Society and regional strategies 5 min

The effects of land-use changes in the Mediterranean Basin on local food systems

What effects do land-use changes – from urbanization to increased global markets for commodities, intensified farming practices and even the abandonment of farmland – have on food self-sufficiency locally and on the scale of the Mediterranean Basin? The DIVERCROP project has produced a video to present the lessons learned from four years of international research on these questions.

Published on 10 January 2022

illustration The effects of land-use changes in the Mediterranean Basin on local food systems
© INRAE, Christian Slagmulder

Developing local food systems is a key issue for food security. To explore the interactions between food systems and land-use changes, a team of researchers developed specific, innovative tools that can integrate data from multiple sources collected at different scales. From 2017 to 2021, their work, carried out as part of the DIVERCROP project, combined an analysis of multiscale land-use data in the Mediterranean Basin with case studies from seven countries. After publishing these findings in several academic journals, DIVERCROP has produced a short video that illustrates the variety of situations studied.

Studying change at different scales: lessons from an original and innovative methodology

The researchers were able to analyze both land-use data at an accurate scale (10km²) and global databases available at the Mediterranean basin level, as well as nine case studies collected from seven different countries (Algeria, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia). They did so by implementing an original methodology enabling them, first, to connect local and regional scales, and to determine the precise locations of land-use changes in the Mediterranean areas. Second, the processes leading to these changes were linked to the conditions under which local food systems develop. This involved a first step of characterization and mapping of dynamic land systems over the whole Mediterranean basin using geomorphological and anthropic indicators (like land-use, public action, biotopes). Concurrently, field surveys were used to formulate hypotheses, which were tested via a purpose-built statistical tool. This dedicated tool enabled the researchers to estimate the complex relationships between an unmeasured notion such as the development potential of a territorialized food system and the measurable variables expected to determine its intensity (dynamic land systems, population, income, agricultural production, public action, type of biotope).

Public policies: a determining condition of local food self-sufficiency

The mapping of dynamic land systems on a small scale over the whole Mediterranean basin (27 countries) made it possible to assess their contribution to local food self-sufficiency. Analysis of the results shows that the expansion and intensification of agricultural land and processes does not systematically promote food self-sufficiency, due to very heterogeneous pedoclimatic and economic contexts. On the other hand, the findings reveal that public policies still play an essential role in improving technical processes (diversified farms), structuring agricultural commodity chains (reduced intermediaries) or influencing consumer behaviors (short supply chains). These policies are a key factor in the current increase in self-sufficiency.

Briefly, in the overwhelming majority of areas (except under desert conditions or war), the level of local food self-sufficiency is not correlated with enhanced production. Food insecurity can affect agricultural producers whatever their technical competence. Local consumption mainly depends on the local social and political system, as reflected in these dynamic land systems, which can create conditions promoting the emergence or development of localized food systems. Mapping dynamic land systems and their links with local food systems is one way to encourage global reflection on the processes that link production, distribution and food. The main determinants of successful re-localization appear to be farming diversity (versus homogenization), access to processing structures (versus industrialization of supply chains) and the co-construction of supply policies (versus centralized decision-making).

The DIVERCROP project

DIVERCROP is an international research project coordinated by Claude Napoléone (Ecodevelopment Research Unit) and Marta Debolini (Joint Research Unit for the Mediterranean Environment and Modelling of Agro-hydrosystems – EMMAH) funded by the ARIMNet2 programme. It brings together nine institutions in seven countries (INRAE, France; CNRS, France; UniLaSalle – Beauvais campus, France; Larbi Ben M’hidi University, Algeria; Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain; Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa, Italy; Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology, Malta; University of Évora, Portugal; INRAT, Tunisia). The project ran from the start of 2017 until the end of 2021. It received €310,000 in funding from the French National Research Agency (ANR), for a total cost (all countries combined) of €1.5 million.



  • Sanz Sanz, E., et al. (2021). Agroecological transitions and local food self-sufficiency assessment. From the isotropic circle to the archipelago foodshed. Agroecological transformation for sustainable food systems. Insight on France-CGIAR research. Les dossiers d’Agropolis international. N°26. 
  • Fusco J., Walker E., Papaix J., Debolini M., Bondeau A., Barnagaud J.Y. (2021) Land use changes threaten bird taxonomic and functional diversity across the Mediterranean basin: a spatial analysis to prioritize monitoring for conservation. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
  • Guimaraes MH., Esgalhado C., Lardon S., Debolini M., Balzan M.V., Gennai-Schott S., Rojo M.S., Mekki I., Bouchemal S., (2021). Mediterranean land system dynamics and their underlying drivers: Stakeholder perception from multiple case studies. Landscape and Urban Planning 213, 104134
  • Esgalhado C., Guimaraes M.H., Debolini M., Guiomar N., Lardon S., Ferraz de Oliveira M.I., (2020). A holistic approach to land system dynamics, the Monfurado case in Alentejo, Portugal. Land Use Policy, 95: 104607,
  • Villani R., Sabbatini T., Moreno Perez O., Guiomar N., Debolini M., (2019). An open dataset about georeferenced harmonized national agricultural censuses and surveys of seven Mediterranean countries. Data in Brief 27
  • Debolini, M., et al. (2018). "Land and farming system dynamics and their drivers in the Mediterranean Basin." Land Use Policy 75: 702-710.
  • Maraccini, E., et al. (2015). "Are there common features in land cover and pattern changes in Western Mediterranean urban regions?" Applied Geography 62: 347-356.
  • Special Issue « Land and Farming System Dynamics on the Mediterranean Basin: From Global to Local Case Studies »



Claude Napoleone Co-coordinator of the Divercrop projectEcodevelopment research unit

Marta Debolini Co-coordinator of the Divercrop projectJoint Research Unit for the Mediterranean Environment and Modelling of Agro-Hydrosystems


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