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    Topic review

    Agri-Food Contexts in Mediterranean Regions

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    Submitted by: Vítor Martinho

    Definition

    The agri-food frameworks have specific characteristics (production units with small dimensions and in great number with implications in the respective markets) that call for adjusted approaches, even more so when they are considered in Mediterranean contexts (where global warming will have relevant impacts). In fact, the Mediterranean regions and countries have particular specificities (due to their climate conditions) that distinguish them from their neighbours. This is particularly true in Europe, for example, where the southern countries present socioeconomic dynamics (associated with the respective public debt) that are different from those identified in the northern regions.

    1. Introduction

    The several dimensions (economic, social, and environmental) of agri-food systems are interrelated with other domains, such as those associated with chains and territory, where, for example, the heritage, socioeconomic dynamics, and natural assets have their importance [1].

    On the other hand, agri-food contexts, due to their specificities, are often subject to several public interventions, namely through agricultural policies. This is particularly relevant in European Union (EU) countries, due to the different processes of enlargement and the consequent diversity of realities amongst member-states and regions [2].

    In association with agricultural policies, institutions appear. Amongst the agri-food organisations, cooperatives appear with a determinant contribution to support in overcoming the particularities of the sector [3]. The cooperatives are crucial to technically support the agri-food stakeholders and help them to concentrate and add value to farm production.

    Other approaches to dealing with the characteristics of the sector are the alternative agri-food networks that have appeared over the last decades, across several countries, as an interesting substitute for the traditional normalised systems towards more sustainable and healthy food markets [4].

    In addition to its internal particularities, the agri-food sector always deserves special attention because of its environmental externalities and contributions to global warming [5]. In fact, the impacts on the environment from farming activities are having a real influence on the air, soil, and water quality. Achieving a sustainable and healthy agri-food sector seems to be a concern for several stakeholders [6], as well as the interrelationships of this sustainability with rural development [7].

    2. Material and Methods

    For this purpose, 100 and 117 articles (excluding conference papers, book chapters, and books) were obtained from the Web of Science Core Collection [8] and Scopus [9], respectively, in a search carried out on 26 December 2020, without any restriction for the publication year. This expression allows for the consideration of documents for the several forms considered by the researchers to express the agricultural and food systems, such as agri-food, agro-food, etc. This expression appears, in general, more frequently than agro-food in WoS and Scopus; nonetheless, specifically for the Mediterranean topic, there are no great differences. To aid in the organisation of the literature review in subsections, a previous bibliometric analysis was carried out with the VOSviewer software [10][11], considering keywords and terms as items.

    The bibliometric analysis is a relevant support to better structure the literature review [12] and provide interesting findings to better understand the scientific trends [13]. In turn, systematic literature reviews are adjusted approaches to assess the state-of-art of the research associated with the topics addressed [14]. In addition, the agri-chains need to deal with new challenges [15] in the coming future [16].

    This research follows the approach described before; nonetheless, there are other methodologies followed by other studies, such as, for instance, Sharma et al. In this study, an MB2MBA2 (Methodology Based on Benchmarking of Metadata, from scientific databases, and Bibliometric Assessment and Analysis) approach with the following phases is suggested (following, for example, Martinho [12] and Kent Baker et al. [17]):-Selection of the more adjusted scientific databases to work upon, considering the topics to be addressed;-Removing the duplicated documents and the not relevant ones;-Assessment of the information obtained from the database(s) selected to identify better methods to be considered in the bibliometric analysis;-Survey, through a literature review of the total documents or, in case of a great number of studies, the most representative ones as a sample of the total results obtained in the search.

    3. Bibliometric Analysis

    Figure 1 and Table 1, obtained through the VOSviewer software [11] with bibliographic data, consider co-occurrence as links and keywords as items. In the co-occurrence links, the relatedness of the keywords is based on the number of documents in which they appear together [10]. To obtain this figure and this table, 1 was considered the minimum number of occurrences (number of documents in which a keyword appears) of a keyword [10]. In this figure, the size of each circle associated with each keyword represents the number of occurrences, and the distance between each item (keyword) is related to the level of relatedness.

