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France: The Sonito Tommates project praised by the Minister of Agriculture

03/06/2024 - François-Xavier Branthôme - Lire en français
Mr. Fesneau, French Minister of Agriculture, said he was "thrilled" by the Tommates project (Technique Outils et Méthanisation pour la Multiperformance des Territoires Et des Systèmes, [Tools and Methanization Techniques for the Multi-Performance of Territories and Systems]), in which the Sonito interbranch organization is participating.

On April 26, French Minister of Agriculture Marc Fesneau visited the Inrae, where he was given a detailed presentation of the "Tommates" plan, an elaborate scheme to revive processing tomato production within an agro-ecological framework.
During his visit to Avignon, Minister Marc Fesneau praised the TOMMATES project, which aims to recreate a modern French processing tomato industry, presented by Sonito, winner of the "Démonstrateurs territoriaux des transitions agricoles et alimentaires" [Territorial Demonstrators of the Agricultural and Food Industry Transitions] call for expressions of interest launched at the end of 2022, currently in its development phase.

 Mr. Marc Fesneau, French Minister of Agriculture 

After a brief video presentation of the French processing tomato sector by Mr Robert Giovinazzo, Director of the Sonito, Mr François Groell of the PACA Regional Chamber of Agriculture, the project leader, outlined the TOMMATES project and presented the SYSTERRE tool on behalf of the ARVALIS Institute. Virginie Lesueur (GRDF) talked about methanization, and Dominique Courault made the link with the INRAE (Institut National de Recherche pour l'Agriculture, l'Alimentation et l'Environnement [National Institute of Research for Agriculture, Food Industry and the Environment]), also a partner in the project.
Mr. André Bernard, Chairman of the SONITO and of the PACA Regional Chamber of Agriculture, concluded by summarizing the many strengths of this important project. The Minister showed great interest in this issue, which he said he would "follow closely" and to which he promised his support.

Large-scale agro-ecological production
Mr. Fesneau was able to note that the Tommates plan, the first project of the France 2030 award-winning fruit and vegetable sovereignty plan, is a very advanced project aiming at the implementation of a vast scheme to revive the production of traceable, quality tomatoes for processing, in 12 to 15 ha blocks that would also host intermediate crops in rotation (cereals, rice, pulses...) (see related articles below).
These blocks or plots would also be equipped with methanizers fuelled by the waste from the crops, with a dual purpose: produce digestate (a fertilizer that would replace chemical fertilizers) for use on site, and biomethane that could be used to power the sector's farm machinery and processing plants. In addition to the circular attractiveness of the economy of these units, the system as a whole would present a very strong agro-ecological character with reduced and reasoned water consumption, but would also bring an improvement in soil quality and biodiversity thanks to the digestate and the rotation of intermediate crops.
Finally, on the food front, this could be the starting point for a revival of the country's production of quality processed tomatoes, which currently accounts for only a tiny share of national consumption. This ambitious program aims to rebuild a complete processing tomato industrial sector based on low-carbon, eco-responsible practices, by doubling French production of tomato products in the south part of the Rhône valley.

Marc Fesneau and André Bernard, President of the Regional Chamber of Agriculture, who initiated the Tommates project.
(Photo J. Boudon)

The adventure was launched almost ten years ago by André Bernard, who, in parallel with his commitment to agricultural trade unionism, was heavily involved in the future of Mediterranean agriculture during his successive terms as President of the Chamber of Agriculture of the Vaucluse and then of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.
"What we're doing here is remarkable for its partnership between upstream and downstream, in which we're working on the issues of energy, water, the installation and renewal of generations, and the transformation of the downstream sector, with the creation of a plant in the Drôme in particular," declared Mr. Fesneau.

The French Minister of Agriculture made no secret of his genuine interest in this project, which has brought together a number of serious and valuable partners in a 14-member consortium (institutions, scientific organizations, industry stakeholders, technical centers, NGOs, the French Water Agency, etc.). "This work is exemplary at a time of crisis - or emerging from crisis - for agriculture, because it is also a way of giving ourselves prospects. When we think globally about an industry, when we try to invest massively in research and innovation, when we try to convince as many growers as possible to take the plunge and tell them that in 5, 10 or 15 years' time, we have a trajectory, then we create the conditions for confidence and a little optimism - which does no harm in this business - to invest and renew."
"That is why I'm very happy to be here to show in concrete terms that despite the crisis, there are also some very interesting signals. Here, we're going to see the rapid emergence of a processing tomato sector that had disappeared and will be rebuilt."
Marc Fesneau assured us that he had no doubt, given what he had seen in Avignon, that the State's financial support would continue until this totally new model was effectively implemented. 


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