Agroecology in Mediterranean Europe: Genesis, State and Perspectives
1. Introduction: Agroecology in the Mediterranean Context
- The Mediterranean bioclimatic region is considered a biodiversity hotspot; it possesses an outstanding flora diversity of 15 to 25 thousand species, of which 60% are unique to the region, and 1912 species of amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals, arthropods, and reptiles, almost half of which are considered threatened, endangered, or vulnerable . The Mediterranean also possesses the highest level of “refugia” in Europe [9,10], which represent climatically stable areas resulting from complex historical and environmental factors. Refugia constitute a high conservation priority, being key areas for the long-term persistence of species and genetic diversity, especially given the threats posed by extensive environmental changes operating in the Mediterranean region.
- The existence of traditional ecological and agricultural knowledge in the Mediterranean area, characterised by a strict link between agriculture and society. This was developed due to historical and geographical features and a land-sharing approach, which seek to develop a synergistic interaction between human land uses and nature conservation areas , governed by collective norms, for example, shared grazing and shared woodland exploitation [12,13].
- The Mediterranean diet, which was recognized in 2013 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an intangible cultural heritage of Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco, and Portugal. Conviviality, that is, the pleasure of eating together, was recognized as the cornerstone of food culture in the region . The Mediterranean diet is an assemblage of local ecological knowledge, practices, and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including crops, harvesting, fishing, food conservation, processing, preparation, and particularly consumption. It is considered an important example of sustainable diet, as defined by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , including high quality food products linked with positive health effect (e.g., olive oil, nuts, whole grain cereals, fruit and vegetables, legumes, fish, and honey) and low presence of unhealthy food (e.g., red and processed meat, butter and margarine, and sugar). It is also rich in traditional gastronomic specialties often shared in conviviality, drives sensitivity to local food value chains and entrepreneurial rural vitality, and raises interest of younger people for ecological agriculture and biodiversity . Furthermore, a sustainable diet also features characteristics such as cultural acceptability, accessibility, economic fairness, and affordability . The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the development of bio-cultural diversity; a co-evolution in which humans have interacted with their natural surroundings.
- The environmental vulnerability to climate change effects, including water scarcity, soil erosion, desertification, and biodiversity loss. The Mediterranean is considered to be one of the areas at higher risk of damage for agriculture due to climate change. The latest projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that crop yields in southern Europe are very likely to decrease due to increase in temperature, drought risk, and heat stress, and decrease in annual rainfall and water availability , which is often already limited between 300 mm and 600 mm. Similarly, climate change may adversely affect dairy production because of heat stress in lactating cows and increased occurrence of vector-borne diseases in ruminants. Irrigation needs are expected to increase, but will be constrained by increasing demand from other sectors and high economic costs . Any measures aimed to foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change become of utmost importance to preserve agricultural productivity and so to increase resilience of Mediterranean agroecosystems and rural societies.
- A considerable increase in agricultural land abandonment, as the Mediterranean region has been highlighted as one of the areas at higher risk in Europe . This is due to the poor performance of southern European countries in most of the eight related risk indicators: weak land market, low farm income, lack of investment in the farm, high share of farm holders older than 65 years, high share of farm holders with low qualification, low farm size, remoteness and low population density, and low share of farms committed to specific schemes linked to continue farming. For example, in the whole territory of Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, the share of farmers older than 65 years is above 30% . Van der Zanden  confirms that agricultural abandonment can have both negative and positive consequences, for instance, while abandonment of certain areas has increased carbon sequestration and habitats for large mammals as a positive consequence, in other areas, this can cause a considerable loss in cultural heritage landscapes. Agricultural land abandonment is both a socio-economic and environmental problem because it increases loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services; risk of fire, floods, and landslides; and marginalisation of rural areas and people, besides diminishing territorial food self-sufficiency.
- Despite the well-documented health and environmental benefits of the Mediterranean diet, current data show a decline in adherence in many Mediterranean countries, because of manifold influences, including life style changes, globalization of food markets, and economic and socio-cultural factors [21,22].
