Sustainable agriculture and food security appear of particular concern for the countries of the Southern Mediterranean (SM) region, representing one of the biggest challenges facing the area. As a consequence of the region’s heavy reliance on food imports, the sharp increase in food prices since 2007 has had severe adverse effects in several countries, causing macro-economic problems (inflation, trade deficits, fiscal pressure), increased poverty and political instability. This challenge, coupled with the consequences of environmental degradation, water scarcity, urbanization and climate stress, call for the urgent need to develop sustainable agriculture and food systems. At the same time, the European agriculture sector is under stress. In light of the interdependence of Southern Mediterranean and European economies, Euro-Mediterranean relations take on particular relevance for food security and, more in general, for sustainable agricultural development.
The two-days Conference held in Rabat on November 20-21 was a great opportunity to discuss with numerous experts problems and responses to food security and sustainable agricultural challenges in the framework of Euro-Mediterranean relations.
The first session on the major challenges to food security in the Mediterranean region discussed important interrelated issues: the water-food nexus and its geopolitical implications, the key contribution of livestock to food security, and the question of the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the agricultural sector. The second session focused on the issue of small farmers, highlighting the relevance of small units to increase food security in SM countries and discussing the barriers met by small local producers to successful agri-business in the Euro-Mediterranean area.
In the third session, the impact of the EU agricultural policy in the SM, particularly trade liberalization, was assessed. Trade liberalization was found to have positive effects on agriculture productivity in Tunisia. Also trade preferences granted to Morocco by the EU appear to significantly affect Moroccan monthly exports of fruit and vegetables. However, the liberalisation process for agricultural trade has been slow owing to political obstacles and institutional problems on the side of the EU. Moreover, to assess the full impact of trade liberalization, beyond the macro-level, the implications for small local producers and rural households also need to be investigated given their scarce ability to participate in the agro-food chains.
The last two sessions debated the policy options and opportunities for Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in the field of food security and agriculture. Beyond trade, which has received too much attention in the past, EU-SM collaboration can play a crucial role in strengthening rural development through agricultural research and education. Also the initiative carried out by the city of Milan, the Urban Food Policy Pact, was discussed as an example of building up a solid network of Euro-Mediterranean cities for food security. The Pact indeed adopts a common standard regarding food security and nutrition at the urban level and develops solutions towards a more equitable and sustainable way of urban living. Finally, countries on both sides of the Mediterranean sea could adopt similar technological solutions to overcome the potential conflict between food and energy production. On this regard, it was presented a working project on advanced technological photovoltaic cells aimed at high productivity of food with the minimal utilization of land and water, which makes it suitable especially for environment with arid land and high solar light availability.