gathered in Mediterranean forests is the seed kernel of stone pine (Pinus pinea), the Mediterranean pine nut. The second highly prized wild fruit are chestnuts, the fruits of the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), harvested from groves and orchards throughout Mediterranean countries and beyond. Among other wild fruits, blackberries (Rubus spp.), bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), and raspberries (Rubus spp.) already have an important development as new crops in Southern Europe, following the way of cultivated American blueberry (Vaccinium spp.). However, business opportunities for other berries, such as strawberry tree fruits (Arbutus unedo) are still not widespread.
In the last decades, mechanical harvesting of stone pines by specially adapted tree shakers has reduced costs as well as labour risks of manual harvesting by tree climbers. Recently, first elite clones have been legally registered and released as basic materials for scion production allowing for grafted orchards, with genetic gains estimated in 20-40%, but nurseries must still develop the plant supply chain for marketing high-quality grafted trees. The control of yield losses due to the exotic seed pest Leptoglossus occidentalis is a major challenge for the sector.
The European chestnut is facing new challenges that could be decisive for the future of the sector in Europe, namely diseases like ink (Phytophthora cinnamomi) and blight (Cryphonectria parasitica), the Asian chestnut gall wasp (Dryocosmus kuriphilus), fruit plagues and rot, as well as orchard management issues and the value chain development.
Value chain ecosystems
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During the celebration of the Scoping Seminars, some work sessions were held to identify the priority themes to focus Wild Nuts & Berries iNet actions:
For the Chestnut value chain, identified themes are:
- Processing quality: High quality standards are considered a challenge for the whole value chain, implying all actors. In 2020, there should be operative protocols developed and implemented by all industries. The steps to achieve this goal are the collection of knowledge from research and practice for the setup of good practices guidelines. Cooperation with related Operational Groups is one of the most obvious issues. INCREDIBLE as network can contribute with science-practices activities and open innovation challenge.
- New chestnut products: This is a market issue that aims to “put chestnut as a habitual item in the consumers’ basket”. Some ideas for 2020 are product lines for chestnut beer or chestnut flour. The main challenge, standardised supply apart, is a good marketing and consumers awareness rise about health, environment and cultural benefits of chestnut consumption. Here we have a clear example how INCREDIBLE might favour new market ideas as open innovation challenge.
In case of Mediterranean pine nuts, priority topics are:
- Knowlegde gaps: the first, quite unspecific claim of the sectorial agents is clearly related to the novelness of Mediterranean stone pine as tree crop. Few decades ago, cones were only collected opportunistically from multifunctional pine forests, and research on this species has been centred on botany, ecology and silviculture. Only recently the booming demand for pine kernel and the crisis of alternative tree species such as Pinus pinaster have reoriented land owners preference, and optimised management and tending schemes are still lacking (planting density, tilling, pruning, fertilisation, irrigation, integrated pest management). In the timeframe till 2020, existing knowledge should be collected, integrated and translated into Management guidelines and Good practices guidelines. Cooperating also with recently set up Operational Groups, INCREDIBLE can face this generic challenge making use of most of its tools.
- Organic food labels: Being a market issue by nature, the labelling of certification schemes for organic food production, and/or, less prioritized, as sustainably managed forest product, such as FairWild standards, are seen as a chance for rising consumers’ awareness about the superior quality of both European chestnuts and Mediterranean pine nut kernels. Discussion took into account that possible development of chemical control for extremely serious pests might enter in conflict with Organic Food Labelling. But for 2020, the proposal oriented towards promotion campaigns in Europe for a better marketing of certification brands and labels. INCREDIBLE might offer cross cutting seminars on this topic.
For both chestnut and pine nut sectors, finally, the paramount threads are:
- Pest and diseases: the main nature of this challenge is the knowledge gap how to solve severe yield losses especially due to new exotic pests (chestnut gall wasp, conifer seed bug). But there are also an organizational gaps how to apply at operational scale available solutions such as biological control by parasitoids, and in some regions a lack of politic support to these actions. Given that the threads are similar for both value chains, for 2020 a coordinated common approach/strategy should be looked for, not only for research, knowledge and innovation exchange within and among existing networks (European Inter-professional Chestnut Comission EUROCHESTNUT, FAO/CIHEAM Research Network on Nuts, etc.) and in cooperation with Operational Groups, but also for searching more efficient influence on and support from national, European and regional authorities. INCREDIBLE is called to play a role as platform and meeting point to channel these initiatives by all tools the network does offer.
Scoping Seminars Reports
- Report on iNET Scoping Seminar Wild nuts & berries iNet (in English)
- Report on iNET Scoping Seminar Wild nuts & berries iNet (in Portuguese).