In the space of a few decades, European agriculture – and even more so the Italian one – has encountered numerous obstacles on its way to modernization amid the more general development of the agri-food system. In particular, the primary sector has profoundly changed the manner and the intensity with which it uses natural resources. It is no longer considered a source of pollution and a predator of resource, but rather a steward and protector of the territory and the environment. In these years of economic crisis, the agricultural sector seems to confirm this change in its role.

Once a reservoir of low-educated, low-skilled, elderly and poorly-paid labour, the sector has become a preserve of valuable expertise with numerous imitators. It is able to attract young graduates in search of ancient occupations in new guise, generating products popular on international markets in synergy with a tourism that grows ever more rural. One of the drivers of these changes is the different relationship between citizens and food, with demand for agri-food products of high quality, safe and environmentally correct, with reduced waste levels but also convenient and delivered in association with all relevant information.

Looking at the global situation of food, there are more than 840 million undernourished people in the world (FAO, 2013) and an even greater number suffering from malnutrition. Food insecurity is one of the most severe problems faced by the international community, but it nevertheless attracts relatively little attention.

Since the 1980s (Sen, 1981; World Bank, 1986, Dreze and Sen, 1989), the debate on food security has shifted its focus from the problem of the availability of food (i.e., its production, storage, and distribution) to that of access – not only physical – to food in accordance with a multidimensional approach which better reflects the issue’s complexity. According to the most widely-endorsed definition, put forward by the FAO as early as 2001, food security is “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

This new approach highlights three important aspects of food security: 1) on the supply side, the issue is not only agricultural but also intersectoral, and therefore concerns production and distribution processes upstream and downstream to agriculture; 2) security concerns not only the quantity of food but also its quality and safety; 3) the main problem is that of socio-economic access by people to food, rather than its availability.

Researchers at the Rossi-Doria Centre analyse the numerous aspects of the huge changes related to the agri-food sector. They seek to determine their causes and, above all, their consequences for agriculture and the Italian agri-food sector. Indeed, the most recent changes have found the sector at a stage of ‘incomplete modernization’, while at the same time they represent both opportunities and challenges. In this regard, research at the Rossi-Doria Centre focuses on the competitiveness factors of agriculture by analysing the positioning of Italian food products on international markets; the ability of farms to diversify and generate public goods; the causes of, and the forms assumed by, Italy’s persisting North-South divide. Moreover, for some years the research group has paid especial attention to analysis of the design and the socio-economic and territorial effects of agricultural and rural policies, with particular regard to those of the European Union.

As for the various dimensions of food security, these are analysed within various strands of research at the Rossi-Doria Centre which deal with other topics, such as agriculture (link a pagina corrispondente), global value chains (link a pagina corrispondente), trade (link a pagina corrispondente),land, development (link a pagina corrispondente), and poverty. It is therefore an area of convergence and interdisciplinary collaboration among diverse fields of research and advanced training. In this interdisciplinary context, an aspect to which the Rossi-Doria Centre pays particular attention is that of food security policies and governance, especially at global level.