Sustainable agri-food systems and rural development

in the Mediterranean Partner Countries


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The overall objective of the SUSTAINMED project has been to examine and assess the impacts of EU and national agricultural, rural, environmental and trade policies in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region, namely in so-called Mediterranean Partner Countries (MPCs) as well as in Turkey. The impacts to be analysed were very diverse, including socio-economic structural changes, employment and migrations trends, income distribution and poverty alleviation, resource management, trade liberalisation, as well as commercial relations with major trading partners (in particular the EU) and competitiveness in international markets. The rationale for such a wide research agenda was the realization that trade liberalization alone, which has been the linchpin of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation for decades, will not be sufficient to promote sustainable development in the Mediterranean region.


The research consortium put in place for this project gathered 13 research institutions from 11 countries, building on the well established networks of MAICH and IAMM, two institutes of the CIHEAM. The project has focussed on four MPCs (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Syria – the latter was subsequently dropped out because of political events in that country) as well as on Turkey.


A wide range of complementary methods and analytical tools was used, including quantitative modelling, structured surveying, indicator building and qualitative data analysis, in order to provide:

  • orders of magnitude of the impact in MPCs of changes in important policy parameters,
  • qualitative insights into processes which will be important for the future welfare of MPCs but which cannot be fully captured by quantitative indicators.

The research done under this SUSTAINMED project has been mainly of an applied nature focussing on a few major socio-economic issues and policy domains:

  • the poverty situation and how to reduce it;
  • sustainability issues, the role of the private sector;
  • food security and risk management;
  • trade liberalization and Euro-Mediterranean integration.

The potential impact of this SUSTAINMED project could be very significant, not so much because of the originality of the scientific insights gained but because of the topicality, relevance, and urgency of the policy lessons learnt. Admittedly, many of these lessons had been formulated before in one form or another. But it is their robustness which is striking. The main merit of our project may be the contribution to this robustness of the conclusions. In summary, rural poverty remains a major problem which can and must be tackled more effectively through a re-examination of the intellectual foundations of past policies; sustainability issues are serious, worrisome for the long term and not adequately addressed by existing public policies so far, because the social and environmental dimensions are not given sufficient attention; trade liberalization alone will not be sufficient to promote sustainable development in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries and the European Neighbourhood policy must give much more attention to the core issues of long term rural development than it has done so far. Of course, the impact of the SUSTAINMED project will greatly depend on the extent to which these results are disseminated, accepted, and taken on board by a wide range of public and private actors.


Work Packages Representation:

Work packages


The specific objectives addressed by different work packages involved conceptual and empirical analysis aiming to:

  1. Assess the current situation and prospects for human development in the whole Mediterranean region and in MPCs in particular, with special emphasis on livelihood of rural populations, employment, poverty, income distribution and migration trends.  In Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, some attention was also given to the institutional and traditional arrangements to access resources (land, water, labour, capital), as well as to rural diversification and complementarities between agriculture and non-agricultural activities in rural areas.
  2. Upgrade knowledge on methodological tools for evaluating global and sectoral agricultural policies in the Mediterranean region, including impact analysis of agricultural reforms on efficiency, income distribution, poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability, water use, competitiveness, migration flows and risk management.
  3. Assess the impact of agricultural trade reforms in Mediterranean countries. This included (i) impact of norms and standards on trade as Non-Tariff Measures in the Mediterranean region, including South-South trade; (ii) the impact of quality, health, phyto-sanitary and environmental standards on agro-food chains and networks (to test whether or not they can be inclusive of small and medium enterprises), iii) evolution of domestic norms due to external demands.
  4. Understand the functioning of agro-food value chains and networks, exploring in particular how and to what extent poor people, small enterprises and other target groups are integrated or are influenced by them
  5. Analyse the key determinants of competitiveness of relevant agro-food chains linking MPCs with import markets using Global Value Chain analysis. This helped identify binding constraints to MPCs agro-food sector growth and competitiveness and effectively target  institutional and policy-related issues, at the sector and economy-wide levels.
  6. Investigate how product innovation, diversification and quality differentiation are becoming a growing source of added-value for agro-food production in the Mediterranean region.
  7. Assess the impact of global trends that relate to consumption patterns, nutrition and food security and food safety risks in the region, including the identification of vulnerable social groups.
  8. Explore the main sources of risk affecting rural population, related to market and natural factors, and assess alternative strategies and policies aiming at optimising risk management in favour of rural populations.
  9. Explore new avenues to integrate the analysis of climate change and sustainability schemes into agricultural planning and, more broadly, development policymaking.