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Sustainability Challenges in the Mediterranean Region

As advanced as the word has become in the technology space, we are still behind on global food and nutritional challenges that are impacting the world. The Foreign Press Association with support from The Barilla Foundation presented the UN's Sustainabilty Development Goals to the foreign press in New York.

It has been reported that more than 815 million people suffered from hunger in 2016 (1). The reasons behind these numbers are due predominately to climate related issues and violent conflicts. The world’s food industry is responsible for 1/3 of manmade greenhouse emissions, the manufacturing of food, distribution and consumption are polluting the environment. A contributor to climate change is also the scarcity of land, waste of energy, water & food. Food marketing trends in the past 20 years have caused obesity rates to skyrocket, reaching epidemic proportions world wide, that have trickled down to the increasing rates of health issues.

The Mediterranean is a “hot spot” for global climate change, as noted by the EC. The region’s temperature is rising, causing challenges for farmers, seasonal rainfalls pose new threats from pests and disease, the rapid population growth and urbanization demands more water for non-agricultural purposes, rising sea levels threaten loss of land, decline in fish and the reproduction of phytoplankton threaten the important marine food chain, ecosystems along the coastlines are threatened, urbanization is resulting in agricultural loss and displacement of farmers, and the migration waves are increasing countries populations, which is leading to increase in aid and relief efforts, and pressure on local food supplies.

 These concerns and more are the main focus of the 193 member countries of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's), to help guarantee long term prosperity for people and the planet. SDG’s goals and agenda for 2030 include; from ending poverty and hunger to ensuring health and wellbeing, to preserving land and water for tackling climate change, fostering innovation and education, insuring the inclusion of women and youth, to a more responsible production and manufacturing of food and its consumption patterns.

The member states recognize that the challenges are specifically evident in the Mediterranean regions as the populations have been shifting away from their traditional world famous healthy Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables, fish and healthy oils, and have adopted fast food, high refined carbohydrates and high sugar food choices. This has also affected environmental stability. Due to the emerging climate change, agricultural sustainability and food security are at risk. Population growth, along with the migration waves has created the need to understand the link between food and migration.

However, Northern and Southern Mediterranean shores differ tremendously in politics and socio-economic status, requiring co-operative intervention amongst the region.

Collaborative efforts in this region include initiatives of the Milan protocol developed in 2015, along with the Barilla Centre for Food &Nutrition (BCFN), that acknowledge the need for change. BCFN, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) and many other organizations, join efforts to offer a framework of science, research, mapping trends, education, and aim to increase awareness to the broader public on food related challenges, while engaging countries in dialogue, developing collaborations and communications between countries to help reach various levels of development to help eradicate these growing problems and challenges.

Fixing Food; The Mediterranean Region, a report conducted by The Barilla Centre for Food & Nutrition, and written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, investigated food sustainability issues in the Mediterranean region.

The study included 12 Mediterranean countries and was conducted to analyze the challenges of food sustainability, proved common threats to all countries that include: climate change, water scarcity, environmental pressures, urbanization of coastlines, soil degradation, unsustainable farming practices, poor nutrition (rising rates of undernourishment, obesity, micronutrient deficiencies), and migration.

The Mediterranean strategy was adopted for sustainable Development (MSSD) for 2016-2025, formulated by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) in conjunction with the Mediterranean action plan (MAP). The SDG’s stressed the how imperative it is to foster a green economy in sustainable development to eradicate poverty.

           The food Sustainability index showed the top overall scores of countries with    

             highest sustainability and progress towards meeting environmental, societal

             and economic key performance indicators (2). The Top ten:

1.France 74.8

2. Spain 70.4

3. Portugal 69.5

4. Italy 69

5. Israel 63.1

6. Turkey 62.9

7. Greece 61.6

8. Jordan 58.9

9. Egypt 57.1

10. Morocco 53.9

The findings of the research indicate that most of these problems will require close collaborations between these countries,  and the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) will play a vital role in developing these co-operations to reduce disparities and increase sustainability to safeguard the environment. If implemented and aligned with the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development goals, will result in the achievement of sustainable agriculture, improved nutrition and reduction of food, energy and water waste. These outcomes will also depend on the effectiveness of national public institutions, government public awareness campaigns and educating citizens, especially the new generations about sustainable farming methods, how to not waste water and energy, how green energy choices can be better solutions, and healthier nutritional food choices can pave the way to a healthier life.

Reinforcements may also be necessary by passing laws obliging the private sectors to be accountable and responsible in their contribution to sustainability, and ensuring consumers are offered nutritious quality foods that nurture health and well being for our planet and humanity.

By no means, does this topic exclude western countries, predominately the United States, who is a leading contributor to these challenges that the Mediterranean also faces today in terms of climate change, manufacturing and agricultural sustainability, quality of food, and health of the nation and its people. These challenges must implement effective strategies immediately as the Mediterranean has done.

In general, the lesson here is also that we, the consumers, need to be responsible for taking good care of our health by being proactive about informing ourselves, and making the right food choices, and caring for our planet by helping stop pollution, conserving our water, energy, and opting for healthier recyclable storage options such as glass vs plastic, amongst other things. A total global effort can only save the planet and ourselves, and reverse the damages we have inflicted upon mother earth and unto ourselves.

“Be the change that you want to see in the world”

Mahatma Gandhi


For more on the information on the report: http://foodsustainability.eiu.com

$        1. FAO of the UN, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world 2017. Available at:www.fao.org/a-176953.pdf

         2. Economist Intelligent Unit, Food Sustainable Index 2017.


Barilla Centre for Food & Nutrition, Fixing Food: toward a more sustainable food system, written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2016, Available at:http://foodsustainability.eiu.com