FAO official sounds warning against Arab region’s overreliance on imported food

Special People queue to buy subsidised bread from a municipal bus in the Marka suburb in the east of Jordan's capital Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
People queue to buy subsidised bread from a municipal bus in the Marka suburb in the east of Jordan's capital Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 15 February 2022

FAO official sounds warning against Arab region’s overreliance on imported food

People queue to buy subsidised bread from a municipal bus in the Marka suburb in the east of Jordan's capital Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Trade could play an important role in climate change adaptation and mitigation of external shocks to region’s food security 
  • Agriculture ministers at NERC 36 endorse FAO’s Strategic Framework for more efficient and sustainable food systems 

NEW YORK CITY: Food security in the Near East and North Africa could be strengthened immeasurably if regional nations weaned themselves off their heavy reliance on foreign imports, Abdulhakim Elwaer, assistant director-general and regional representative for the Near East and North Africa at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, told Arab News.

Countries in the NENA region rely extensively on imported food items to feed their domestic populations. In fact, FAO predicts that the region will meet 63 percent of its caloric demand through imports by 2030, leaving it even more exposed to supply-chain disruptions and price fluctuations.

“This situation renders the region vulnerable to supply-side shocks caused by economic or natural factors, such as COVID-19 and inherent regional and country-level stressors such as protracted conflicts, political instability and climate change,” said Elwaer, speaking ahead of the 36th session of FAO’s Regional Conference for the Near East, NERC 36, which was held in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Feb. 7-8.

“The region is particularly weak when it comes to intra-regional trade. For example in 2019, only 15.4 percent of the Arab region’s food imports were from within the region,” said Elwaer, attributing this to “the lack of harmonization of regulatory systems, weak logistics infrastructure and trade facilitation mechanisms.”

“It is therefore imperative to recognize, internalize in national policies, and optimize the role of trade in food security in the NENA region. By bridging demand and supply, trade could play an important role in climate change adaptation and mitigating external shocks.”

The region’s excessive reliance on food imports has become entrenched through decades of crisis, instability and neglect of agriculture.

For example, Iraq imports almost 50 percent of its food needs. In the event of global food supply chain shocks or the collapse of the state budget owing to war or a drop in oil prices, the food system becomes vulnerable.

The imbalance is even more pronounced in the UAE, whose exposure to global food price fluctuations is borne out by the quantity of imported food as a percentage of the overall mix in 2019: 80-90.

From conflict and socio-economic upheaval to environmental degradation, the list of challenges facing food-producing communities throughout the NENA region seems to grow with every passing year.

With just 5 percent of the region’s land deemed arable, and freshwater supplies depleting rapidly, the result has been a steady flow of internal migration from the villages to the cities, further undermining domestic food production in favor of imports.




The NENA region’s excessive reliance on food imports has become entrenched through decades of crisis, instability and neglect of agriculture. (AFP/File Photo)

One knock-on effect has been a deteriorating standard of nutrition, with cheap, high-energy carbohydrates taking the place of more costly fresh fruits and vegetables on the dinner tables of deprived households, creating health problems associated with vitamin deficiencies.

Matters have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upset supply chains and destroyed livelihoods, raising the number of undernourished people in the region by a further 15 percent to 69 million in 2020.

“The recent trends in hunger and food insecurity suggest that it will be enormously difficult for the region to achieve, by 2030, UN Sustainable Development Goal number two: Zero hunger,” Elwaer said.

Indeed, the region was well behind on matters of food security long before the pandemic struck.

INNUMBERS

* 15.4 percent - Proportion of the Arab region’s food imports that originated from within the region in 2019.

* 63 percent - Estimated proportion of NENA region’s caloric demand met through food imports by 2030.

“The region had already been off-track in eliminating hunger and food insecurity because of pre-existing vulnerabilities and exposure to multiple shocks and stresses, such as climate change, water scarcity, conflicts and protracted crises, agriculture productivity and yield challenges, social inequalities and poverty, and, at present, rising food price,” Elwaer said.

NERC 36, held in a hybrid format under the theme “Recover and Restart: Innovations for better, greener and more resilient agri-food systems to achieve the sustainable development goals,” examined how the region might transform its agri-food systems to guarantee the public’s access to an affordable and nutritious diet.

