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Urgently Needed: a Robust Support for Rural Areas in South and East of the Mediterranean

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Jun 22, 2016 / 0 Comments
   

An increasing number of specialists are of the opinion that the Arab Spring and serious regional political disturbances (such as the war in Syria) are due in part to the deterioration of living conditions in the rural areas and the abandonment of those areas by the farmers. The International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) reached this conclusion several years ago and has been trying to alert decision-makers accordingly (see the Méditerra 2009 report on the rural world and the special 2013 summer issue of the Mashreq-Maghreb review).

 

Indeed, the following four major challenges threaten the rural world south and east of the Mediterranean: (1) food security, (2) youth employment and rural poverty, (3) protection of natural resources against climate change, and (4) a more inclusive development and agricultural-growth model.

 

Southern and eastern Mediterranean countries are highly dependent on the global markets for food. Their food security relies on unstable external financial resources. The relevant figures regarding the region, which consumes a great volume of cereals, are revealing. Population growth is accompanied by an urbanization process brought about by a massive rural exodus, and the economic fabric of those countries is not dense enough to hire the numerous young individuals arriving on the job market. Throughout the abovementioned countries, the population dynamics, in conjunction with agricultural modernization policies or survival strategies for the rural poor, contribute to a degradation of rare natural resources. This degradation of natural assets has an economic cost that threatens agricultural and rural development. Thus, the sustainability, conservation, and rational exploitation of natural resources are a crucial issue.

 

In general, poverty rates in the rural areas, where the agricultural sector predominates, are very high. Many studies (Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, 2016) show that farm workers and farmers are among the poorest population groups and that poverty, the unemployment rate, and the wage and employment levels are correlated. All climate forecast models concerning the area concur in expecting average temperatures to rise and average annual rainfall to decrease, thereby increasing the risks of desertification and soil degradation.

 

Thus, many factors justify developing a range of Mediterranean products relying on typicality and quality. The promotion of such quality could lead to a different agricultural development concept that would enable producers to define alternative production models based on other production criteria. The differentiation and quality promotion strategy will enable the economic actors to escape from types of competition influenced directly by costs or productivity differences.

 

It is, in my view, high time to act. I am also of the view that such external factors as the fall of oil prices and migration may prompt an agricultural revival.

 

The elite from southern and eastern Mediterranean countries should promptly reconsider providing strong support for the agricultural sector, and cooperation with Europe on these rural development issues must be revitalized. A high job-creation capacity is the key factor and a way of economizing on foreign currency. 

Dr. Omar Bessaoud

International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) - Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Montpellier (IAMM)

 

Holder of a doctorate in Economics and of a postgraduate degree in Political Studies (Universities of Algiers and Montpellier). Teacher and researcher at IAMM (member of CIHEAM), specializing in agricultural and rural public policies in the Mediterranean countries.

 

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