How the specter of food insecurity can be banished from the Arab region

Special A boy waits as Palestinian Walid al-Hattab (R) distributes soup to people in need during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Gaza City on April 14, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)
A boy waits as Palestinian Walid al-Hattab (R) distributes soup to people in need during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Gaza City on April 14, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 16 October 2021

How the specter of food insecurity can be banished from the Arab region

A boy waits as Palestinian Walid al-Hattab (R) distributes soup to people in need during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Gaza City on April 14, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Helping humanity gain equitable access to safe and nutritious food to top the agenda at upcoming UN summit
  • Nations urged to promote healthier foods, sustainability, greater resilience to shocks and decent life for farmers

DUBAI: Harnessing science, technology and innovation will be key to ensuring sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems by 2030, experts have said ahead of September’s UN Food Systems Summit in New York.

However, much needs to be done to ensure the world is prepared to feed a population that is projected to grow from 7.9 billion today to 9.7 billion by 2050 — an almost 10-fold leap since 1950.

“Everybody is concerned about the transformation of food systems,” Jean-Marc Faures, program leader at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa (NENA), told Arab News.

“We are all part of this global food system that has done marvels in terms of feeding a growing global population. But it has a lot of shortcomings that need to be addressed if we want to achieve the sustainable development goals.”

Launched by the UN General Assembly in 2015, the sustainable development goals, or SDGs, are a collection of 17 interlinked global targets designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030.

The NENA region has a finite supply of arable land and freshwater, which limits its capacity to produce its own food and forces governments to rely heavily on imports. The way food is produced must improve through bold innovations along the entire chain — from the quality of products, seeds and animal breeds, to the resistance of staple crops to drought.

“Climate change is also a major challenge to agricultural production because it is bringing more uncertain climate and more variability in precipitation, which is fundamental for agricultural production,” Faures said.


“So, we need crops that can withstand a long period of time without rain, or crops and animals that can handle increasing heat waves. These climate-change issues need a response, and a lot of it will need to come from technologies.”

Agricultural technologies, also known as agritech, made major strides during the 20th century, including the dawn of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and mechanization. In the latter half of the century, further leaps were made in genetic modification, drip irrigation, hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics, to name but a few.

Then, in the early decades of the new millennium, digital technologies began to make their farming debut, in everything from data collection and computation for improving crop efficiency to robotics and driverless tractors.

A picture shows the UAE's al-Badia Farms in Dubai, an indoor vertical farm using innovative hydroponic technology to grow fruits and vegetables all year round, on August 4, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

With the right investment and training, tomorrow’s farmers could be making regular use of artificial intelligence, remote sensing, geographic information software, virtual reality, drone technology, application programming interface (API) technology, and a host of precision tools for measuring rainfall, controlling pests and analyzing soil nutrients.

However, despite the march of progress, food production has not been as “green” as it could have been. Fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals have polluted soils and waterways, and harmed the earth’s biodiversity. Although they kill off pests, these toxic agents have also proven harmful to other species and even humans.

“We’ve seen a series of issues coming out of what, at the time, was considered a great technological success, and now we need to address these issues,” Faures said.

“We’ve lost so much in biodiversity — from crops to animals — mostly due to agriculture. It’s the number one sector affecting the environment, so now is really the time to find another way to address food production, because the environmental impact has been too much in all possible ways.”

Chief among the issues that will be addressed at the UN Food Systems Summit is humanity’s equitable access to safe and nutritious food. With crisis and conflict blighting many corners of the NENA region, food insecurity has become widespread. “It is unacceptable,” Faures said. “We need to continue fighting hunger in all possible ways.”

Yemeni 10-year-old girl Ahmadia Abdo, who weighs ten kilograms due to acute malnutrition, squats as her mother washes clothes at a camp for the internally displaced in the northern Hajjah Governorate. (AFP/File Photo)

Conflict has been the primary driver behind a rise in hunger across the NENA region since 2015-17, according to a report published in June by a coalition of aid agencies, including the FAO.