Elwaer said this could be achieved through FAO’s Strategic Framework, the so-called Four Betters: “Better production, better nutrition, better environment and better life, leaving no one behind.”

The framework was endorsed by the region’s agricultural ministers at the conclusion of NERC 36, along with FAO’s priorities for the region, which focus on “generating employment opportunities for rural youth, promoting food security and healthy diets for all through trade, food safety, doing more to reduce food loss and waste, greening agricultural practices to ensure environmental sustainability.”

Regardless of what policies governments enact, however, Elwaer said that climate change remains the single greatest threat to regional agriculture and food systems — particularly as it exacerbates existing water shortages.




Abdulhakim Elwaer, assistant director-general and regional representative for the Near East and North Africa at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. (Supplied)

“Already having the lowest per-capita freshwater availability, global warming and desertification of arable lands are only going to exacerbate this threat,” he said.

“Increasing population and food demands, both the quantity and quality, coupled with rapid urbanization in our region, is yet another threat to our agri-food systems, as we may not be able to meet such demands from existing resources.”

Climate change has contributed to soil degradation by changing weather patterns, negatively impacting crop cycles, reducing yields and productivity.

“Climate change threatens our ability to ensure regional food security, eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development,” Elwaer said.

Various initiatives have been advanced by FAO on climate change mitigation and adaptation, while the agency’s regional network of trade experts has worked with governments to help shock-proof their supply chains.

“This, however, needs to be complemented by development-related efforts at all levels,” Elwaer said.

FAO officials believe inclusivity is the first pillar of any agri-food system transformation, particularly the empowerment of women. “Women are at the core of everything we advocate and work for,” Elwaer said.




Climate change remains the single greatest threat to regional agriculture and food systems — particularly as it exacerbates existing water shortages. (AFP/File Photo)

“At FAO, we have a specific gender empowerment track that runs across all of the programs and projects. We have inbuilt gender markers to ensure that our interventions are supporting gender inclusion.

“In our region, we need to enhance the role of women in agri-food systems not only from a production perspective but also from a nutrition angle. In order to ensure healthy diets for all, we feel that a woman as head of the household is the most important stakeholder to ensure that the family opts toward healthy diets.”

Elwaer said that regional governments have been receptive to FAO’s recommendations, which could go some way toward fostering more regional trade, shock-proofing supply chains and reducing malnutrition.

“I believe that there is a genuine interest and focus by the governments in our region. We have seen that the governments have shown keen interest in ensuring food supplies and have been subsidizing the food sector heavily, though the merit of such subsidies is a different subject,” Elwaer said.

“For sure, the respective government knows best what it should do. I am here to support them in their goals and aspirations and provide technical assistance when and where needed.

“What we have been advocating, including through this regional conference, is to adopt the agri-food systems approach so that we cover all aspects with defined and agreed goals and targets.

“The holistic approach for agri-food systems risk management means adopting policies and pathways which map the risks and externalities facing the agri-food systems, particularly the inclusiveness, efficiency, resilience and sustainability of these systems, and then outline the mitigation and adaptation mechanisms in order to keep the transformation of agri-food systems on track and ensure continuity thereafter.”

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Twitter: @EphremKossaify


US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands

US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands
Updated 27 min ago

US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands

US: Only way to return to nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon extraneous demands
  • The US will provide its views on the EU's final draft to save the nuclear deal privately, Price said

LONDON: The only way to achieve a mutual return to the Iran nuclear deal is for Tehran to abandon its “extraneous demands,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.

He added that “if Iran cannot accept a mutual return to the JCPOA, the US is equally prepared to continue vigorous enforcement of our sanctions.”

Price also said the US will provide its views on the European Union’s final draft to save the nuclear deal privately and directly to the bloc’s High Representative Josep Borrell.

Iran’s foreign minister said Monday that Tehran expects a revived agreement on its nuclear program in the next few days.

Hossein Amirabdollahian said three outstanding issues were holding up a new deal but he expected the US to show flexibility in resolving them.


