North Africa in Mediterranean food security project

Five North African countries – Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia – along with 38 European and Mediterranean states will benefit from an initiative to enhance higher education cooperation in the fields of food production, security and safety, and rural development.

The two-year initiative, which was outlined in a 29 January media release published by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), is to be promoted by the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies, or CIHEAM.

A July 2012 Economic Research Service report, International Food Security Assessment, 2012-22, predicts that food insecurity will become more pressing in Sub-Saharan Africa, while North Africa’s food security problems will remain more or less unchanged.

The new initiative will focus on enhancing the skills and employability of all professionals participating in higher education programmes and advanced short-term training courses on food security and rural development.

CIHEAM comprises four Mediterranean agronomic institutes – located in Bari (Italy), Chania (Greece), Montpellier (France) and Zaragoza (Spain) – and a general secretariat based in Paris. It has established itself as an authority in postgraduate education and research in its fields of activity, including Mediterranean agriculture, food and rural development.

According to the UfM release, the project aims to improve CIHEAM's ongoing postgraduate courses and training programmes through the implementation of five specific and complementary actions:
  • • Providing e-information to assist MSc students towards greater elaboration of entrepreneurship, self-employment and gender equality, as well as personal profile development and assessment.
  • • Implementing a Mediterranean doctoral platform by providing high quality scientific and logistical support to PhD students and reinforcing research in agricultural, rural development and agro-food. The platform will allow for forwarding students’ requests to targeted universities, and hosting the students for the whole course or on a temporary basis.
  • • Developing e-learning as a lifelong learning tool at CIHEAM’s Mediterranean agronomic institutes. In a first phase, Bari will implement this tool in the follow-up training programme for two long courses: “Land and water management” and “Integrated pest management”.
  • • Enhancing quality assurance systems in the area of agriculture and related science through a detailed, paired evaluation of one CIHEAM MSc programme in each of the four agronomic institutes, and a similar programme in at least four higher education institutions from non-European Union countries.
  • • Strengthening degree recognition and the internationalisation of MSc degrees, which will open new options for the full recognition of the equivalence of CIHEAM MSc degrees. It will also help develop programmes with relevant higher education institutions to jointly build innovative curricula and promote student and staff mobility.
"This initiative puts universities in North Africa on the right track in dealing with real developmental problems facing the region, through the preparation of the needed workforces, as well as performing problem-solving studies and research,” said Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a researcher at Cairo's National Research Centre, Egypt.

Another initiative, a two-year European Commission-funded project, Maghreb Universities: Inclusive Education (UMEI), which kicked off in 2011 in the three Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, is due to come to an end in October.

UMEI aims at improving access to universities in the Maghreb and supporting continuation of their studies for three target groups of students with special needs: related to economic insecurity, geographic origin and disability.

The project focuses on the creation and implementation within universities of an assistance unit for awareness, support and mediation, with activities including organising seminars and in situ visits to achieve a transfer of knowledge and skills of the project’s specialist European partners.