The report, titled “Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa 2020: Enhancing Resilience of Food Systems in the Arab States,” estimated that around 51.4 million people, or about 12.2 percent of the population, in the region were already going hungry before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further exacerbated disruptions to supply chains and livelihoods.

Around 137 million people in the region were deemed to be either moderately or severely food insecure, lacking regular access to sufficient and nutritious food — a trend that is expected to worsen unless measures are taken to improve systemic resilience.


*12.2% - NENA population that was hungry before the pandemic.

*137m - NENA population moderately or severely food insecure.

*75m - NENA people who may be affected by hunger by 2030. 

*50% - Arab region’s population unable to afford a healthy diet.

* 720-811m - People who faced hunger worldwide in 2020.

(Source: FAO) 

As a result of this trend, the region will almost certainly fail to meet its SDG commitment to eliminate hunger by the end of the decade. In fact, based on its current trajectory, the number of people affected by food shortages is expected to rise above 75 million by 2030.

What is especially troubling about its findings is the impact that hunger and food insecurity is having on public health and child development. According to the report’s 2019 estimates, 22.5 percent of children in the region under the age of 5 were stunted, 9.2 percent wasted and 9.9 percent overweight.

Also owing to poor nutrition, 27 percent of the region’s adult population are classified as obese, making the Arab region the second-worst offender for obesity in the world. The same dietary shortcomings have left 35 percent of women of reproductive age anemic.

Although conflict was found to be the leading cause of food insecurity, the report also highlighted the weaknesses of regional food systems, hampered by the effects of climate change, bad policymaking, and economic disruption even before the global pandemic.

A farmer havests leafy vegetables in a field on the mountain range of Jabel Jais, in the UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah. (AFP/File Photo)

“In our region, the pandemic has severely disrupted the food chain for animals. Farmers who rear livestock need to buy food for their animals,” Faures said.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, everything stopped, and they didn’t have food for animals. This is just one example, but it was the same for many other inputs and the system wasn’t ready to sustain a shock like that.”

Other pressures on food supply chains are water scarcity, inequality, population growth, mass migration and a strong dependence on imports. Indeed, the NENA region imports about 63 percent of its food — the highest import dependency of the world’s five regions.

Another driver of NENA food insecurity is the high cost of healthy eating, with nutritious diets that include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, meat and dairy estimated to cost about five times more than one that meets basic energy needs through starchy staples such as rice and bread.

Palestinian volunteer cook Amal Abu Amra, 41, distributes food prepared with ingredients obtained from donors, to help needy families in an impoverished neighbourhood in Gaza City. (AFP/File Photo)

Healthy diets are unaffordable for more than 50 percent of the Arab region’s population — higher than the global average of 38 percent.

“Consumers are disconnected from food production,” Faures said. “But their choices and the way they treat food has an impact on their health and the whole food chain, especially when there are consumption patterns that are much less sustainable than others and people need to be aware of this.”

Several factors are out of the public’s control. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the NENA region was blighted by desert locusts, which ravaged cropland. Faures said that the international community and regional powers should work together to establish systems to combat these plagues, ensuring such shocks do not translate into famines.

“We need to provide some kind of social protection for people hit hard by these,” he said.

Egyptian cattle traders gather at the Ashmun market in Egypt's Menufia Governorate, as they try to sell livestock to customers ahead of the annual Muslim Eid Al-Adha holiday. (AFP/File Photo)

Although technology and innovation are fundamental elements in helping alleviate the burden, the world cannot rely on these alone. According to Faures, efforts must be directed toward promoting healthier foods, more sustainable production and consumption, resilience to shocks and a better life for food producers.

“There will be innovation that will contribute to one or the other and maybe even trade-offs between these dimensions of sustainability,” he said. “But there will also be the need to make choices.”

Faures wants to see good governance and private-sector incentives, in addition to an increase in the role of civil society, as facilitators of change in the way food is produced.

“There is a big role for the private sector to play because it is an essential element in today’s food system,” he said. “We are all in this game together.”


Twitter: @CalineMalek


World Food Day

World Food Day is celebrated every year on Oct. 16 to commemorate the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945 and to highlight the ongoing mission to eliminate world hunger. This year, the emphasis is on celebrating “food heroes” who have contributed to building a sustainable world where no one has to go hungry.

