Tandem Project

International and Interdisciplinary AGYA Conference 'Evolution of Mediterranean Agriculture'



Traditional Mediterranean agriculture generates landscapes of high environmental value, permitting the cultivation of a wide variety of crops with a sustained production. Due to rapidly growing populations, urbanization, climate change as well as poor resource management policies in some countries, the agricultural potential in the Mediterranean region is jeopardized.

In the framework of an International and Interdisciplinary AGYA Conference on the Evolution of Mediterranean Agriculture, high-ranking experts from different Arab countries and Germany, Spain, Vienna, Turkey and Benin gathered at the University of Barcelona. The conference was organized by AGYA members Dr. Salma Balazadeh and Dr. Henda Mahmoudi. 'We invited speakers from agronomy, food science, crop breeding and agricultural economy as well as archaeologists and historians to discuss historical developments and future visions of Mediterranean agriculture in order to tackle prospective challenges', says Dr. Balazadeh and explains about the objectives of the conference, which was held in close collaboration with the University of Barcelona and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Potsdam. 

Agronomist and first keynote speaker Prof. Dr. José Luis Araus from the University of Barcelona took a long term perspective on Mediterranean Agriculture when he stated that we witness a decrease in crop yields and biodiversity for a long time. Modern technology and sciences could not prevent this development. Therefore, he is convinced, technology alone is not the solution; it needs to be embedded in the social context.

A historical perspective of the social context of Mediterranean Agriculture was added by keynote speaker Dr. Gottfried Liedl, economic historian at the University of Vienna. He introduced the successful concept of 'Islamic Agriculture' which is characterized by small scale peri-urban agriculture surrounded by nomadic lifestyles in regions with highly challenging environments of very limited fertile land and finite water resources. Such conditions are still applicable.

Prof. Dr. Chedly Abdelly, General Manager of the National Agency for Scientific Research Promotion in Tunis (ANPR), rather looked ahead into the future by focusing on halophytes as survival artists. In his view, such salt tolerant plants are promising candidates to improve agricultural yields in coastal areas with saline soil: 'Halophytes contribute to the desalination and fertilization of soil and thus impact positively on the stabilization of saline soils. Moreover, halophytes are a good source of biomass for energy production.'

A much more hands-on approach to the topic was however presented by Mr. Kuamivi Olivier Zaga, who is not only the President of the NGO Z-FUNDS in the Republic of Benin, but also a farmer by himself. Specialized on the innovative as well as sustainable and resource-saving concept of organic farming, his organization provides agricultural services focused on education work and capacity building. In the framework of the AGYA conference, Mr. Zaga shared best-practice examples for small scale agriculture and how to tackle challenges resulting from global trends such as scarcity of resources, climate change, globalization and demographic changes.

Molecular biologist Prof. Dr. Bernd Müller-Röber of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and the University of Potsdam moreover stressed the importance of an increase in acceptance of genomic research. In his talk, he provided a very different perspective by emphasizing the significance of genome research to improve the diseases and stress resistance of plants. This enhancement of the molecular properties of plants, explains Prof. Dr. Müller-Röber, facilitates the increase of crop yields even under harsh conditions.

Even more inhospitable conditions for plants can be found in space. Nevertheless, colonization of the moon is a viable alternative to the loss of arable land due to urbanization, the competition between food and energy production (biofuel), finite water resources, and high population growth. The colonization of the moon and its cultivation conditions were discussed by Prof. Dr. Ismail Turkan from the Universities Ege in Turkey and Tohoku in Japan. As an experienced plant physiologist he, however, advised preliminary investigations to make colonization in space a successful undertaking: 'Aiming to grow plants in space, it is crucial to investigate analogue environments on Earth.'

Another focus of the conference was on capacity building. Especially young scientists, who shared their visions and ideas for the future of Mediterranean Agriculture, were given a voice in two poster sessions on pressing issues such as Innovations in Agriculture or The Evolution of Agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin. Of many promising presentations, Mr. Mohamed Ali Mahmoudi from the University of Tunis El-Manar won the Best Poster Award with a presentation on Agri-Geomatics: The Big Data Revolution in Agriculture and was awarded the First Place.

Historical developments and future aspects of Mediterranean agriculture have become a highly relevant subject area in recent years. The conference has shown very clearly that it is indispensable – especially in this research area – to transfer theoretical knowledge into the 'field'. AGYA member and conference organizer Dr. Henda Mahmoudi summarized: 'It is important to share collected data as well as scientific results with all stakeholders and the audience.'

Members in Charge

Salma Balazadeh

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology

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Henda Mahmoudi

International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA)

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DATE and Venue of the project

22–23 November 2018
University of Barcelona, Spain

Pictures by AGYA

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