Stronger, greener and more inclusive food value chains in the Mediterranean

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FAO, EBRD and CIHEAM organise a forum in Tirana on sustainable agricultural production

Investing in sustainable agrifood value chains and inclusive agribusiness in the Mediterranean region was the focus of a high-level forum on 21 September 2016 in the Albanian capital, Tirana.

The event was hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), in close collaboration with Albania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Administration (MARDWA).

After the opening addresses of H.E. Edmond Panariti, Minister for Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Administration; Mohammed Sadiki, Vice-President of CIHEAM; Victoria Zinchuk, Acting Director for Agribusiness at the EBRD; and Raimund Jehle, Regional Strategic Programme Coordinator at FAO, policy-makers and representatives of private sector companies, cooperatives, producer organisations, governments and academia took the floor to identify areas where investment could boost sustainable agricultural production in the region and to share best practices.

“Sustainable food value chains are about people, profits and the planet,” said David Neven, Marketing Economist at FAO. “They are about creating jobs and stable incomes for farmers, processors and retailers, about enhancing competitiveness and profitability, about promoting the fair treatment of suppliers and workers throughout the value chain, and ultimately, about creating value for end-consumers in the form of more nutritious, safer and convenient food products. They are also about using water and energy more efficiently, while reducing food waste and its carbon footprint.”

Driving economic growth

Agriculture is a key economic sector in the Mediterranean employing nearly a quarter of the region’s workforce and has shown substantial growth in recent years. From 2003-2013, the production of fruit and vegetables increased by 24 per cent, dairy products rose by 8 per cent and olive oil by 9 per cent.

The Mediterranean faces a number of social and economic challenges. Youth unemployment is high and the region’s fast-growing population will likely reach 360 million by 2030, increasing the demand for food, jobs and energy. Water scarcity is another obstacle as is the increasing frequency of drought and other natural disasters caused by climate change.

The sustainable growth of the agricultural sector can help overcome these challenges: it can fuel economic growth and help increase job opportunities in rural areas. It can also decrease the pressure on scarce natural resources.

Many producers in the region are already decreasing their use of potable water and energy through the use of treated wastewater and solar-powered pumping systems for better productivity and efficiency. Many companies have also introduced sustainable environmental management as a corporate policy, with the objective of reducing the negative impacts on the environment. However, many challenges remain.

During the forum, participants discussed the importance of public-private dialogue, responsible agricultural investment practices and enabling policy and regulatory frameworks. They also looked at ways to improve access to markets and rural credit, establish linkages between agribusiness and farmers, strengthen capacities along the value chain and produce more with less.

Investing in Albanian agriculture

One panel discussion focused on Albania, the event’s host country. Nearly half of the country’s working age population relies on agriculture for a living.

As a candidate for European Union (EU) membership, Albania is creating a policy framework that strongly supports its agriculture sector and farmers. The country is working to increase agricultural productivity, strengthen its agrifood chains and reduce rural poverty. It is also making efforts to improve irrigation and natural resources management and adapt its agriculture to climate change.

Participants discussed public policies in Albania as well as investment opportunities – from making the country’s olive oil value chain more competitive and sustainable to improving food quality and safety standards in its dairy and meat sectors.

“Getting the private sector more actively involved in mobilising investment and promoting innovation can help strengthen the performance of Albania’s agricultural sector, and having more sustainable value chains will ultimately benefit all, from producers to consumers,” said Victoria Zinchuk, EBRD Acting Head of Agribusiness. 

“The EBRD is working closely with the government of Albania and a number of commercial banks and microfinance institutions to develop the country’s Agribusiness Support Facility, an initiative aimed at enhancing access to finance across the agricultural value chain in Albania,” she added.

Mr Cosimo Lacirignola, Secretary General of CIHEAM concluded the event by highlighting the importance of public and private sector partnerships to reach sustainable, responsible and inclusive development goals in fragile rural areas. These issues are at the heart of the 11th CIHEAM Ministerial Meeting, in which the EBRD and FAO will participate, the day after the high-level forum.

The future of the region’s agriculture will be shaped by its sustainable growth. This will only be achieved if all players in the agricultural value chains work together to establish policies and practices and share knowledge and information to develop an equitable agriculture sector able to nourish 360 million people by 2030.

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