Strategic challenges and perspectives for the durum wheat industry in the Mediterranean by Jean-Louis Rastoin
Unesco Chair on World Food Systems, Montpellier SupAgro and IPEMED
Contribution of Jean-Louis Rastoin during the seminar organised by the Tunisian Farmers' Union (SYNAGRI), the Bizerte Competitiveness Cluster and the French Durum Wheat Platform, on the necessity to “Mobilise knowledge for a sustainable development of the durum wheat industry in the Mediterranean”.
In the Mediterranean, the durum wheat industry is facing several major challenges. Firstly, because of the growing urban and industrial lifestyle model, the consumption dynamics are shifting towards common wheat-based products rather than durum wheat-based products. Secondly, productions are highly irregular due to pluviometry, while global warming limits yields. Thirdly, all the Mediterranean countries are net importers of durum wheat, except France, Spain and Greece, and European exporters are selling less and less in the region, to the benefit of third countries such as Canada. Finally, the Mediterranean industry shows structural weaknesses in the upstream agricultural industry, in the first processing as well as in the quality of products and logistics. During the second processing, the oligopolistic tendency threatens the SMBs’ network.
However, the durum wheat industry in the Mediterranean has assets. The first asset is probably a nutritional one, with consumers’ enthusiasm everywhere in the world for the Mediterranean diet (recognised by a UNESCO label) and its products, especially durum wheat semolina and pasta. The second asset is a biological one, with a better adaptation of durum wheat - as opposed to common wheat - to the local agro-climatic constraints and a diversity of crops that are native to the region. The third asset is a social and technical one, with an ancient expertise, both regarding production [adaptation to the ecosphere] and the products [very rich culinary heritage].
The strategic framework of this industry must be considered over the long term, and not according to the volatile markets and short-termism of political and financial decision-makers. The strategy that is implemented by agri-food industries and systems must take into account the transition or the break that is currently happening between a model inherited from the fossil carbon society and the mass industry and the future model based on a circular bioeconomy organised in decentralised networks.
Therefore, for Mediterranean countries, it seems appropriate to choose a differentiation strategy of the durum wheat industry through quality, since its American competitors chose a strategy dominated by costs, that is to say by economies of scales with which we cannot compete. The differentiation of the durum wheat industry in the Mediterranean through quality must be based, in each Mediterranean country, on products with organoleptic and cultural qualities, on technical strategies relying on agroecology, on a territorial integration of industries that guarantees the origin of raw materials and the places where the products are processed and on an equal sharing of the added value between actors through a good governance of the industry. Besides, it must have an impact on local development in terms of employment and living environment. In this perspective, in order to address the issues we identified, the key factor to succeed is a strengthened partnership based on co-production between Mediterranean countries.