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In Mediterranean Countries Organic Farming (OF) developed later compared to other European countries and research on this issue has never had the economic support of foundations or other donors (as on the contrary happens in some Northern Countries), nor the economic support of the organic farmers themselves. This, as well as the different organization of research institutions, has the consequence that there are no research institutes "born" in order to work on OF. There is just one exception: GRAB (Groupe de Recherche en Agriculture Biologique) in Southern France, still facing many economic problems.

All research work carried during the last decades is due to the good-will of few researchers working within "conventional" institutions who decided to devote part of their time to such a topic. Only in very recent years has some funding from EU or national or regional governments been devoted to OF topics thus attracting the interest of other researchers and giving the possibilities to some farmers or extension agents to carry out small projects.


Mediterranean agriculture is characterized by specialized fruit (including olives and grapes) and vegetable (especially early ones for export) production and little presence of animal husbandry, except from areas where it is highly concentrated and specialized (i.e. Po Valley) or extremely extensive (i.e. mountainous areas of Greece and Spain). Moreover there are areas (Central Italy, Catalonia, Camargue) where cereals and other arable crops are grown (rice, durum wheat, sunflower).

OF has many of the same problems as conventional agriculture. So there are many organic specialized fruit and vegetables producers whose main problem in the short-term is plant protection, but in the long-term, due to the separation (even in geographical terms) of plant production and animal husbandry, the main problem is how to maintain soil organic matter and fertility at sustainable costs. That is the problem of arable farmers as well. Let us keep in mind that hot climate and intensive cultivation make soil organic matter maintenance extremely difficult.

From the producers' point of view, research priorities should be:

The consumers as well are actors whose research demands have to be considered. They mainly ask for:

Advisers and extension agents are the third group of operators to be considered. Their demand is concentrated on:



OF is not very common and mainly limited to export products (olive oil and wine). Few researchers (less than ten) from different university institutes and research stations included some OF practice or product in their "conventional" work during the last three years.

Topics and Methodology

Testing of plant protection products is the main topic (especially against olive fly and other insects) and as said before, these products are mainly tested within some "conventional" research project and dealt with in a conventional way.

Almost no economic studies exist, particularly in the field of conversion studies and farm-level performance studies of organic farming systems.


EU funds such as Reg.2078 or Ob.1 (all Portugal is for EU priority 1 area) are used for small projects. No official national research programme exists.


OF is well spread in southern regions and as for Portugal mainly related to export products such as fruit and vegetable, olive oil and wine.

Topics and Methodology

Plant protection is the main topic, especially for citrus fruits but some work is in progress on soil fertility as well. Animal husbandry and a few other issues (weed management, rotation, variety tests) have been dealt with in recent years.

Sociological and policy analyses exist but there are no conversion and farm-level performance studies of organic farming systems.


An estimate of around 30 researchers partly working on OF can be made considering publication and seminar/conference contributions. Much of the research is practical oriented, often carried out together with farmers and extension agents in organic farms.


Almost all projects are pretty small and short-term, often financed by EU Reg.2078 or regional funds. Organic farming was included in the national research programme as a priority area, in the last change of priorities in 1996 (until 1999). There are public research funds on a federal (MAF Sectoral Programme) as well as regional level (CCAA).


Here we consider only Southern France as Mediterranean. Compared with other Mediterranean countries, OF here developed earlier and broader. Still the products are export ones (fruit, vegetables, wine and olive oil). For many years it was the only Mediterranean area where some research was done on OF and all other countries were using their results.

Topics and Methodology

Topics dealt with by researchers are wider: plant protection, quality issue, soil management, ecological infrastructure and weed control, processing optimization (wine). Much of the research was and is carried out by researcher dealing only with OF and in institutes or groups devoted to it. This means that the methodology as well has been adapted to OF. For example, there are experimental farms completely organic and much work is carried out in organic farms in cooperation with farmers in an "on-farm" system.


Thanks to longer tradition it was possible to set up a group of researchers (G.R.A.B. that is the Southern France part of the I.T.A.B. (Institute Tecnique pour l'Agriculture Biologique) specialized in horticulture fruits and vegetables) working only for organic farmers and other groups of farmers, extension agents and experts who could afford some research work (for example within the local "Civam" and groups of organic wine producers). All research being supported and often paid for by farmers was strictly the answer to farmers' questions. In recent years research has also been carried out in some universities (e.g. Montpellier) and in other research institutions (INRA).

We estimated that there are about 20 researchers working on OF only in Southern France.


As already said, in earlier years research was paid by farmers groups. In the last years some support came from regional and EU funds.


OF has spread enormously in the last three years and together with "classical" Mediterranean (fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine) and Italian (pasta, tomato sauce and Parmigiano Reggiano) products other production started to be converted to OF, such as animal husbandry, cereals for animal consumption, fodder, etc.

Historically very little research was done in Italy on OF but on the wave of interest for OF some researchers started to introduce in their work some issues related to it. Some interesting studies on the quality of organic food have been carried out by the National Institute for Nutrition, but it is one of only a few examples of research by a national research institution. No official national research programme exists.

