• June 1st, 2023

By Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME. Translated from Spanish to English. Originally posted in El Nacional.

  • Food security is under threat. To tackle the issues brought about by war and climate change, we must find solutions based on cooperation and sustainability.

Recent crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have made producers, businesses, governments and consumers aware of the importance of the food industry, its safety and sustainability. Agricultural production is one of the pillars of the economy, accounting for 3% of world GDP and almost 30% of global employment.

The data shows a global market in a situation of turmoil: with soaring prices and inflation, concerns about energy supply, and disruptions in food supply chains. As always, the poorest countries will suffer the hardest hit, including many in the Mediterranean region and Africa because of their dependence on food imports.

A country’s food security should not be at stake. There are many external factors that affect food production and distribution: dependence on imports, trade restrictions triggered by health emergencies, food hoarding, wars, disruption of trade routes due to conflict or political interests, or climate change.

Agricultural markets are volatile. They react to speculative forecasts by traders with price movements. It already happened in 1974, 1986, 1996 and 2008. Skyrocketing prices triggered riots among consumers, as well as income instability for producers, be they SMEs, agribusinesses or farms.

The consequences for human welfare in general and the agricultural sector in particular are clear, and the situation calls for mobilising and building a sustainable food environment in the Mediterranean. Moreover, logistics needs to evolve, building more resilient global food supply chains and optimising the movement of goods to respond to crises in real time.

With the globalisation of markets, agri-food chains have become fragmented. In the Mediterranean, these are now compounded by the degradation of natural resources (land, water, biodiversity) and climate change, with extremely harmful effects on the region, and which directly challenge the current agro-industrial food system.

The history of the Mediterranean has always been linked to the climate, and water is now the vital element at risk. It should not be forgotten that the products of the earth depend on the sky. A consensus is needed to create an efficient and climate-resilient agricultural industry that avoids waste. Without cooperation, the countries of the region will not achieve sustainability and water stress will inevitably increase.

This is the first step towards a future that must increase cooperation between the shores of the Mediterranean, and which requires measures to manage uses, protect ecosystems and realise efficient approaches, such as the heritage food diet. The Mediterranean diet should be the basis for building a regional food system based on proximity, solidarity and autonomy, and thus more resilient to climate, economic, social or health crises.

There is an urgent need for a new vision that involves a partnership between the agricultural and food sectors in the Mediterranean, based on joint development networks that will help to overcome current and future crises.

Europe has a cooperative and private agri-food sector eager to develop in the Mediterranean and, via the southern shore, to reach the African continent. European companies also have financial muscle, the means to offer companies in the region, and know-how beyond the status of mere supplier. The southern and eastern Mediterranean, as well as eastern and southern Africa, offer significant expansion opportunities for European companies. Moreover, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which entered into force, will connect 1.3 billion people, creating a $3.4 trillion economic bloc. The potential of the Mediterranean region is considerable in terms of which encouraging financial indicators can be combined with real sustainable development goals.

There is an urgent need to promote measures to revive the agri-food sector and prevent it from suffocating, but it is also imperative to lay the foundations for a new model of sustainable development; now is the time to take courageous decisions. In the Mediterranean, wills must be united, converging interests must be defended and better cooperation must be sought.