3. Case Study: Italy
3.1. History of Agroecology
3.2. Research and Education
3.2.1. Research Institution and Research Topics
3.2.3. Farm Schools and Vocational Training
3.3. Collective Action
3.3.1. Political Action
- National Strategic Plan for the Development of the Organic System. The Plan, deployed in 2015, has a general objective (to develop the national organic system as a whole) and defines three specific objectives: (a) strengthening of the production phase; (b) strengthening of supply chains; and (c) strengthening of the biological system. Ten strategic actions have been identified. FAO have so far identified organic agriculture as crucial for agroecology development with the vision that they are more converging than diverging .
- National Biodiversity Strategy. Pursuant to the obligations deriving from the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity, this document lays down the National Strategy on Biodiversity, whose overall goal is to ensure the preservation of biodiversity, the rational and sustainable exploitation of natural resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization.
- Act No. 194 of 2015 on the protection and promotion of biodiversity for food and agriculture. This law sets out measures to protect and improve biodiversity for food and agriculture. The aim is to protect local genetic resources under threat of extinction or facing genetic erosion. It establishes the National System for the Protection and Promotion of Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.
- The Legislative Decrees No. 226, 227, and 228, known as “Orientation and modernisation of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries decrees”, 2001. Ministerial Decree, 2nd Energy Account, 2007 (II Conto Energia). Ministerial Decree, Uniform minimum criteria for the definition of conservation measures related to special areas of conservation (SACs) and special protection areas (SPAs), 2007.
- Liguria: Regional Law No. 66 on Organic Agriculture, 2009. Guidelines Article 8 on Biodistrict.
- Mals: Referendum for a Pesticide-Free Future in the Municipality of Mals, 2014. Ordinances for a Pesticide-Free Future in the Municipality of Mals, 2016.
3.3.2. Social Movements, Networks, Territories and Food Systems
- Mixed farming systems. This practice has been discouraged since decades through the promotion of specialization in the agricultural sector. In Italy, 60% of the national agricultural area is under specialized crop farming, 28% is under specialized livestock farming, and only 12% is under mixed farming . However, 78% of total Italian farms are family based and there is space for improvement, towards mixed farming systems.
- Locally adapted crops and local animal breeds. Italy has a very rich agricultural and food biodiversity and the use of locally adapted varieties is still a common practice because of the variety of pedo-climates and culture. In quality production, Italy confirms its leadership in Europe, being the country with the highest number of geographical origin food product labels awarded by the EU: 250 products in 2014 shared by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG).
- Despite the negative effects of green revolution on the agri-food system, plant and animal genetic resources have survived in the field primarily as a result of the activity of farmers and associations (Organic movement, Rete Semi Rurali, Slow Food) who continued to cultivate uncompetitive local varieties and animal breeds as part of local agricultural and gastronomic traditions. After an initial emphasis on germplasm conservation, the current approach is to focus on participatory and evolutionary plant breeding  to develop new resilient populations able to face climate change effects at local level.
- Soil fertility enhancement and climate change mitigation. There is a slow but steady increasing trend in the use of longer crop rotations, cover crops and green manures, crop residue management, and conservation tillage . Factors beyond the plot scale may outweigh mitigation measures, thus training to farmers on the application of conservation practices is crucial to overcome barriers to implementation .
- Landscape conservation and terracing. Italy has 41% hills and 35% mountainous territory and terraces, which were very diffuse since late Medieval time and are still used today in olive and vineyard cultivation along the coastal areas of Campania (Amalfi) and Liguria, as well as in Alpine and Apennine territories. Typical features like farming terraces, olive yards, and highland meadows and pastures have been decreasing over the past 50 years. This resulted in a declining biodiversity and loss of traditional Mediterranean landscapes ; however, these practices are being rediscovered, for example, through their support in CAP’s Regional Development Programmes.
- Agroforestry and agrosylvopastoral systems. These practices were once traditional in Italy, but nowadays are still far from being applied at farm level. However, there are very interesting pioneer research activities in central Italy [63,64], for example, combining extensive free-range systems of poultry production in olive orchards intercropped with asparagus cultivation.
