The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) today visited CIHEAM Institute in Zaragoza (IAMZ-CIHEAM) which is one of the longest standing international organizations with a permanent office in Spain. During the visit, members of the EESC's specialized Section on agriculture, rural development and the environment heard first-hand how the IAMZ has played a key role for 50 years in preparing the next generation of future leaders in the Mediterranean Agro-food sector. EESC members discussed with IAMZ's Director Javier Sierra the importance of investing in human capital through education, training and capacity building to improve the productivity of the agro-food sector across the Mediterranean and foster employment. Between 20 and 30% of the active population in Southern Mediterranean countries are employed in agriculture.
Aragonese Regional Government Minister for Rural Development and Sustainability Joaquin Olona also addressed the EESC on the on-going challenges and realities for one of Spain's least densely populated regions in implementing EU agricultural and rural development policies.
IAMZ Director Javier Sierra told the EESC that “There is an increasing need to improve food production to meet demand for the world´s growing population in line with the UN SDGs and CIHEAM´s CAPMED 2025 Action Plan. By investing in human capital through training and education in the agro-food sector, CIHEAM believes that not only can we achieve this goal but we can also provide rural development opportunities for rural youth and help mitigate the impact of distress migration in the region.”
Brendan Burns, President of the EESC agriculture, rural development and environment section stressed his support for the activities of the CIHEAM-IAMZ; “We have heard today how this modest organization has been working tirelessly behind the scenes for almost 50 years to provide young people and professionals from across the Mediterranean with life-changing opportunities in agriculture and rural development. CIHEAM-IAMZ´s capacity building activities are more relevant than ever as we need to feed over 2 billion more people by 2050 in an increasingly resource stressed world and ensure that young people in particular are not compelled to migrate from rural areas.”
During their visit, the EESC members also met with two previous Masters’ students from Albania and Tunisia on food marketing and rural development/environmental management respectively to learn about their IAMZ experience and how they had applied their recently gained expertise in the labour market. The two-day EESC visit to IAMZ is combined on the first day with a visit to an olive oil mill in the Sierra del Moncayo area and a wine vineyard in the Borja region in order to learn more about two typical aspects of local agro-food production, the organization of cooperatives in Aragón and the economic development of the local agro-food business. The second day of the visit will also include a visit to the Natural Park of Moncayo to learn how the park manages the natural environment and its activities in the park and to see how the local EU regional development programme LEADER from the Tarazona and Moncayo area is managed.