Friday, May 14, 2010

Arab World Grapples with Food Shortage

Written by Rachelle Kliger
Published Tuesday, May 11, 2010

rab countries need to yield more crop for the drop if they are to prevent a dire food shortage in coming decades.

Arab countries need to invest some $144 billion in agriculture over the next twenty years to meet the food demands of the growing population, an Arab agricultural organization has said.

Tareq A-Zadjali, director general of the Arab Organization for Agriculture Development, said much of the funding for agricultural expansion needs to be secured from private Arab investors.

“We have an annual food security gap of between 27 and 29 billion dollars,” he told The Media Line. “We want to reduce this gap.”.

The population in the Middle East, currently numbering around 335 million, is projected to reach some 545 million by the year 2030, creating what A-Zadjali claimed will be a deficit of $71 billion should investment not be secured.

The organization is working on a program that will increase food security, with a focus on wheat, rice, sugar and oil.

“We need to invest in both outside Arab regions and inside, with a priority given inside to countries that have a potential of natural resources and have capital, so we can produce and have a certain high level of self sufficiency,” A-Zadjali said.

Mylene Kherallah, regional economist for the Near East and North Africa division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), argued that the main challenge facing the region in terms of food security is water scarcity.

“The Arab world is one of the driest regions in the word and it will be difficult to be self sufficient on food production,” she told The Media Line. “The region has to use water more efficiently, yield more crop for the drop and rely more stably and consistently on the international and regional market to satisfy the Arab food security because it will be very difficult for the Arabs to produce crops on their own. They have to do both.”

“We need to think about going back to world markets and finding more reliable ways to use international markets for supplying to the local market,” Kherallah said. “I think that we need a two-, three- of four-pronged approach. They need to rely on the international market as well as on regional cooperation, so that there is a regional cereal reserve. The Arab world also needs to increase agricultural productivity in the region, and there’s a lot of room for that. Countries are now using drip irrigation and growing crops that are more tolerant to drought and heat.”

The last two years have been marked by global price hikes of basic food commodities, affecting a number of Middle Eastern countries with large impoverished populations heavily dependent on basic foods and cereals.

In Egypt, bread lines turned deadly in 2008 as they grew longer and the prices of non-subsidized products went up.

Analysts said that access to food in war zones also needs to be taken into consideration.

“The issue is infrastructure and access of displaced people to food,” Kherallah explained. “Sudan has huge agricultural potential, but there is conflict so there’s a large part of the population that doesn’t have physical access to food markets and has to rely on food aid.”

In contrast, she said, Gulf countries are more stretched for water, but have plenty of money and resources which compensates for its small agricultural sector.

Copyright © 2010 The Media Line