For centuries, the Mediterranean served as a civilising link between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. For many years now, the regions that border it have been facing a problem of growing concern: desertification. The soils are becoming poorer, water is deficient and the forests are disappearing. The MedCoastLand project, involving 13 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea aims to share the knowledge acquired in the sustainable development of coastal regions and encourage links between decision-makers, farmers and scientists.
Artiplex – These bushes, which provide food for small ruminants, are used for replanting arid zones. Here they are shown growing near Marrakesh (Morocco).
The Mediterranean coastline is vast, stretching some 46 000 km, 19 000 of which is island coastline. Europe, Asia and Africa share a Mediterranean area of about 1.5 million km2 that is home to 430 million inhabitants, more than half of them (286 million) in North Africa and the Middle East. Over the past 30 years, the population of the Mediterranean Basin as a whole has increased by around 50%, especially in its southern zones. Although it is here that the problem of desertification is most serious – with just 5% arable land – the Mediterranean region as a whole is facing identical problems with the same growing sense of urgency: desertification and shrinking water resources, land degradation and soil impoverishment, pollution, salinisation, deforestation, forest fires, and unbridled urban development. There is also the added impact of tourism that, while bringing undeniable economic benefits, also causes worrying ecological imbalances. In terms of agriculture, in many regions this degradation of land is resulting in a very worrying loss of productivity and the development of genuinely ‘devastated’ zones.
Knowledge mix Throughout the Mediterranean Basin, attempts are being made to tackle various aspects of the problem through research projects, information gathering, experience in the field, exercises in rational management, and analyses of the chemical and physical processes at work. However, these often very fruitful activities are usually pursued rather randomly and without any connection with the local communities or decision-makers. This is why the MedCoastLand project was set up in 2002 for a four-year period. It is being coordinated by the Agronomic Mediterranean Institute of Bari (AMIB), Italy.(1)
But is this just another project? “Not at all,” explains project manager Pandi Zdruli. “The aim is not to contribute to additional research but to disseminate the knowledge that has accumulated over many years, the results of which are often still not generally known.” To do so, the MedCoastLand project has set up a network of 36 bodies from 13 countries (2). "These countries are facing comparable problems – mainly the lack of water and drying up of soils – but they are posed in different terms depending on the socio-economic conditions. The context is not the same in Europe as it is in North Africa or the Middle East.”
MedCoastLand is distinctive for the number of different players involved, including policy-makers, researchers and farmers. “To permit dialogue between these different persons, they must find a common language and listen to one another. For that the policy-makers and scientists must leave their desks and get out and about in the field. That is what is starting to happen. Our network is based on notions of the exchange of ideas and mutual respect for opinions. Theory and action are complementary and can be mutually enriching.”
The real and the virtual
Reforestation in the coastal region of Adana (Turkey).
Meetings are held regularly, in the form of seminars, as well as visits to the field and to date five workshops. The first, held in Adana (Turkey) in June 2003, looked at how to carry out an ecosystem-based assessment of soil degradation to facilitate effective action by land users. In 2004, a meeting was held in Marrakech (Morocco) on the subject of the profitable management of soil conservation and another in Alexandria (Egypt) on the impact of participatory management. The contributions of participants are collected for publication and can be found on the Internet.
As these are coastal areas, the information concerns the sea as well as the land. “Some people do not always understand that these two elements are fundamentally linked and warrant equal attention. It is impossible to separate them.”
Finally, by collecting data in this way it is possible to avoid duplication of information as well as to fill any gaps. The duplication of research is in fact a very real problem. “One of the ways of combating it is by speeding up the dissemination of this knowledge base and the results of previous projects. But these results are not always accessible, as the scientific institutions are not always interested in seeing them disseminated. Our view is that, while scrupulously respecting intellectual ownership, the free distribution – through publications or more particularly the Internet – of this research and its results can only be beneficial, for the authors as well as society.”
As regards the gaps, in certain fields there is a distinct lack of indicators and statistics. “We try to identify any areas where information and knowledge bases are lacking, but at the same time are committed to arriving at concrete results. That means developing an approach that combines productivity, remuneration for the players and soil conservation. To achieve this, you have to be able to propose long-term sustainable development projects to the decision-makers in these countries and regions. That too is one of the MedCoastLand aims."
(1) The Bari AIM is a member of the Centre international des hautes études agronomiques méditerranéennes (CIHEAM), which proposes training, research and co-operation actions. (2) Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Malta, Turkey, Jordan, Palestinian Authority, Spain, France, Italy.
The project consists of seven working groups, or ‘work packages’, which are closely linked and continually active.
WP1 is the heart of the project. This gathers and disseminates information on the internet and operates an internet forum and genuine ‘virtual campus’ for the retrieval and exchange of knowledge.
WP2 concentrates on the environmental factors that lead to soil degradation and the indicators with which to evaluate and monitor it. The ultimate objective is to develop an eco-system as an aid to land management and conservation.
WP3 studies management and conservation experiences of a nature enabling economic and sustainable solutions.
WP4 promotes the participative management of soil resources.
WP5 analyses the policies of the partner countries with a view to identifying proposals favourable to sustainable development applicable at regional or national level.
WP6 is working on a draft agreement between the Southern Mediterranean countries on the sharing of information and long-term co-operation. The aim is to promote the management and conservation of land at the ‘regional’ level in the broadest sense.
WP7 operates a document search service for the benefit of all the project players.