The Research


Nowadays essentially four different landscape types can be classified: the urban landscape, the agricultural landscape, the industrial landscape and the rural landscape. Most common are the first three types. The fourth type is becoming increasingly rare. How to distinguish a rural landscape? What does rural landscape mean? The rural landscape is a physical place where man’s life and nature evolved continuously and symbiotically for millennia. In the other landscape types nature is dominated by the evolution of man’s life.

Thanks to the Greek temples nearby the Mediterranean rural landscape was fully preserved within the site of the Fattoria Valle dei Templi. This rural landscape is the cradle of the Mediterranean culture and one of the most important landscapes in the world. The research project is directed by professor Giuseppe Barbera and coordinated by professor Giorgia de Pasquale of the Architecture University of Rome. The research objective is to discover and to classify the connection between man and nature throughout the evolution of this 700 ha thousand-year old landscape.

Geologically the site’s soil is made of calcarenite and known as the “Caltanisetta trench” emerged millions of years ago from the Mediterranean Sea, that became a large salt lake because of a long evaporation process due to its isolation from the Atlantic Ocean. The erosion of the calcarenite rocks which are plenty of fossils and the sand accumulation created a perfect substratum for the growing of spontaneous vegetal species which were domesticated by humans about 8 to 10 thousand years ago. This was the beginning of a long unstoppable adaptation and semiosis process up to the present day.
The rural landscape changes continuously without losing its initial characteristics, it is a place where elements sum up and never replace one another.

A good example to explain this is the prickly pear, symbol of Sicily, but that actually has been growing in this territory “only” since 500 years. A typical American plant that was brought in Europe for a specific reason.

Notwithstanding the fact that the plant proved to be unfit for the use it was imported for the prickly pear adapted itself to this territory and man found ways to use it. It has become a “multiservice plant”, used to feed animals instead of other plants more beneficial to human nutrition. For its capacity of absorbing water it was used in the production of vegetables in the cultivation hole as water reserve against drought stress in the rooting phase. It was also used as windbreaker in the cultivation of olive and citrus trees. The Valley of the Temples rural landscape has many of these kind of elements. The research project aims at, describing and preserving them for the future.


Europe’s strategy “Farm to Fork” plans that the organic farm fields will reach 25% of the continent’s surface. But to this day only a third of this goal has been reached – 8% of the European farmland (in Italy 15,8%) and everybody agrees that without developing appropriate seeds for organic farming this number will not increase. It is widely known that in organic farming seeds selected for conventional farming are mostly used. Seeds that do not adapt to organic farming systems because selected to produce plants that are adapted to chemicals: mostly with superficial roots not suitable to search natural nourishment in a fertile soil and therefore in need of much water.

The research project directed and coordinated by Prof. Ferdinando Branca involves different research institutes among which the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Environment of the University of Catania, the department of Bio Economy of the CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, main research authority in Italy) and the Foundation Seminare il Futuro. The project’s objective is to evaluate and validate some seeds of traditional Sicilian vegetables species and to preserve and reproduce locally organic seeds of varieties that will be allocated exclusively to the organic farming sector. Why Sicily?
Why Sicily?

Thanks to its many micro climates Sicilian biodiversity is very rich, mainly of vegetables. This very rich agricultural biodiversity, result of a patient selection activity made by innumerable generations of peasants over a period of millennia , is now continuously altered and put at risk by massa production logics and in general by the seed business. Sicily’s biodiversity is extremely rich and many of the species are exclusive to this region because of it being an island, of its many isolated mountains and of its extreme diversity of soil structure and micro climates, especially of its pluviometric regime. It is an origin centre of many species, which represent almost 50% of the entire Italian flora.

On the island there are 3.012 known specific and intraspecific vascular flora entities, of which 2.793 species, 158 families and 864 genders (Conti et al., 2005b), increased in 2007 to 3.201 by Giardina et al. As to tropical flora the current reports of xenophytes amount to 320. Most characteristic aspect is however the presence of many endemic species, 321, including subspecific entities (Conti et al., 2005b), so much that the island is identified as an important hotspot.

Sicily has indeed, only case in Italy, a number of endemism higher than 5% of the total species.

It is a context in which the ancient cultivation art, the diversity of the cultural contexts the shrewdness of the ancient peasants have contributed to the creation of a unique cultivation and genetic heritage. Unfortunately the spread of new genetic assets has caused a strong reduction of the use of many plant cultivars, that had proved to be very appropriate in typical Sicilian contexts. The Sicilian cultivation heritage is at serious risk of disappearing because of the extinction of mainly spontaneous species and above all because of genetic erosion, which is caused by the indiscriminate introduction of new genetic material, which on the one hand guarantees higher crop yields but on the other hand causes the disappearance of ancient cultivar of great interest as to their organoleptic, bromatologic and nutraceutical qualities.

The research aims at identifying those genotypes that appear especially interesting to the sector of organic vegetables. Because of its intrinsic qualities this organic sector is capable of promoting the peculiar terroir characteristics and of making it a mark of distinction and excellence.

All analyzed genotypes have been over time object of attention of the local community and therefore they have a strong connection with the socioeconomic context in which they developed. For those genotypes the origin is in some cases autochthone (artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy brassica), in some other the origin is allochthone although they adapted themselves to the environmental conditions of the island and consequently diversified themselves. In both cases we can rightly speak of “local Sicilian varieties”. For each selected variety a production regulation will be made that will allow the enhancement the production in other agricultural contexts suffering because of climate changes.


Agriculture is one of the human activities that contribute in a significant way to the growing of chemical polluting substances because it uses synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, causing environmental damages that can affect human health. The rapid world population growth has intensified the agricultural production to obtain higher crop yields and consequently guarantee food security.

Among the pollution substances used in agriculture nitrous oxide (N2O), caused by the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas causing global warming. As a matter of fact 74% of the N2O in the United States in 2013 were linked to agricultural activities. To achieve sustainable agriculture the cultivations have to be resistant to diseases, tolerant to salt stress, drought and heavy metals. They have also to be able to improve the nutritional value of the vegetables.

To achieve these objectives microorganisms improving the growth (PGPM) can play an important role, especially bacteria and fungi. They are able to increase the capacity of absorbing the nutrients, to increase the efficiency of water use and the resistance against plant diseases. Many studies have proved that fungi that enhance the growth of plants (PGPF), e.g. the rhizobacteria (PGPR) isolated from the soil or from the plant’s rhizosphere, can be used in an efficient way as biofertilizers, biostimulators and resistance inductors against a series of abiotic and biotic stress.

However the interactions between microorganisms, cultivation and soil structure, especially in the rhizosphere, are very complex and can interfere with the efficiency of the application and use of PGPM.