Falling Basil Prices Put Pesto at Risk

Record low prices for basil threaten the traditional pesto Genovese
Basil leaves

Wikimedia/Paul Goyet

Farmers in the Ligurian area of Pra' say they grow the world's best basil, but that falling prices are threatening its existence. 

Record low prices on certain varieties of basil have some Italian farmers concerned for their livelihoods, as well as for the survival of Italy’s prized pesto Genovese.

According to The Local, farmers in the Ligurian area of Pra’ around Genoa pride themselves on producing the world’s best basil. Pra’ basil is protected by an E.U. designation of origin classification, but now prices for the delicacy have dropped so low that local farmers say they can’t afford to turn on their greenhouses to keep growing through the winter.

"Things have been bad for years,” farmer Francesco Ratto said in an interview with The Local. “But at the moment it's terrible. In spite of its quality it is currently the cheapest basil on the market."

According to Ratto, the high-quality basil is only grown by about 100 small-scale farmers near Genoa, but now it is actually selling for just €0.60 a bunch.

“The future is not good: at the moment I'm making €12 to €15 a day,” he said, “and with winter coming on, I need to turn the heating on in my greenhouses, which I can't afford to do at all.”

Ratto complained that the traditional pesto Genovese made with Pra’ basil is disappearing, because nobody is making it at home anymore and it has gone from being “the food of the common man” to a high-end, gourmet product. Pesto Genovese is also made with pine nuts, and the increasing price of that ingredient has been problematic, because it’s making the pesto too expensive for a lot of people to make.

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According to Ratto, the prices of Pra’ basil have also been driven down over the years by high-volume industrial producers growing mass quantities of other varieties of basil, which he says has driven down the price of his reportedly higher-quality product.