03/04/2009

Rethinking agriculture in the Mediterranean

The 2009 edition of the Paris Forum was held last week-end at UNESCO, aiming at “Saving the Mediterranean”. This is quite an ambitious program considering the current state of the Mediterranean environment weakened by massive pollution of soils and waters, a significant population growth, climate change, desertification and agricultural matters. This is once again an ambitious program that would have benefited from being given more media coverage at a time when the world’s attention is focused on the financial markets crisis. While our leaders are busy trying to save the economic system, they sometimes forget that the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat cannot wait for the recovery of global stock exchanges to be preserved.

We are facing a situation of urgency. The environment and resources management are linked to the nutritional, social and political balances. The recent hunger riots recalled this interdependence. The Mediterranean region is particularly vulnerable: it is the region in the world that is most dependent on global markets for its food supply, the 1970’s and 1980’s having witnessed a decline in agricultural production and an increase of food imports. It is also vulnerable to climate change and water pollution because 30% of world trade cross the Mediterranean sea (28% of oil carriage) while it only represents 0.7% of the global seas. Water again is lacking for the southern Mediterranean population who constitutes 50% of the world population suffering from « water poverty” and whose water stocks are dedicated between 75% and 85% to agriculture.

The lack of food sovereignty and agriculture precariousness in the southern Mediterranean area are likely to lead to a humanitarian, social, political and environmental disaster. Therefore, rethinking agriculture and resource management seems inevitable and that is what has been proposed in the Paris Forum’s recommendations, in particular by Mr. Barnier, French Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. Adapting the agricultural production to the reality of resources and considering the model of small farms to preserve employment are all vital evidences for the region. Furthermore, if trade and the lowering of customs barriers are certainly not the only answer to the development of agriculture and the protection of food supply, the construction of a regional agricultural economy could be a key to the development of a productive and responsible Mediterranean agriculture.

We could imagine a typical Mediterranean agriculture respectful of the environment, not based on the American model of agricultural industry but rather on quality and trust, through the establishment of Mediterranean standards modeled on the PDO label (Protected Designation of Origin). Besides, agricultural activities mask other equally important issues: the rural world’s challenges and the growing gap between modernized and urbanized coasts and forgotten and ostracized rural areas, which are the first victims of the current upheavals. What is more, in agriculture lies the issue of identity preservation. Mediterranean identity could well be protected through the promotion of the quality of the Mediterranean diet whose production would surely find its place in the world market but also feed its population.

Reviewing agriculture in the Mediterranean through regional agricultural projects is an emergency for the preservation of the region in terms of feeding, independence, environment, and social balance but also of identity and culture and no neighborhood dispute shall ever constitute an obstacle to such a valid goal.

 

Luce Ricard