EU joins protests over Israeli decision to demolish Palestinian Bedouin school

EU joins protests over Israeli decision to demolish Palestinian Bedouin school
Updated 57 min 16 sec ago

EU joins protests over Israeli decision to demolish Palestinian Bedouin school

EU joins protests over Israeli decision to demolish Palestinian Bedouin school
  • Palestinian politician Mustafa Al-Barghouthi told Arab News that Israel does not take the EU seriously

RAMALLAH: Palestinians have expressed anger over an Israeli court decision to demolish a school serving a Palestinian Bedouin community east of Ramallah in the West Bank that was built with EU financial support early this year.

The school was built in mid-January, and served 17 students and children of the Bedouin community from the first to the sixth grade.

More students were expected to attend the school in the coming year. The only other school available to the Bedouin community is 11 km away.

The Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission, in cooperation with a Palestinian legal body, succeeded in obtaining a decision from the Israeli court in Jerusalem not to demolish the school for 10 days after the civil administration staff of the Israeli authorities stormed the area and announced its intention to carry out the demolition.

On Aug. 12, representatives, ambassadors and consuls of the EU visited the school to show solidarity with the students and protest against the court’s decision.

Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, the EU’s representative in Palestine, said: “This is not the first visit in which we meet to protest against the decisions of the occupation. Israel, as the occupying power, must respect the right to education under international law and relevant international conventions, and guarantee the right of Palestinian children to reach their schools easily.”

He described the decision to demolish the school as “illogical,” adding that it is a clear violation of all international obligations and amounts to forced displacement.

Palestinian politician Mustafa Al-Barghouthi told Arab News that Israel does not take the EU seriously.

Barghouthi said that that the circumstances surrounding the school demolition reveal the EU’s double standards over Ukraine and what is happening in Palestine, adding that Israel understands only the language of force, and does not respect human rights or the rights of the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh affirmed his rejection of the Israeli court decision.

“The Israeli occupation’s decision to demolish the Ein Samiya school comes within the framework of the war on Palestinian identity, and within the framework of frantic attempts to the family education,” he said during the Cabinet session on Monday.

“The halt to the completion of the construction of the Ein Samiya school and the attempts to impose the Israeli curriculum on Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem are two sides of the same coin.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Education also condemned the Israeli court’s decision.  

A ministry spokesman, Sadiq Al-Khaddour, said that the decision aims to displace Palestinians from their lands.

Israel’s targeting of Ein Samiya school is part of an attack on Palestinian national identity and education in all areas, he said.

The ministry said that it is looking at mechanisms to stop the demolition, in cooperation with friends, partners, organizations and international bodies.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities canceled the licenses of six Palestinian private schools in Jerusalem for teaching the Palestinian curriculum instead of the Israeli version.

“We will defend our Palestinian curriculum and the right of our children to education in all regions,” Shtayyeh said.

 


Canada, Egypt discuss aspirations to boost bilateral cooperation 

Canada, Egypt discuss aspirations to boost bilateral cooperation 
Updated 15 August 2022

Canada, Egypt discuss aspirations to boost bilateral cooperation 

Canada, Egypt discuss aspirations to boost bilateral cooperation 
  • Foreign Affairs minister says Egypt hopes Canada will increase investments in the country

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry met with Canadian Minister of International Development Harjit Sajan on Sunday to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations and other topics of common interest, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry reported.

Shoukry emphasized the remarkable increase in cooperation between the two countries in recent years and discussed with Sajan the importance of developing relations across various fields, including health, rural development, women’s empowerment and capacity-building within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals framework.

The two parties also discussed ways to address developmental and economic challenges at the international and regional levels. 

Shoukry expressed Egypt’s desire to increase the volume of existing projects and, indirectly, Canadian investment in the country.

As the president-designate of the upcoming UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, or COP27, Shoukry reviewed the most recent developments concerning Egypt’s hosting of the conference in Sharm El-Sheikh this November. 

He reiterated Egypt’s vision for COP27, which focuses on moving from promises to actual implementation of initiatives, building on the momentum gained at COP26 to mobilize support for global climate action. 