Seven injured, two seriously, in attack on Jerusalem bus: police, medics

Israeli police forces stand guard the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Jerusalem's Old City. (AFP file photo)
Israeli police forces stand guard the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Jerusalem's Old City. (AFP file photo)
Updated 16 sec ago

Seven injured, two seriously, in attack on Jerusalem bus: police, medics

Israeli police forces stand guard the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Jerusalem's Old City. (AFP file photo)

JERUSALEM: Seven injured, two seriously, in attack on Jerusalem bus: police, medics

- Developing..



Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce

Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce
Updated 13 August 2022

Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce

Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce
  • US envoy Tim Lenderking says international community has made ‘significant progress’ toward ending the war

JEDDAH: Yemen’s army claimed on Saturday that four of its soldiers were killed and 25 more wounded in Houthi attacks, accusing the Iran-backed militia of breaching a United Nations-brokered truce hundreds of times in the past week.

The international community is pressing the Houthis to open roads in Taiz and turn the truce into a lasting peace settlement to end the war.

The army’s media center said in a statement that the Houthis committed 351 violations last week alone by shelling and mounting ground attacks on government troops, launching explosive-rigged drones, gunning down army troops, mobilizing new forces and creating new military posts in Taiz, Hajjah, Marib, Hodeidah, Dhale and Abyan.

Displaced Yemenis receive aids of tents, mattresses and bedding, after their camp was exposed to heavy rain that damaged their tents in the Khokha district of the country’s western province of Hodeida. (AFP)

Under the truce that came into effect on April 2 and has been renewed twice since, both sides agreed to stop fighting, to facilitate the departure of commercial flights from Sanaa, to ease restrictions on the movement of fuel ships through Hodeidah port, and to open roads in Taiz and other provinces.

Yemen’s government and military officials have warned that the continuation of deadly strikes by the Houthis and the failure to lift their seven-year siege on Taiz would jeopardize the truce and efforts to end the war.

Residents of Taiz said on Saturday that the Houthis had fired a number of artillery rounds at A-Shemasi neighborhood in the east of Taiz, causing large explosions. It is not known whether there were any casualties.

People in Taiz have repeatedly complained that the Houthis have not honored the truce and continue to strike densely populated districts.  

Despite local and international pressure, the Houthis have rejected the UN’s proposal to open a main road and four small roads around Taiz, insisting on opening just one narrow, unpaved road.

In New York, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said on Friday that talks over opening roads in Taiz and other governorates were “still ongoing.”

“What we have seen since this ceasefire has been agreed to is a good amount of flights going in and out of Sana’a Airport,” he added during his daily press briefing.

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said that the international community has made “significant progress” toward ending the war in Yemen and that his priority is to get roads in Taiz open, add flights to more destinations from Sanaa airport, and to accelerate salary payments to public servants in Houthi-controlled areas.

Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US

Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US
Updated 14 August 2022

Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US

Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US
  • Lebanese-American Hadi Matar signals ties with Tehran-backed Hezbollah

CHICAGO / NEW YORK / WASHINGTON, DC: Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old New Jersey suspect charged with attempted murder over a vicious knife attack on author Salman Rushdie on Friday, is believed to have been motivated by pro-Iranian regime sympathies and the death fatwa placed on the novelist in 1989 by the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

Rushdie was speaking at a literary festival in upstate New York when Matar rushed onto the stage and stabbed the prize-winning author multiple times, including in the face, arm and abdomen, police allege.

The suspect had a pass to attend the literary conference hosted by the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York, according to police.

Hospital officials said that Rushdie, 75, is likely to lose an eye as a result of the attack.

The celebrated author suffered nerve damage to one arm, a serious injury to his liver and is on a ventilator.

Although police officials investigating the attack have not speculated on Matar’s motives, or possible official or unofficial ties to extremist pro-Iranian groups, many experts linked the incident to Iran’s longstanding, extremist terrorist agenda.

Matar’s Facebook cover page, which was widely shared on social media, shows the suspect is a follower of the Tehran regime’s hard-line agenda.

