The hidden value of non-timber forest products: income contribution of the Basilicata wild truffle

Mauro Viccaro, School of Agricultural, Forestry, Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Basilicata

Severino Romano, School of Agricultural, Forestry, Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Basilicata

Adele Coppola, School of Agricultural, Forestry, Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Basilicata

Gerardo Vaccaro, School of Agricultural, Forestry, Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Basilicata

Francesco Riccioli, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Pisa

Mario Cozzi, School of Agricultural, Forestry, Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Basilicata

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as berries, mushrooms, nuts, saps and resins, aromatic, medicinal and decorative plant material, can represent an important source of income for rural and forest-dwelling (Angelsen et al., 2014; Shackleton and Pandey, 2014). NTFPs can also improve food security by off-setting seasonality of other food sources both in rural (Tata Ngome et al., 2017) and urban contexts (Clark and Nicholas, 2013), and play an important cultural and spiritual role (Shackleton and Pandey, 2014). In Europe, collected NTFPs represent a total economic value of 23.3 billion euro per year (Lovrić et al., 2020), with a high potential for new income generation, especially in Eastern European countries (Cai et al., 2011; Lovrić et al., 2020) and in Mediterranean region (Blondel, 2006; Masie-ro et al., 2016). Mainly collected for self-consumption, the total value of sold NT-FPs in Europe is estimated at 3.5 billion euro per year, with the highest proportion of value made up of truffles (1.2 billion €·yr-1), followed by forest nuts (775 million €·yr-1), wild berries (685 million €·yr-1) and wild mushrooms (518 million €·yr-1) (Lovrić et al., 2020).Truffles are one of the most famous and the most expensive foods in the world, with prices up to 4000 €·Kg-1 (Oliach et al., 2021). Specific growing habitat, unpredictable growth patterns and growing seasons, unique harvesting methods, limited natural resources, distinctive, desirable flavours highly appreciated in culinary and limited shelf life, altogether strongly contribute to the outstanding economic value of truffles and consequently truffle-based food products (Beara et al., 2021; Patel et al., 2017; Wang and Marcone, 2011). At least 180 species of truffles belonging to the genus Tuber (even if only about 13 have any commercial interest) are distributed in Europe, South-East Asia, Australia and North America, while desert truffles (genus Terfezia and Tirmania) grow mostly in the Middle East region (Patel et al., 2017; Reyna and Garcia-Barreda, 2014). In Europe and Australia, truffles are a multi-million euro industry (Reyna and Garcia-Barreda, 2014), whose importance is demonstrated by the growing diffusion of new activities such as truffle cultivation (Garcia-Barreda et al., 2018; Reyna and Garcia-Barreda, 2014; Samils et al., 2008), truffle tourism (Buntgen et al., 2017), production of new truffle products (Beara et al., 2021; Patel et al., 2017), technical consulting (Samils et al., 2008), not to mention the capacity to stimulates interdisciplinary research (Garcia-Barreda et al., 2019), and the increase of land value in rural areas (Samils et al., 2008). Italy is one of the main countries for truffle production, processing and trade worldwide, with the largest number of edible truffles of commercial interest (nine species and varieties belonging to the genus Tuber), including the well-known Alba white truffle (Tuber magnatum Pico) and Norcia black truffle (Tuber melanosporum Vittad.). The Italian truffle market stands out locally and internationally (Pampanini et al., 2012), playing an important role for regional economies (Brun and Mosso, 2010; Marone, 2011). The local market refers to traditional food and wine specialties and its territories of origin. Today, truffle represents one of the main products of food and wine tours promoted by different Italian regions. Re-cent market research conducted by JFC1 reports that truffle tourism generated a turnover of almost 63 million euro in 2018, due to the presence of foreigner tourists and activities related to truffle gathering and consumption. International trade also represents an important share of the Italian truffle market. In 2018, the economic value of export was about 49.2 million euro for “fresh or chilled truffles” and about 13.7 million euro for “prepared and/or preserved truffles” (ISTAT, 2019).Despite that, the social, economic and environmental implications of the truffle sector are largely unknown because of a substantial lack of data. Official statistics are scarce and, in any case, not very representative. Indeed, truffle production is represented under the heading “Mushrooms and truffles” without any distinction between the two product categories. According to different authors, a lack of systematic data on NTFPs leads to a lack of awareness of their importance, which leaves them not being fully considered in rural development, forest and land-use related plans and policies (FAO, 2014; Lovrić et al., 2020). For example, Lovrić et al. (2020) highlight that “If forest management is geared towards optimizing only wood production, this may lead to sub-optimal solutions as this typically involves different management decisions than co-production of wood and of NWFPs”. In the case of truffle, the knowledge of the market and actors involved is fundamental to implement adequate actions to preserve, promote and enhance products and territories (Marone, 2011). Past studies tried to give a comprehensive picture of truffle supply by evaluating national production and its distribution among Italian regions. Accord-ing to Pampanini et al. (2012), truffles production in Italy was about 81.4 tons in 2007; Umbria and Abruzzo, with annual productions estimated at 25.2 and 21.6 tons respectively, are the most important producing regions, representing 57% of the total. Similar results are reported in Brun and Mosso (2010), that indicated a national production of about 82.2 tons in 2007 with 55 % of the total represented by Umbria and Abruzzo, followed by Marche (9%), Lazio (8%), Toscana (6%) and Molise (6%). However, the available data are underestimated and not updated. Firstly, they mainly refer to formally marketed truffles, and do not take into ac-count informally marketed and those used for self-consumption. Moreover, in the last years, new areas of production are gaining attention and new regions participate in the market.The Basilicata region (South of Italy) is a land of truffles (Pomarico et al., 2007; Rana et al., 2015), whose gathering, cultivation and trading is regulated by the National Law no. 752 of December 16th 1985 and by the Regional Law no. 35 of March 27th 1995. However, gastronomic, economic and cultural awareness has developed for this NTFP only in the past decade, as demonstrated by the high num-ber of badges issued for gathering activities (constantly growing in recent years) and the presence of truffle hunter associations that count numerous members. As for other Italian regions, the truffle sector can represent an important opportunity for the regional economy. However, little is known about truffle production and its social, economic and environmental implications. For this reasons, in line with other studies conducted in Piemonte (Brun and Mosso, 2010), Toscana e Abruzzo (Marone, 2011), and more recently in Sicilia (Calvo et al., 2020), our work aims to investigate the truffle sector in the Basilicata region, devoting particular attention to the truffle hunters who gather the truffles from the forests. The truffle hunter includes very diversified profiles, from the hobbyist to the professional one (Marone, 2011), according to the aim of the gathering activity and the truffle hunter behavior (types of gathered truffles, occasional versus more constant activity, in-come function of this activity). In such context, we try to answer the questions (I) who is involved in gathering activity, (II) which truffles and what quantity are collected in terms of weight and economic value, and (III) can truffle represent an important source of income? To that, we conducted a survey involving truffle hunters of Basilicata. The survey was designed to account for one year of truffle gathering in the region. Because the availability of truffle is intrinsically variable, a survey of the truffle hunters may produce estimates of quantities collected that are remarkably different depending on whether the research hits a favourable or an unfavourable year. In this respect, the 2018 season was average and, to some extent, can be taken as representative of a typical year. This can help to provide some useful insights to promote the truffle sector in Basilicata.


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