Mediterranean diet faces triple threat: FAO

© iStock/Klenova

The Mediterranean diet is being undermined by climate change, a misuse of natural resources and a brain drain which are damaging the social fabric of rural communities, according to a new book by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Mediterranean diet has long been held up as an example of a strong culinary heritage that promotes healthy eating, strong family links  dynamic rural communities. Six years ago it was even added to UNESCO’s list of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.

But, according to a book jointly published yesterday by the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) and the FAO, it is being triply undermined by a misuse of natural resources, food waste and a slow-leaching of
traditional know-how.

The book, Mediterra 2016 - Zero Waste in the Mediterranean: Natural Resources, Food and Knowledge (which can be freely downloaded here) points to

climate change, the economic crisis and changing social demographics as further eroding the diet's place in the region.

Land loss and degradation, fuelled by growing levels of urbanisation, and soil erosion are also adding to the pressure. According to some estimates, if current rates of land degradation continue for another four years, 8.3 million hectares of agricultural land will be lost compared to 1960 figures, write the authors.

Meanwhile the farming community is also struggling to attract fresh young talent, even in countries such as the Maghreb region of North Africa which has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. This 'brain drain' is contributing to the disappearance of traditional farming practices, write the authors of MediTerra.

Innovation

The authors call for a shift to more sustainable agricultural practices to counter these trends.

They say that agricultural traditions must be innovated and invigorated in order to keep them alive and transform them into “engines of sustainable development and improved nutrition”.

“It is necessary to develop a pluralistic, participatory, bottom-up, decentralised, farmer-led and market-driven advisory system,” they write.  

“The multiple threats and risks to food insecurity and malnutrition in the region call for strengthened regional collaboration and agricultural and food diplomacy. Countries must develop and implement comprehensive and consultative food security agendas and put food and nutrition security at the top of their policy agenda.”

Under threat

This is not the first time researchers have drawn attention to the fragility of the Mediterranean diet, with the economic crisis having an impact that is still being felt across the Mediterranean basin.

In 2012 a group of Italian researchers from the University of Campobosso analysed the diets of 13,000 people living in the Molise region and found that those on the lowest income brackets were least likely to follow a traditional Mediterranean diet.

Euromonitor data shows that consumption of fresh vegetables, pulses and olive oil dropped by 3%, 6% and 13% respectively between 2006 and 2011 while sales of ready meal rose 14% and burger fast food increased 65%.

CIHEAM has branches in Montpellier, Bari, Chania and Zaragoza, and works to improve sustainable agriculture and fisheries and food security in the Mediterranean basin. It aims to take a ‘bottom up’, holistic approach through, among other mechanisms, public-private partnerships.

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