The Productive and Social Capital: Supporting the Transition and the Integration into the Regional and International Economy of Local Food Systems


  1. Agriculture and the sustainable use of natural resources (including marine) have been fundamental in the history and progress of the Mediterranean Basin. The area, extremely rich in agro-biodiversity, is characterised by fragmentation, environmental fragility, high seasonal climatic variations and limited fertile arable land. Therefore, emphasis has been paid on adding value and improving the quality of products and on the diversification and integration of the different activities and outcomes.
  1. These factors, combined with the huge ecological and cultural diversity, contributed to the development of various, diversified farming and food systems, which include not only livestock and forestry but also fisheries, with the coexistence and integration of extensive and intensive, traditional and commercial, small and large enterprises. However, family farming is predominant in the whole region. Processing and trade have been always part of the regional productive and social equation. Also in such regard, the Mediterranean has been a sea that united rather than divided and continuously promoted exchanges with neighbouring area.
  1. Most farming and food systems showed the ability of Mediterranean communities to satisfy major needs while preserving the environment, generating jobs, creating wealth and reinforcing personal, institutional and political relationships. Nutrition is an integral part of our food security culture, as world widely recognised to the Mediterranean diet, and hygiene is inbuilt in the Basin food practices and standards.
  1. The Basin is however currently characterised by a profound socio-economic transition and by the persisting dichotomy between the northern and the southern shores. The former basically part of the European Union, food secure and with a progressively ageing and decreasing human population. While the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are food dependent and with a still growing population (albeit at lowest rates than in the past)[1]. Also GDP is expected to increase. These factors will contribute to keeping high the demand for basic food and agricultural products.
  1. The transition is changing also food systems and habits, hence the related economic activities. A clear indication is provided by the growing prevalence of overweight and obesity particularly among the new generations coexisting, in several countries, with marked malnutrition. In fact, traditional diets (diversified according to seasons and rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables) are progressively replaced by the consumption of refined carbohydrates, low-quality saturated fats and livestock products. Several surveys show that the Mediterranean diet is less and less “Mediterranean”. Limited productivity of local farming systems, global and regional price dynamics, purchasing power of the different social groups and national strategies influence availability and access to food, subsidised in different MENA countries.
  1. Particularly the MENA are periodically affected by man-made and natural disasters that spill over neighbouring communities and countries. These crises, often protracted, confirm the fragility of the local agro-ecosystems and the political vulnerability of the Basin,. The effects of 2007 and 2010 world food price crises highly contributed to the social unrest and political instability recorded in most MENA. Particularly vulnerable are pastoral, mountain and coastal communities, which if positively engaged in the national development process could be viable actors of social and economic progress. Inequalities are expected to rise in the whole Basin.
  1. The basic factors behind the vulnerability of Mediterranean communities and food systems could be identified in: economic and financial dynamics; natural resource scarcity and vulnerability (land, water, energy); climate change and trespassing of other Planetary boundaries; scientific, technological and managerial gap; demographic patterns; political marginalisation and fragmentation associated with poor governance and participation.

 Key strategic issues to be addressed in the Mediterranean

  1. The Mediterranean countries needs to engage actively, as a diversified but cohesive international community, in the global development framework provided by Agenda 2030 and new trade arrangements, showing a growing capacity to translate broad policy statements into concrete, concerted actions. Food and nutritional security and sustainable agriculture (FNS/SA) targets are pursued not only through SDG2 but the sector practically contributes to the achievement of most of the other Sustainable Development Goals (i.e., 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and17).
  1. The ultimate purpose of FNS/ SA should be to satisfy the growing demand for sufficient, safe and nutritious food in the Basin and therefore to increase people wellbeing and wealth while: reducing inequalities and poverty, safeguarding the natural and cultural environment, creating opportunities for the new generations, enhancing the active and constructive involvement of producers and consumers in the governance of the systems. Environmental protection and youth employment are burning issues and nutrition needs to be systematically integrated in programming.
  1. Emphasis therefore should be placed on the support to the innovation of local food systems and their integration into the regional and international economy, recognising the centrality of the food challenge within the Agenda 2030, the unique and high value peculiarities of Mediterranean agriculture, the possibility to successfully achieve several SDGs by the same programmes and actions notably by combining food security and health and nutrition, agriculture and sustainable use of natural resources, rural and urban development[2]. The sector could soundly contribute to put in practices the EU Barcelona Process principles. MENA countries should emphasise the added value of their products water, quality control, processing and trade remaining major constraints.
  1. The FNS/ SA action should therefore hinge on: a) the sustainable management of natural resources contributing to the respect of Planetary boundaries in the Basin, b) the concomitant enhancement of systems’ productivity and quality to ensure food security and a viable engagement in the international food and agricultural markets; c) the right to food with particular attention to nutritional issues; d) the reduction of food losses and waste.
  1. The right focus on medium and long term development programmes needs to be integrated with aimed interventions to prevent and manage emergencies, acknowledging the possibility that crises may protract resulting into unforeseen scenarios and that areas and institutions of the Basin may become temporarily fragile, thus needing specific external assistance to recover. FNS/ SA could play a pivotal role in revitalising hit communities and economies.

The Italian Development Cooperation could actively and significantly contribute to address these key strategic issues linking food security with environmental protection, economic growth, job creation, Moreover:

  1. Coherently with Elmau G7 engagements, FNS/ SA programmes should pay due attention to: a) rural poor, smallholders, women and youth; b) the mobilisation of private capital, reaffirming the support for the consistent implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) and the CFS Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (RAI); c) the sustainable increase of agricultural production, productivity and incomes while adapting and building resilience to climate change; d) scaling up nutrition specific and sensitive initiatives; e) the enhancement of the transition between relief and development though a more effective connection of short, medium and long-term support, embedded within a comprehensive development strategy, in order to strengthen resilience.
  1. Sinergy will be sought particularly with environmental, social and public health programmes, avoiding a generic “holistic” approach but rather identifying, through sound system analysis, the key development determinants that could trigger progress and other positive dynamics.
  1. Planning, action and evaluation will be guided particularly by the adherence to the Paris Declaration principles on Aid Effectiveness, to the conclusions of the Finance for Development process, to the deliberations of the World Committee for Food Security (CFS) and the to three Rio Conventions and follow up. Particularly, partnership and ownership will be addressed, promoting collaboration and synergies among Mediterranean and international institutions and communities, as well as the participation of civil society and private sector.

Applied and operational research could play a leading role to support fact-based policy decision making and monitoring, to exchange experiences, perspectives and innovations, to strengthen collaboration within the scientific and related communities, to shape a new generation of leaders, thus to make the Mediterranean a more open society. In particular, as proved by ERANET and COFUND, joint research programmes could stimulate a more sustainable and equal footing cooperation of EU and Mediterranean and African partners, enhancing regional innovative solutions for the integration of local food systems into an international policy frame. Italy could promote South-South collaboration and be instrumental in assisting MENA partners to engage into EU research and training programmes as well as into main FNS/ SA International process.

[1] According to FAO (2015), MENA import half of their basic crops, mainly cereals and sugar. Imports raised by two thirds in the last 10 years. Human population should reach 360 million by 2050.

[2] N.B.: The food system approach embraces the activities associated with production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management. Operating within and influenced by the social, political, economic and environmental setting, it goes beyond the farming or production systems, takes into consideration the whole value chain and implies a deeper consideration of nutritional, public health and cultural issues in order to achieve broader and longer lasting results in agriculture, economic and social development.

Gianluca BRUNORI – University of Pisa
Felice ADINOLFI – University of Bologna
Giuseppe MAIANI