Italy’s agricultural heritage: A roadmap to food security in Jordan

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
If you have ever been to Italy and experienced the pure bliss of eating at a local “trattoria” (a small eatery famous for its home-style cooking), enjoyed an authentic pizza in Naples, or a “fettuccini alfredo” in Rome, then you must have wondered about the secret behind Italian food. Wonder no more, it is the country’s unique agricultural heritage!اضافة اعلان

And if you have contemplated the question, how come food just does not taste the same here at home, then you’ve come to the right conclusion: Our agricultural practices lack the nuance and the high standards that could shift our everyday culinary experiences into a higher gear.

This article argues that to bring back mouth-watering depth of taste to our food, all we need to do is rethink our agricultural ways from the ground up, and follow the lead of our Mediterranean neighbor, Italy.

In fact, this opinion piece marks the one-year anniversary of the Ministry of Agriculture’s unveiling of its 2020–2025 National Agricultural Development Strategy, designed to boost Jordan’s long-term food security.

With its fierce rejection of highly-processed foods, Italy’s rich and famous food culture offers much more than meets the eye. This beautiful country’s nature-respecting agricultural practices are the reason why it has acquired an unparalleled reputation for its agri-food products.

The Mediterranean Basin is shared among 21 countries across three continents, yet Italy is unequivocally the key contributor to this region’s healthy nutritional system, known the world over as the “Mediterranean diet”.

One of the most scenic countries in the world and home to the tastiest food recipes, Italy has brought to the fore the health benefits of eating simple, yet delicious, high-quality ingredients like olive oil, fresh tomatoes, and pasta.

Another observation about Italy is it never shies away from small-scale farming. In fact, Italians encourage small, family-owned farms that often have an artisanal flare and a passion for craftsmanship.

This love for quality and attention to detail can be seen in every corner of this culturally-rich country, where many restaurants highlight the source of their ingredients in their food menus. Many also tell us about the “orto” (small garden in Italian), from which their vegetables come from, in celebration of this intimate process of making food.

In principle, Jordanians, especially in rural areas, have a very similar tendency to indulge in foods cooked in locally-pressed olive oil or homemade ghee, and using ingredients straight from the land. But in urban settings, such down-to-earth propensities have gotten lost in a sea of canned foods, lack of sound agricultural strategies, and a warped understanding of the connection between high-quality farming and good-quality food.

Jordan can look no further than Italy’s philosophical approach to agri-food industries. From farm to table, Italy has a complex agri-food sector that is rooted in quality and, dare I say, culinary “conscientiousness.”

Whereas observing ethics seems to irk more than just a handful of people, Italy’s success story and its high ethical standards that govern its gastronomic world, are exactly why this country is a major agricultural leader, whose experience could be seen as a roadmap for emerging agricultural economies.

For example, Italy happens to have the “greenest” agriculture in Europe with a record cut of 20 percent in pesticide use from 2011 to 2018, crowning it as a leader in food safety. Jordan, which, more often than not, finds its agricultural exports stranded at border crossings for their high pesticide contents, can find inspiration in this.

All of this points to the Italians’ intrinsic respect for nature and biodiversity, coupled with a deep fascination with their country’s own culinary history and local food traditions.

Their strong passion for food heritage and unwavering commitment to clean food that is free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are the backbone of their legendary “Made in Italy” food.

As a matter of fact, Italy is the birthplace of the “slow food” movement that has made its way across continents, where more and more people are choosing to consume higher quality ingredients, grown conscientiously, and to the highest environmental standards.

It is no coincidence that Rome has been the headquarters for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since its inception in 1945.

This has positioned it as a trendsetter in the European Union, where we often see Italians calling on the EU to adopt higher agri-food standards to match those of Italy’s, especially in its unwavering renunciation of GMO seeds and any other unhealthy farming methods.

In Jordan, it is unclear if GMO seeds, and food products that include GMOs, are banned or not.

Different news reports share different conclusions. One report says GMO seeds were banned in 2017, while another published in 2018 says an alliance of 43 civil society stakeholders announced their “absolute rejection” to a proposed decision by the Jordan Food and Drug Administration to allow the entry of products with GMOs into the country. Another site says, products with GMO labels are banned from entry.

Why this kind of information is hard to find is yet another example of the failure in communication that plagues our public institutions. Agricultural communication is yet another area that we could improve on.

But there is a silver lining! Last year in July, top officials at the Jordan Agricultural Research Center told reporters about the center’s seeds bank, storing around 4,000 heirloom seeds of wheat, barley, lentils, chickpeas, and more. This is a lifeline for Jordan, especially if the country decides to make an effort to reintroduce its own heritage agricultural produce.

Jordan can then build marketing campaigns that highlight these old food heritage stories, allowing us an almost instant entry into markets like the European Union, where food story-telling and quality are in high demand.
Italy has much to offer in this area.

According to the Italian farmers’ association, Coldiretti, Italy has about 40,000 Italian farms that are committed to preserving seeds and plants at risk of extinction. Such farms are part of a nationwide program that aims to conserve Italy’s agricultural tradition.

With more ideas and case studies to be explored, the Italian agricultural know-how can offer us the needed inspiration to kick start our own agri-food renaissance, giving us the opportunity to experience cleaner ingredients, tastier food, and better health.

Just like the majority of Italians believe the “Made in Italy” icon is a reflection of their homeland’s attention to quality ingredients — with the consumer’s good health being at the heart of the food equation — we can turn the tide for ourselves, locally. 

With enough drive, vision, and commitment, we can bring our “Made in Jordan” agri-food products to the highest standards possible, supercharging them with the competitiveness they deserve to enter international markets.

Read more Opinion and Analysis
Jordan News