Sustainability and multifunctionality in Mediterranean cropping systems: the role of medicinal and aromatic plants

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Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, shortly termed MAPs, are a huge category of plant species, which have in common their aptitude to supply substances, respectively medicines and flavours, that are or may be used by people for a large number of uses, having a various level of complexity: from plants which are used by man “as they are” or after a minimum transformation, addressed to human food (the spices), or herbal self-therapy (the traditional medicinal plants), it is possible to drop to species employed by highly sophisticated industrial sectors such as perfume or cosmetic industries, passing through almost all intermediate ways and complexities. Many of these plants find the best growing conditions inside the Mediterranean territories, where they represent a large part of spontaneous flora and where their use is, in many cases, an ancient and consolidated praxis. For a number of reasons, many Mediterranean areas, including many areas of inner Sicily, cope with severe conditions of social and economical marginality, sometimes so strong to lead to the interruption of any agricultural activity and to abandonment of the territory. Due to their special configuration, marginal areas cannot be cultivated like all other territories, simply because their resources cannot sustain the weight of an ordinarily managed agriculture, and with an appropriate management they are at risk of irreversible degradation. Hence, it is necessary to find for these areas some “sustainable” agroecosystems, able to guarantee the optimal use of resources and their proper maintenance in time, keeping in mind the maximum economy of off-farm inputs. With this goal, many intervention lines have been suggested in time, variously differentiated in the diverse specific contexts, but always unified by the effort towards the integration of economical development, social development and environmental protection as “interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development”. One of the major strategic lines may be summarized in the promotion of all economical activities that may be inserted in unitary economic pathways, besides than production of raw matter also including the first transformation and, whenever possible, the packaging and marketing processes, and all services that are linked to them. MAPs bear many features that make them suitable to fit in such contexts, and may be considered a valid tool for a sustainable development of many areas, expecially when marginal or at risk of marginalization.Besides being suitable to fit in unitary productive pathways, due to many of their features, MAPs may easily find room in low-input productive systems, able to enhance the multifunctionality traits of agricultural sector. With the help of the newest tools offered by the Common Agricultural Policy, addressed to the exploitation of low input agricultural productive systems oriented to “typical”, “safe” and “traditional” productions, duly integrated by agro-touristic activities, MAPs may represent, therefore, an important resource for the exploitation of many Mediterranean areas.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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