The page includes images of Khomeini, the regime’s founder, and current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, leaving no doubt about Matar’s indoctrination and sympathies with the Iranian regime.

“The attack on Salman Rushdie by a reportedly pro-Khomenei individual would seem to qualify as an act of terrorism. The documented threats to Americans by Iran are certainly terrorism,” Norman Roule, an adviser to the United Against Nuclear Iran coalition, based in Washington, posted on Twitter.

“How would we have responded if these were AQ-related attacks? Why the difference?”



Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Washington-based Arab Center, a think tank focusing on US foreign policy in the Middle East, told Arab News that pockets of pro-Iranian activists exist in the US, but usually stay under the radar.

Jahshan said that he believed Matar might be a “lone wolf” motivated by the Iranian regime’s longstanding fatwa, and rhetoric against Rushdie and other Western officials, but is surprised the attack was carried out now.

“One would think, after so many years, this fatwa issued by Iran and supported by many in the region, including in Lebanon, has somewhat dissipated, diminished, if you will, in intensity and in emotional attachment to it,” Jahshan told Arab News.

The fatwa against Rushdie was tempered in 1998 after Khomeini’s death, with the Iranian leader’s successors saying they no longer supported calls for Rushdie’s killing. But the fatwa was never officially revoked.

Jahshan said that the fatwa still holds relevance for some who continue to support Iran.

“I'm certainly not surprised that there are people who still take these things seriously. Support (for) terror attacks against civilians for political reasons have diminished in many parts of the world, but they continue to exist at least on the individual level,” he said.

“So the fact that it’s an individual who doesn’t seem to be tied to any particular organization or set-up, whether in this country or outside, is not surprising. That’s the fad right now. That’s a common trend. But, again, one has to wait for the investigation to proceed and see what connections they might come up with after the investigation.”

Immediately after the attack, pro-Iranian and pro-Hezbollah social media feeds lit up with praise for the alleged assailant, but many were later removed.

The IranArabic Twitter account with more than 90,000 followers called Matar a “Lebanese hero who stabbed Satan Salman Rushdie, author of 'The Satanic Verses,' in which he insulted the Prophet of guidance and mercy, the Messenger of God, Muhammad.”

Some activists in Detroit, where Lebanese Shiites and support for Hezbollah are strong, said they are not surprised by the attack, adding that pro-Iranian activism there is often high profile, but also that they feared speaking out publicly because of fears for their safety.

“People are afraid to speak out here in Detroit against Iran or Hezbollah,” one Detroit activist said, asking not to be identified.

The FBI issued an alert in 2020 warning of possible terrorism from pro-Iranian sympathizers and agents in the US after the drone assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force and responsible for a series of violent terrorist attacks against anti-Iran regime dissidents.

The attack on Rushdie comes after the US Justice Department revealed a plot to assassinate former US National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Shahram Poursafi, identified by US officials as a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, is currently wanted by the FBI on charges related to the murder-for-hire plot.

Matar was born in the US, but may not have escaped the extremist indoctrination that many young people, and even children, are forced to go through in pro-Iranian Hezbollah strongholds. Exporting the extremist ideology of the Iranian "revolution" is a key goal of its proxies in the Middle East.

But they seem to have also established a presence in the American heartland as well.

Analysts discovered this summer that a pro-Iran mosque in Houston was forcing young children to take part in chants called “Salam Farmande,” or “Hello Commander” in Farsi. The ceremony, which has been posted on social media, closely mirrors Iranian and Hezbollah indoctrination intended to instill total loyalty to Khamenei.

In a recent report published by the Middle East Forum, a think tank that monitors extremism, Adrian Calamel, an analyst specializing in the Middle East and terrorism, said that the song is part of the recruitment drive for the Iranian regime.

“It’s enlisting the children to be the next generation of martyrs,” he said. “The song itself says, ‘we are ready to die for the commander.’”

Calamel warns that Shiite mosques similar to the one in Houston are centers of Iranian influence in the US.

“Al-Qaeda can’t set up these centers, Daesh can’t set up these centers, but Iran can,” he said.

