Nearly all fruit and vegetables traded in the Mediterranean region are transported by lorry. Those involved in the supply chain can see the benefits of switching to a different mode of transport, but practical solutions are yet to be found.
Mostapha Amri, a professor at the National School of Business and Management in Agadir, Morocco, explains: "It is mainly for practical reasons that 90% of Moroccan fruit and vegetables are transported internationally by road. It is direct, fast and perfect for medium-sized loads." This flexibility comes at a price, though. Literally, as Mr Amri explains: "In 2010, road hauliers were charging around €4,000 to transport 26 palettes from Agadir to the south of France, but the price for a maritime container of 20 palettes for the same destination was less than €2,400."
Moroccan citrus fruit producers have certainly been convinced by the maritime argument: more than 80% of their goods are now transported by boat. "If volumes are to increase, we need better packaging and storage systems," says Mr Amri. In 2009, Morocco launched Green Morocco - a broad restructuring and investment programme (€17bn up to 2020) aiming to make Moroccan farming more productive, particularly with a view to improving exports.
On the margins
In Europe, the solutions for switching transport modes remain experimental and marginalised. Admittedly, controlled-temperature transportation (which includes the transportation of fruit and vegetables) represents only 8-10% of all French road traffic, according to the National Union of Refrigerated Transport (UNTF).
On average, the association's figures show, a tonne of fresh produce travels just 180km. This is not a sufficient distance to hope for a switch from road to rail. Hence, the UNTF explains, rail is restricted to niche routes such as transporting fruit from Perpignan and Avignon up to Rungis or bringing vegetables down from the north of France to Marseilles.
Perhaps the most pertinent examples come from France's northern European neighbours, who need to procure more fruit and vegetables than their southern European counterparts. Following the Lorry Rail line linking Boulou (on the Franco-Spanish border) and Bettembourg (Luxembourg), a new connection was opened in November 2011. Europorte, the rail freight subsidiary of Eurotunnel, is now responsible for round trips between Valencia (Spain) and Barking (UK). The aim of the operation is to transport 30 refrigerated containers of fruit and vegetables to British supermarkets. According to Europorte, the journey of more than 50 hours via the Channel Tunnel takes nearly 250 lorries per month off the roads in Spain, France and the UK.