'Global food challenge has obvious solution', says boss of leading Italy manufacturer

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Standing outside his €117 million pasta factory in southern Italy’s farming heartland, Marco de Matteis explains the global food challenge has an obvious solution.

“We must innovate,” says the man behind a well-known British retailer’s own-label pasta, as well as the staple served at venues of the Azzurri restaurant group, including Ask, Zizzi and Coco di Mama.

“The amount of food we need is the major challenge of our time — but we can do it.” 

Italy is the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter of pasta, the UK its second biggest importer.

Last year a record 264,000 tonnes of the 3.2 million tonnes produced overall was sold to the UK.

Mr De Matteis, managing director of De Matteis Agroalimentare, in the Campania region, knows that as the population of London and other big cities swells the demand for “Made in Italy” pasta will grow.

So he has been driving innovations to increase the quality and quantity of yields. It has seen previously fragmented farms, with varying quality of crops and farming methods, form a 833-strong “collective”, joining in a partnership with De Matteis and Syngenta to produce the Pasta Armando brand.

They are provided with seeds developed by Syngenta and other firms using cutting-edge science, such as plants being crossed in laboratories and fields to produce more resilient, high-quality and higher-yielding crops. Seeds are tested on a farm near Bologna and Syngenta provides “agronomical counselling”.

In return for growing a particular type of wheat for the pasta, the farmers receive a fixed price for the crop. 

Increasing yields could benefit the environment by making the industry more sustainable — as durum wheat may eventually not have to be imported. Currently only 60 per cent of wheat used is grown in Italy and it is hoped the country could become self-sufficient.

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