It is unclear how Matar was radicalized, but clearly there is a broader trend of political and religious indoctrination that is being pushed by sympathizers of Iran’s brand of religious extremism that justify and encourage attacks like the one against Rushdie.

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle
Updated 13 August 2022

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle
  • The Cabinet shake-up was approved by parliament in an emergency session and affected 13 portfolios, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation ministries
  • President El-Sisi said the shake-up came in consultation with Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly

CAIRO : An emergency session of parliament on Saturday approved several cabinet changes in Egypt’s first major reshuffle since 2019, with 13 ministers moved, the National Media Authority reported.
A statement said the House of Representatives had approved “all the nominations set forth in a letter from President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi regarding a ministerial reshuffle.”
El-Sisi’s official Facebook page said the president had urged parliament to discuss the changes in the more than 30-strong cabinet, which were agreed following consultations with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli.
The president said in a Facebook post that the changes aimed at “developing the governmental performance in some important files ... which contribute to protecting the state’s interests and capabilities.”
There has been only one reshuffle since Madbouli took office in 2018, in December 2019.
Following parliamentary approval, the new ministers are now expected to be sworn in.
The reshuffle does not include the key defense, interior, finance or foreign ministries.
But it does appoint new ministers of health, tourism and antiquities, commerce and industry, irrigation, civil aviation, immigration, education, higher education, military production, manpower, public business sector, culture and local development.
Banker Ahmed Issa took over the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, replacing Khaled Al-Anani who led Egypt’s efforts in recent years to revive the tourism industry, a pillar of the economy. Such efforts included displaying ancient discoveries, opening new museums to attract international tourists.
Hani Sweilam, professor of water resources management at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University, was named as Irrigation Minister. He replaced Mohammed Abdel-Aty who oversaw years of technical negations with Ethiopia over its controversial dam on the Nile River’s main tributary.
The decision to replace outgoing irrigation minister Aty comes just a day after Addis Ababa announced it had finished its third filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The Ethiopian water project damming the Nile is proceeding without agreement from downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.
The new irrigation minister is Hani Sewilam, a professor of sustainable development and water resources management at the American University in Cairo.
He assumes the post amid increasing fears over water security and an impending water crisis.
Other notable swaps include tourism and antiquities. Khaled Anani is credited with several high-profile attempts to revive Egypt’s vital tourism industry, and he is succeeded by Ahmed Issa Abu Hussein.
The health portfolio has been filled by Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, the acting minister since October.
Abdel Ghaffar’s former post of higher education minister will be filled by his deputy, Ayman Ashour.
Another notable appointment is Egyptian Air Force chief Mohamed Abbas Helmy, who takes on the civil aviation portfolio.
The government has held talks in recent months with the International Monetary Fund for a new loan to support its reform program and to help address challenges caused by the war in Europe. The government has received pledges from wealthy Arab Gulf nations for billions of dollars in investments, some of which are for private industry.
(With AFP and AP)

15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials

15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials
Updated 13 August 2022

15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials

15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials
  • The agency said nine other migrants survived while two remain missing in the desert

CAIRO: Libyan authorities said Saturday they found at least 15 migrants dead in the desert on the borders with Sudan, the latest tragedy involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe via perilous journeys through the conflict-wrecked nation.
The Department for Combating Irregular Migration in the southeastern city of Kufra said the migrants were on their way from Sudan to Libya when their vehicle broke down due to lack of fuel.
The agency said nine other migrants survived while two remain missing in the desert. There were women and children among the migrants, but the agency did not elaborate on how many. It also did not reveal causes of the migrants’ death, but said they did not have enough food and water.
It said the migrants were all Sudanese — from a country in turmoil for years. The migrants likely attempted to reach western Libya in efforts to board trafficking boats to Europe.
The agency posted images on Facebook showing bodies purportedly of the dead migrants who were later burned in the desert.
The tragedy was the latest in Libya’s sprawling desert. In June, authorities in Kufra said they found the bodies of 20 migrants who they said died of thirst in the desert after their vehicle broke down close to the border with Chad.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and set off on risky sea voyages.