Recently, a group of economic researchers founded GRAB-IT (Gruppo di Ricerca in Agricoltura Biologica-Italia), which now includes researchers from other disciplines and acts as an informal network of organic farming R&D.

Topics and Methodology

Plant protection is still the principal topic, followed by soil fertility and economic studies. Very few studies exist on weed control, rotation and animal husbandry systems. Little work has been carried out together with farmers on organic farms. The majority of work is carried out in experimental plots belonging to conventional farms and is often just a part of broader research on conventional issues. The weak point of many studies is the very short-term scope (that negatively influences their value) and the fact that they seldom represent a serious answer to farmers' or advisers' requests.

Almost no conversion studies exist, while a consolidated research on farm-level performance studies has been run for many years in Central Italy (Umbria, Marche and Emilia-Romagna). Many consumer surveys have been performed, though they differ in quality of results and methodology.


A recent survey on research on sustainable agriculture (Folli-Nasdolini, 1998: see Table) recorded 82 on going research projects on OF. They involve around 100 researchers but very few of them are dedicated full time to OF research. Around 50 percent of them started in the last two years and are the first experience in OF for the researchers. Institutions involved are universities, regional experiment stations, public research institutes and a few private institutes.


No. of projects concerning OF

Animal husbandry


Plant production


Soil science and nutrient management


Crop protection


Economic studies







Almost all research is supported by EU and regional funds; some research is financed by local university funds. A big research and extension project was started last year by the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute in Bari (one of the four Mediterranean Agronomic Institutes present in different countries) with funds from EU and the regional government. No official national research programme exists.


OF is very small in Greece. The main product is olive oil and some production of herbs and cotton. For many years the production projects were carried out by foreigners with little or no involvement of local institutions.

Topics and Methodology

The main problem of organic olive production is the olive fly, so almost all research is looking for a solution to it, using in general very "conventional" approaches. An interesting research project, even if suffering from economic constraints, is on-going in Crete, where a group of farmers has started to convert to OF with the help of a PhD student who applied a multi-faceted and interdisciplinary approach to the group work. The few economic research activities are mainly related to policy issues.


Around five researchers belonging to Universities or public research institutes are devoting part of their work to OF issues. The project in Crete involves one full time researcher, 20 farmers and two extension agents.


As for other countries: EU and regional funds. No official national research programme exists.


From this brief overview it is clear that research on OF in Mediterranean countries is pretty limited and often it does not fit the needs of operators (farmers, consumers and/or advisers), because it is carried out in ways, places and with means that cannot be implemented afterwards by farmers. Long-term experiments are completely absent and very limited on-farm and participatory research exists. The exchange of experiences among farmers and researchers in different countries is limited: networking is therefore crucial in order to avoid duplication of researchers and in order to concentrate efforts and funding opportunities.

The limited availability of research results is also negatively influencing the possibility to have a certain "weight" on EU level while establishing standards or deciding political tools to promote OF.

In terms of topics, particularly neglected are animal husbandry issues and variety selection. It is astonishing how the opportunity to "re-choose" varieties given by the compulsory use of organic seedlings (in 1998 the EC Regulation on OF established that conventional seedlings were no longer usable and in 2000 seeds too should come from OF) was trivially turned to the production of seedling with inputs allowed in OF but using varieties conventionally used which will probably continue the same with organic seeds in 2000.

Open methodological issues are the need of research tools well-suited to the specific nature of OF and of Mediterranean productions: this issue is particularly relevant in the field of comparison studies, given the substantial difference between organic and conventional farming systems.

Holistic and interdisciplinary research is very rare in Mediterranean countries, not only in the field of OF. Such an approach is particularly crucial for semi-arid zones, where the preservation of fertility is strictly connected with water preservation strategies, crop protection and social issues (as the maintenance of rural populations in their territories).


Cabritas, C. (1998): "A situação da agricultura biologica nos paises da Comunitade Europeia". Faro (Portugal), mimeo.

Folli, A. and Nasolini, T. (1998): "Ricerca e Sperimentazione sull'Agricoltura Sostenibile in Italia - Annuario 1997", Centro Documentazione Agricoltura Sostenibile, Cesena.

Isart, J. and Llerena, J.J. (eds.) (1996): Proceedings of the 1st ENOF Workshop on "Biodiversity and Land Use: The role of Organic Farming" (Bonn, 9-10 December 1995), Barcelona.

Isart, J. and Llerena, J.J. (eds.) (1997): Proceedings of the 2ndt ENOF Workshop on "Steps in the Conversion and Development of Organic Farms"(Barcelona, 3-4 October 1996), Barcelona.

Isart, J. and Llerena, J.J. (eds.) (1998): Proceedings of the 3rd ENOF Workshop on "Resource Use in Organic Farming" (Ancona, 5-6 June 1997), Barcelona.

Lampkin, N., Foster, C. and Padel, S. (1999): "The policy and regulatory environment for organic farming in Europe: Country reports". (Organic Farming in Europe: Economics and Policy. Volume 2), Hohenheim.

Essential information was given informally by Geyser and GRAB (France), Manolis Kabourakis (Greece) and Agrobio (Portugal).

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