While agriculture is one of the fundamental pillars of Mediterranean economies, factors for risk and destabilization are multiplied in a turbulent economic and political context: food price volatility, the financialisation of agricultural raw material markets, Arab revolts, etc.. As summoned up in a recent study by the Centre for Prospective Studies and the Department of Agriculture, which we recommend reading1, the food crises that have affected the Mediterranean are vital warning signals of the importance of agriculture in national policies, because of its economic and social influence and its strengthening of regional cooperation. Indeed, only a Mediterranean approach, extended to all agricultural problems, would seem capable of allowing these states to achieve the multiple objectives they face (price stability, access to food for the underprivileged, reducing dependence on imports, ...).
momagri Editorial board
Agriculture: an activity that structures rural economies in the Mediterranean
Despite its declining contribution to GDP and employment, agriculture still plays a major role in Mediterranean economies: 9% to 13.7% of GDP on the southern shores and up to 21% in Albania, 20% and 17.2% in Syria and Morocco. [...] The sector employs 20% of the working population of Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Countries (SEMC) [...] In total, the region accounts for 40 million farm workers and about 17 million farms with 70% on the southern shores. [...]
The agricultural trade situation demonstrates the importance of agricultural products and food in trade. Agriculture (including food) [...] represents between 10% and 25% of total SEMC supplies (excluding Israel and Turkey). The share in agriculture and food exports is just as important for many countries, particularly Greece (20.4%) and Serbia (18%). [...]
The strategic nature of agriculture in the Mediterranean is better appreciated with regards the region’s needs and government efforts, particularly in the South, for quantitative food security through regulatory policies. Despite the phasing out of the State by the application of structural adjustment programs of the 1980s, measures for price management have been maintained in many countries. [...]
The main challenges for Mediterranean agriculture
If agricultural development has been one of the pillars of the policies implemented by most countries since the 1960s, the dynamics at work reflect a critical situation caused by structural failings exacerbated by inappropriate policies. [...]
Since the 1970s SEMC economies have concentrated chiefly on the export of oil and services, to the detriment of agriculture. This structural fragility of Southern and Eastern economies, combined with the controversial use of national wealth, has led to growing hunger and malnutrition caused by the soaring food prices of 2007-2008.
At the root of this situation is a trade deficit that has been getting worse in the SEMC for nearly half a century, with the exception of Turkey (the only sub-region country in surplus) and fruit and vegetables (the only sector with trade surplus). 50% of the food in these countries is imported. [...]
This growing dependence for food supply is partly explained by insufficient agricultural output to meet the exploding demand generated by sustained population growth on the southern shores. [...]
In addition to the pressure for demand, the dependence of the southern Mediterranean vis-à-vis external markets can be explained historically by the macroeconomic and political orientations of governments. By promoting imports to the detriment of investment in domestic agriculture, these policies have damaged the competitiveness of many sectors (except fruit and vegetables), which are now suffering from under-production, in contrast with the North. Added to this under-investment are structural constraints related to land and water resources and weather conditions that hamper agricultural production severely. Population growth and rapid urbanization are hampering the availability of land per agricultural worker. [...]
Towards the integration of regional agriculture in developing countries
The period is crucial for a new direction for Mediterranean agriculture: the future European CAP is under preparation and MENA countries are experiencing profound changes that will have a strong impact on rural economies. Analysis based on the principle of free trade, which by the simple opening of Euro-Mediterranean trade would lead to a strategy, which would boost the economic development expected in the SEMC, and stimulate growth in the North, is increasingly challenged. [...]
Issues on food security in the Mediterranean call for cooperation to emancipate commercial dynamics to meet food, rural, territorial, social and environmental challenges. By opting for the “Mediterraneanisation” of the CAP, the region could use the CAP’s initiatives for the North in terms of food security, promoting structural changes in agriculture in the MENA (land policy, reinforcing upstream and downstream structures) and improving factors for productivity (technological, soil and water management).