    Figure 1. Network visualisation map for bibliographic data, co-occurrence link, and keyword items.

    Table 1. Top 50 most relevant (more occurrences) keywords for bibliographic data and co-occurrence links.

    Keywords Cluster Occurrences Avg. Pub. Year
    sustainability 1 40 2017.13
    italy 1 19 2016.16
    spain 1 19 2016.95
    quality 1 16 2017.19
    energy 1 15 2016.60
    trade 1 13 2015.15
    impacts 1 12 2015.83
    life cycle assessment 1 11 2016.73
    performance 1 11 2018.09
    environmental impact 1 10 2014.20
    life-cycle assessment 1 10 2014.50
    lca 1 9 2015.78
    mediterranean basin 1 9 2015.11
    water 1 9 2017.22
    agri-food industry 1 8 2016.75
    carbon 1 8 2013.50
    competitiveness 1 8 2013.13
    environment 1 8 2008.75
    diet 2 14 2018.57
    consumption 2 12 2018.83
    adherence 2 10 2019.00
    model 2 10 2012.90
    mediterranean 2 9 2006.22
    biogas production 2 8 2016.75
    europe 3 13 2012.54
    wastewater treatment 3 11 2015.82
    wastewater 3 9 2013.44
    agriculture 4 28 2015.11
    article 4 20 2015.85
    anaerobic digestion 4 11 2017.45
    degradation 4 8 2017.13
    mediterranean diet 5 37 2016.62
    olive oil 5 28 2015.57
    human 5 10 2016.30
    traceability 5 10 2018.30
    fruits 5 9 2017.00
    food 6 14 2011.71
    mediterranean countries 6 9 2013.22
    controlled study 9 11 2017.73
    aquaculture 9 8 2014.00
    impact 10 11 2016.82
    agri-food trade 10 8 2012.13
    food waste 11 8 2017.88
    costs 12 11 2015.64
    mediterranean region 13 18 2010.50
    sustainable development 13 14 2015.64
    polyphenols 14 9 2016.44
    soil 15 13 2015.77
    biomass 16 11 2015.82
    management 21 15 2017.20

    Specifically, in Table 1, it is possible to identify five great clusters, in terms of diversity of keywords, among the top 50 documents having more occurrences. Cluster 1 displays keywords related to sustainability, where Italy and Spain appear with high occurrences and a recent average publication year, showing that they are current topics. Cluster 2 appears with keywords associated with diet and consumption, Cluster 3 with items such as Europe and waste, Cluster 4 with agriculture, and Cluster 5 with Mediterranean productions, such as olives and fruit. 

    Considering text data and terms such as items, Figure 2 and Table 2 were found. In this case, binary counting was considered, and the occurrences represent the number of documents in which a term appears at least once [10]. One was considered the minimum number of occurrences of a term. The size of the circles is related to the number of occurrences and the distance between items is associated with the relatedness.

    Figure 2. Network visualisation map for text data, co-occurrence links, and terms items.

    Table 2. Top 50 most relevant (more occurrences) terms for text data and co-occurrence links.