Israeli armed forces kill Palestinian

Israeli armed forces kill Palestinian
Updated 6 sec ago

Israeli armed forces kill Palestinian

Israeli armed forces kill Palestinian
  • Mohammed Al-Shaham was left bleeding, and eyewitnesses said the Israelis prevented any attempt to provide him with first aid after he was shot
  • His father Ibrahim said special forces had raided the house, shot his son in the head from close range and left him bleeding on the ground for more than 40 minutes

RAMALLAH: Israeli armed forces killed a 21-year-old Palestinian in northern Jerusalem at dawn on Monday.

Mohammed Al-Shaham was left bleeding, and eyewitnesses said the Israelis prevented any attempt to provide him with first aid after he was shot.

His father Ibrahim said special forces had raided the house, shot his son in the head from close range, left him bleeding on the ground for more than 40 minutes, failed to provide an ambulance, arrested him, and later announced his death.

Another relative, Nasser Al-Shaham, said special forces had raided the Zughayer neighborhood of Kufr Aqab where the family lived, blowing up the main door upon reaching the apartment. Soldiers shot Mohammed at close range, leaving him to bleed for more than half an hour, he added.

The soldiers assaulted Mohammed's parents and siblings. They tied up the family and confined them to one room. Israeli army personnel searched the house, causing significant damage, and left with Mohammed, who was still bleeding.

They are still holding Mohammed’s body.

“We have been informed of the martyrdom of Mohammed, but we have not yet been informed of the date of receiving the body,” said Nasser.

Meanwhile, the UN called for an "immediate, comprehensive and independent investigation" into the young man's murder. The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, said in a tweet: "I am deeply disturbed by the killing of the Palestinian youth, Mohammed Al-Shaham, at the hands of the Israeli security forces in his home in Kufr Aqab, in disputed circumstances.

"This requires an immediate, thorough and independent investigation."

Senior PLO official Hussein Al-Sheikh said: “The crime of executing citizen Al-Shaham deserves an immediate and urgent international investigation.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayieh condemned the killing: “What happened is a major crime.”

Mosques mourned Mohammed's death, and clashes broke out in Kufr Aqab and Qalandia refugee camp.

Al-Shaham was a painter inside Israel and belonged to the Fatah movement. The army had previously shot him during clashes that coincided with its incursions into Qalandia and Kufr last year.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the heinous crime was an extension of the executions and field assassinations committed by the occupying forces.

“As the ministry views this crime and its nature very seriously, it will follow up on it at all levels, especially the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council, and other legal levels of the United Nations, in the context of its continuous efforts to put an end to Israel's impunity.”

Israeli police claimed that Al-Shaham came out of his house carrying a knife and tried to stab their officers, who responded by shooting and neutralizing him.

But Ibrahim rejected this account. He also said his son had never been arrested and was not wanted by the Israeli army.

The Israeli army and police have killed 139 Palestinians this year.

The army arrested 24 Palestinians during a raid on Jenin and other parts of the West Bank at dawn on Monday.


Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status

Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status
Updated 15 August 2022

Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status

Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status
  • ICESCO award recognizes historical significance of 219-room building
  • Decision marks another cultural milestone for Kuwait, official says

KUWAIT: Naif Palace in Kuwait City has been designated an Islamic Heritage Site by the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Monday.

Dr. Waleed Al-Saif, president of the heritage committee of the Islamic world at ICESCO, said the decision to recognize the palace was made during the committee’s 10th session in Rabat.

He hailed it as another cultural milestone for the country.

Kuwait’s Kazma area, Failaka Island and Al-Qurainya are already on the list.

Other Kuwaiti sites that made the ICESCO preliminary list were: Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Palace, Mubarak Al-Kabeer marine reserve and Boubyan Island.

According to Al-Saif, the committee has members from nine Islamic nations chosen by the culture ministers of 54 Muslim countries.

He said the decision to make Naif Palace an Islamic Heritage Site was made in accordance with international standards of evaluation, adding that such monuments needed to be preserved and protected for future generations.

Naif Palace, which covers an area of 28,802 square meters, was built in 1919, during the reign of Emir Sheikh Salem Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah. It has 219 rooms and also houses a mosque, a garrison dormitory and an ammunition depot.

The palace was expanded in 1950 and now serves a ceremonial role during Ramadan, with a canon drill performed and broadcast on national TV to signal the breaking of fast.