Tomato is a key crop all over the world but particularly in the Mediterranean Basin. Its market value in EU represents about 7 billion euro. Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal contribute with over 90% to EU production. Turkey is the fourth largest tomato producer after China, India and the United States, yielding more than 7.2% of the world tomato production equal to ~ 12.7 million tons in 2017. In the north of Africa tomato is a main crop in Morocco (ranked the fifth largest tomato producer in the world) and in Tunisia (30.000 ha with an annual production of about 1.357.621 tons) whilst it is in constant expansion in Algeria (1.3 million tons, 18th largest producer in the world). ASTER groups together ALL these main producer countries to face the most important issues of this crop and to widen the immediate impact of project results. Tomato can be grown both in open field or protected conditions (tunnels, greenhouses, glasshouses) and short or long periods of production can be possible due to the large availability of commercial varieties. Regardless the type of cultivation or the duration of the cycle, increasing quantities of external inputs pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides) are required to guarantee satisfactory levels of protection and production.
These inputs are intended to cope with:
i) nutrition issues linked to the deployment of the soil
ii) resident and invasive species made more aggressive by the climatic change and the development of resistance to pesticides (sensu lato)
iii) water limitation which is more critical in arid and semi-arid climates of the Mediterranean area due to climatic change. An emerging issue that adds to the abovementioned ones is the decline of pollinators whose role in enhancing the tomato production has been widely recorded.
In small farm systems, ecosystem services, such as plant nutrition, pollination and naturally occurring biocontrol are much needed since they all improve yield and quality while limiting the external inputs. The agroecological approach, whose main pillars are the conservation (protection), the enhancement and the exploitation of functional biodiversity, the sustainable protection from biotic and abiotic stresses and the circularity of the production chain, offers efficient solutions that progressively reduce the external inputs and the management costs. The protection and enhancement of soil biodiversity reduce the presence and the specificity of soil borne plant pathogens while improving plant nutrition, through a better use efficiency of nutrients and water.
The increase of aboveground biodiversity positively affects plant protection, nutrition and pollination. The presence of specific companion plants (intercropping) improves plant nutrition (e.g. forage or pulses species, Fabaceae) and plant protection from pathogens (e.g. Tagetes spp against nematodes), weeds and pests by offering alternative substrate, food and repair to natural antagonists (both above and belowground). Flower strips at the border of the crop offer refuge and food for wild pollinators and bees and for natural antagonists that positively concur to pollination and protection of tomato crops.
The choice of specific companion plants (e.g. forage, aromatic species) can also determine an extra income for farmers that compensates for the reduction of surface dedicated to the main crop. Crop residues (also coming from different crops) if adequately treated offer a valid alternative to the use of fertilizers that improves soil structure and reduces plant pathogen’s populations belowground. All these tools and strategies aim at creating an alternative to monoculture: a complex, diversified crop system both in open field and in protected conditions. A resilient crop system that is able to respond in time and efficiently to any disturbance as caused by biotic or abiotic stresses regardless the location (country), the cultivation system (open field, protected) and the cycle length (short, long).
ASTER will combine new experimental tools and strategies tested in the laboratory, greenhouse and in the field (idea to application, TRL 3) with recent ones not yet fully tested or exploited in the field (TRL 5), with the objective of creating a tomato system particularly adapted to small scale farm all over the Mediterranean Basin (farm to fork, TRL 7). This aim will be accomplished by adapting the selected available tools and strategies to local needing as indicated by stakeholders via the interactive platform (SIP-WP1: task 1.1). Within this framework, as far as possible, ASTER will promote the use of local varieties of tomato proved to be adapted to the local climate and conditions. The following projects (with indication of ASTER participants involved) will feed their results or experimental protocols in, or will directly interact with ASTER:
1. ProSmallAgriMed – Promoting soil fertility, yield and income in smallholder agriculture of semiarid and arid Mediterranean regions by management of beneficial soil microbiota, conservation agriculture and intercropping. PRIMA2020 (UNIUPO, UBMA, USMBA, INAT)
2. Innovative tools to combat crop pests in the Mediterranean (INTOMED) PRIMA (2019-2023) (DUTH)
3. PLANT B: A sustainable mixed cropping-beekeeping system in the Mediterranean basin’- Coordinator: Benaki Phytopahtological Institute, Greece. PRIMA – Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (2019-2022)(AUTH)
4. INTEMAR: Innovations dans la Lutte Intégrée Contre les Ravageurs et maladies récemment Introduits sur Cultures Maraîchères – Innovation in IPM of exotic pests and pathogens on vegetable crops, Italy-Tunisia ENI CBC Programme 2014-2020 (2020-2022)(UNICT; ISACM)
5. NEFERTITI: Networking European Farms to Enhance Cross Fertilisation and Innovation Uptake Through demonstration (https://nefertiti-h2020.eu/)( ISA-PT)
6. RESPONSE : Plant exposuRe to hErbivore induced plant volatiles: a Sustainable Pest management apprOach through eliciting plant defeNSEs, Spanish Ministry of Science PID2020-113234RR-I00 (2021-2023) (IVIA)
7. PROBIACE : Soil protection and water management to conserve and enhance functional biodiversity. 2017-2020 Regional grant for Innovation in Agriculture (CNR)
8. Tomato leaf miner and Fusarium wilt management on tomato by entomopathogenic and mycorrhizal fungi. Project No: 2020-BTAP2-0089 (2021-2022)( ISUBU)
9. ANDZOA (2018-2019): Design and implementation of a composting platform for organic byproducts of the date palm. (ENAM)