    Terms Cluster Occurrences Avg. Pub. Year
    certification 1 6 2018.00
    food production 3 13 2014.54
    agricultural land 3 6 2015.50
    arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi 3 6 2013.50
    compound 5 11 2015.18
    generation 5 9 2015.56
    amendment 5 8 2016.63
    load 5 8 2016.50
    olive pomace 5 8 2016.38
    anaerobic co digestion 5 6 2013.50
    biodegradability 5 6 2013.50
    chloride 5 6 2013.50
    damage 6 10 2011.40
    characterisation 6 6 2008.50
    component 7 8 2015.13
    site 9 8 2014.88
    decrease 10 7 2019.71
    space 11 9 2017.56
    hotspot 12 9 2017.00
    department 13 10 2014.00
    weight 13 9 2016.78
    agricultural 13 7 2015.29
    selection 13 7 2014.43
    university 13 7 2015.29
    agricultural policy 14 6 2017.33
    china 14 6 2006.50
    behaviour 16 7 2015.43
    chemical composition 16 6 2019.00
    composition 17 14 2012.29
    fermentation 18 9 2015.00
    replacement 19 7 2007.71
    choice 22 18 2017.61
    goal 23 10 2018.50
    right 23 8 2017.13
    function 25 7 2011.43
    dynamic 26 12 2013.50
    negative effect 32 7 2009.29
    response 32 7 2012.71
    question 37 10 2015.30
    season 42 8 2014.25
    stage 43 7 2015.86
    task 44 8 2017.88
    virgin olive oil 46 12 2016.75
    advance 46 8 2015.50
    cultural heritage 46 8 2018.88
    agri food system 47 10 2018.90
    procedure 49 10 2016.70
    implication 50 12 2014.50
    characteristic 55 12 2012.25
    harvest 56 10 2017.60

    In this case, Figure 2 and Table 2 also show the importance of sustainability and agriculture in the agri-food systems; nonetheless, they further highlight the relevance of the agri-chains’ behaviours, namely in terms of food choice and consumption, food production and composition, and the associated dynamics. After exploring Table 2 in greater depth, it is evident that there are some larger clusters that deserve further analysis. For example, Cluster 3 highlights the importance of food production and agriculture, Cluster 5 shows the interrelationships between food production and biodegradability, Cluster 13 shows the role of the University and research for agri-food systems, and Cluster 46 reveals the interrelationships between food production and heritage.

    Considering the information highlighted here and following, for example, Martinho [12][18][19], who carried out an organised literature review based on previous bibliometric analysis, the literature review will be carried out for the following subtopics: agri-food dynamics and sustainability; agriculture and agri-food systems; agri-chains and food consumption; food production and composition impact on agri-chains.

    4. Main Insights from the Literature Review and Discussions

    The main insights are presented in Table 3 and reveal the importance of an adjusted management of the by-products as a way to reduce the environmental impacts and find innovative and alternative uses from the perspective of circular economy. Innovative approaches to deal with the increased carbon footprint and that allow improvements in sustainability are determinants for a more balanced development.

    Table 3. Public policies and production assets as main axes.

    Documents Main Insights
    [20] By-products bring about serious challenges to management
    [21] Bilateral cooperation is fundamental and may bring relevant contributions for the several dimensions of the sustainability
    [22] A sustainable agriculture includes land preservation
    [23] The agricultural policies are important drivers of the agri-food contexts
    [24] The combination of agricultural and forestry activities may bring about interesting contributions
    [25] A more integrated rural development is a concern for several countries and institutions
    [26] The realities, in the EU, differ among Central, New Eastern, and Mediterranean countries
    [27] Urban agriculture also has social and ecological functions
    [28] The agri-food sector is one of the most important worldwide
    [29] There is antagonism between indicators related to the health and environment dimensions
    [30] The Mediterranean diet (MD), classified as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2013
    [31] There is a historical agri-food trade between the EU Mediterranean countries and their neighbours
    [32] The Euro-Mediterranean (EUROMED) integration has had its implication in the respective countries
    [33] The requirement of energy may be provided by alternatives and renewable sources largely available in Mediterranean countries

    In these contexts, the agricultural policies and institutions may bring relevant contributions and play a relevant role, namely to promote interrelationships between the agricultural and forestry sectors in a more integrated rural development. This is a great task considering the diversity of realities in the Mediterranean framework.

    The Mediterranean Diet as food label and lifestyle and Euro-Mediterranean integration are good signs for a deeper cooperation between the Mediterranean countries with advantages for the respective agri-food sectors and contexts.

    The entry is from 10.3390/su13126683

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