EFI leads new regenerative cotton project in Italy, fostering sustainable fashion

The project will pioneer sustainable cotton production in Italy through agroforestry systems, addressing the demand for eco-friendly fashion, promoting traceability, and ensuring resilient value chains.

Photo: Pasquale Campi (CREA)

The Apulia Regenerative Cotton Project, one of the first experimental agroforestry cotton sites in Europe, will test and scientifically assess new ways to implement sustainable cotton production in Italy. The project is launched by the European Forest Institute (EFI) in collaboration with the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA), the Armani Group and the Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Fashion Task Force. The work is coordinated by EFI together with the Council for Agricultural Research and Economics of Italy (CREA) and PRETATERRA.

The Apulia Regenerative Cotton Project will demonstrate how to enhance landscape diversity, water and soil quality as well as biodiversity-related ecosystem services while producing cotton with a low carbon footprint through the use of agroforestry systems. This innovative approach responds to the increasing consumer demand for sustainable fashion globally, and at the same time, it ensures traceable and resilient value chains.

“The fashion and textile industries are among the ones with heavier impact on planet’s resources and there is a growing demand for sustainable fashion and materials. EFI’s Biocities Facility in Rome is coordinating this project, promoting sustainable practices and nature based solutions from forest research applied to the urban environment, the peri-urban region and the urban living (fashion, architecture, food, transport etc), nudging for a shift towards innovative regenerative fashion – a circular biobased industry that uses newly created or restored regenerative landscapes as the basis for the bioeconomy value chains and practices that empower local communities and support their prosperity”, said Giuseppe Scarascia-Mugnozza, Head of EFI’s Biocities Facility.

Apulia region in Southern Italy has a mild climate, providing the perfect environment to grow a great diversity of agricultural crops. This project contributes to the reintroduction in the region of a long tradition of cotton farming, which dates back to the 12th century but that had been abandoned for the past 50 years.

After the initial cotton planting on one hectare of land which started being implemented last May, from 2024 the cultivation will gradually expand to occupy a total farm area of five hectares.

Over five years, this farm site will probably be the first field experiment in Europe testing agroforestry cotton with alternative tree species and regenerative practices. Regular scientific reports will assess the properties of the cotton yielded and will present the environmental impacts and production levels of the different plots established.

“I am very glad that the partnership with the SMI Fashion Taskforce, led by Federico Marchetti, is resulting in a pioneering project with Giorgio Armani to establish probably the first agroforestry cotton experimental site in Europe. This project is crucial to generate new scientific knowledge to guide the transition towards nature-positive and climate-neutral cotton production,” said Marc Palahí, Chair of the CBA.

About the European Forest Institute (EFI)

The European Forest Institute (EFI) is a pan-European international organization conducting scientific research and providing policy support on forest-related issues. EFI has 30 Member Countries and c.130 member organizations from 40 different countries working in diverse research fields. EFI has more than 25 years of experience in coordinating complex transnational scientific forest-related projects funded by the European Commission and Member States. EFI’s new Biocities Facility in Rome, Italy, is a global reference in generating and communicating relevant scientific knowledge on the potential of the circular bioeconomy concept to rethink urban areas, particularly based on forest-based solutions. The Facility is a leader in developing a new and holistic conceptual framework for the use of green infrastructures and biobased solutions in urban environments, to tackle climate change and other global challenges. Increasingly relevant “urban” sectors and challenges such as building construction (e.g., the New European Bauhaus initiative), fashion, transport, food, packaging, waste and human health and wellbeing directly benefit from the knowledge and activities generated.

About The Armani Group

Established in 1975 by Giorgio Armani, Chairman and CEO, the Armani Group is one of the leading fashion and luxury goods companies in the world. The Group designs, manufactures, distributes and directly retails fashion and lifestyle products including apparel, accessories, eyewear, watches, jewellery, cosmetics, fragrances, and furniture and home décor and operates in the areas of food and beverage and hotellerie.

About the Sustainable Markets Initiative

In his former role as The Prince of Wales, His Majesty King Charles III launched the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) in January 2020. The Sustainable Markets Initiative is a network of global CEOs across industries working together to build prosperous and sustainable economies that generate long-term value through the balanced integration of natural, social, human, and financial capital. The Sustainable Market Initiative also launched its Terra Carta in 2021, which provides a practical roadmap for acceleration towards an ambitious and sustainable future; one that will harness the power of Nature combined with the transformative power, innovation, and resources of the private sector.

About the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA)

The Circular Bioeconomy Alliance was established in 2020 by His Majesty King Charles III (formerly The Prince of Wales) to connect the dots between finance, companies operating within biobased value chains and action on the ground to restore land, enhance biodiversity and provide jobs and prosperity to local and indigenous communities. Members include intergovernmental organizations, companies, investors, research organizations and NGOs providing expertise and implementing projects in areas related to the circular bioeconomy.

About Council for Agricultural Research and Economics of Italy (CREA)

The Council for Agricultural Research and Economics of Italy is organised into 12 Research Centres located throughout Italy. CREA-AA (Centre for Agriculture and Environment) carries out studies and research for the characterization, sustainable management, and the space-temporal modelling of agricultural and forestry ecosystems by means of an inter- and multi-disciplinary approach. The CREA-AA based in Bari (Puglia region), owning five experimental farms, will be the implementing partner of the consortium. CREA-AA will be responsible for implementing the experimental sites, monitoring and scientific assessments in the 5 hectares of the “Venezian experimental farm” in Rutigliano.


PRETATERRA develops and implements replicable, regenerative agroforestry systems, combining scientific data, empirical ancestral information, and traditional knowledge with technological innovations. PRETATERRA will contribute to the co-designing of the agroforestry cotton experimental sites and regenerative practices to be tested.

SOURCEEFI Biocities Facility
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European Forest Institute
The European Forest Institute is an international organisation established by European States with the objective to conduct research and provide policy support on issues related to forests. EFI works to promote forest research, facilitate and stimulate forest-related networking and support the dissemination of policy-relevant information on forests and forestry.