4. Case Study Greece
4.1. History of Agroecology
4.2. Research and Education
4.2.1. Research Institutions
4.2.3. Farm Schools and Vocational Training
4.3. Collective Action
4.3.1. Political Actions
4.3.2. Social Movements, Networks, Territories, and Food Systems
- Conservation and use of locally adapted crops. The use of locally adapted varieties in the Greek geographical area has been a common practice for centuries. However, transformation of the countryside started in the 1950s, followed by the expansion of intensive agriculture and rural exodus, resulted in genetic erosion and the anthropogenic degradation of traditional rural landscapes . Nevertheless, these plant genetic resources have survived in the field primarily because of farmers and gardeners, who continued to cultivate low productive local varieties as part of their local agricultural tradition and culture.
- Dry farming and rain harvesting. Dry farming has been regarded as a dominant cultivation method, especially for vegetable and grapevines in isolated islands of Greece, until the mid-20th century . It consisted of a sophisticated method of seasonal soil management and use of local, drought resistant varieties aiming to utilize the residual soil moisture from the rainy season, by trapping moisture using a roller and compacting the soil, which forms a dry crust reducing evaporation. The most important example of dry farming is the cultivation of a tomato landrace and local grapevine varieties in the island of Santorini. The correspondent technique of rain harvesting through traditional roof collectors and underground tanks is also a main practice in the Greek islands, as a result of local water scarcity and arid/semi-arid conditions.
- Terracing. Cultivation of trees, mainly olive and grapevine, and cereals in terraces in Greece goes back to the bronze age  and is found all over the insular region and coasts. The majority of terraces nowadays are abandoned and very few of them are still used for olive cultivation  or for livestock grazing .
- Agroforestry. Agroforestry systems are considered to be widely distributed all over Greece as important elements of the rural landscape. Three types of systems are mainly encountered: (a) silvoarable, involving trees and crops grown on arable land; (b) sylvopastoral, involving trees and pasture/animals grown on forest and arable land; and (c) agrosylvopastoral, involving trees, crops, and grazing animals grown on arable land . Greece, being the country with the highest goat density in Europe, coupled with long periods of water shortage, explains why livestock farms are based on woody vegetation. The area covered by these systems is estimated to be more than 3 million ha, that is, 23% of the country’s agriculturally used area . Most of these traditional agroforestry systems are being under threat over the latest decades either through abandonment or intensification, consequent of socio-economic changes.
5. Case Study: Spain
5.1. History of Agroecology
5.2. Research and Education
5.2.1. Research Institutions
5.2.3. Farm Schools and Vocational Training
5.3. Collective Action
5.3.1. Political Actions
5.3.2. Social Movements, Networks, Territories, and Food Systems
Conflicts of Interest
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|Country 1||Records (No.)|
|Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)||2|
|Country||Records 2 (No.)||Science||Practices||Movements|
|Origins||Academia||Organic (ecological) farming movement||Academia and social movements|
|Academic/training/research||Limited, under development||Limited, under development||Limited, under development|
|Socio-economic||Certified organic farming, neo-rural movement||Ecological and certified organic farming movement, civil society organisations||civil society and rural movements|
|Practice||Mixed farming, locally adapted crops and animals, soil management, landscape management, agroforestry||Locally adapted crops and animals, dry farming and rain-harvest, terracing, agroforestry||Organic fertilization, composting, cover crops, green manure, crop rotation, locally adapted crops and animals, water saving, terracing|
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Migliorini, P.; Gkisakis, V.; Gonzalvez, V.; Raigón, M.D.; Bàrberi, P. Agroecology in Mediterranean Europe: Genesis, State and Perspectives. Sustainability 2018, 10, 2724. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082724
Migliorini P, Gkisakis V, Gonzalvez V, Raigón MD, Bàrberi P. Agroecology in Mediterranean Europe: Genesis, State and Perspectives. Sustainability. 2018; 10(8):2724. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082724Chicago/Turabian Style
Migliorini, Paola, Vasileios Gkisakis, Victor Gonzalvez, Ma Dolores Raigón, and Paolo Bàrberi. 2018. "Agroecology in Mediterranean Europe: Genesis, State and Perspectives" Sustainability 10, no. 8: 2724. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082724