Arab food security: vulnerabilities and pathways - United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
14 December 2022

Beirut time

Expert Group Meeting

Arab food security: vulnerabilities and pathways

  • Online

ESCWA is organizing a virtual meeting, gathering experts from the Arab region to discuss “Arab Food Security: Vulnerabilities and Pathways.”

Food security and food supply remain a challenge in the Arab region, especially as it continues to face crises. The meeting discusses the current food security situation in the Arab region, the existing gaps in the food systems and the pathways towards achieving food security and related goals such as Sustainable Development Goals 2, 13 and 15.

In the meeting, experts are highlighting critical issues and indicators related to food production and food security in their own countries, including an overview on programmes being implemented to support food security. Discussions are being held in the context of recent national, regional and global food market disruptions caused by many factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the war in Ukraine.  

Outcome document

  • Understanding the vulnerabilities facing the Arab region and working on finding pathways to overcome them is a necessity for Arab countries to ensure food security for their populations.
  • Food security is threatened by the lack of natural resources, low productivity, and high food import dependency. As a result, Arab countries are highly vulnerable to the vagaries prevailing on global food markets.
  • The twin crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukrainian war have highlighted the fragility of the Arab food security as the disruptions brought on by these crises led to severe food shortages, disrupted food supply chains and unsustainable price hike.
  • Countries are moving to ensure that their food systems are more resilient through various actions that include increasing local food production and considering alternative trade options.
  • Countries need to enhance the use of fertilizers, pesticides, improved seeds and other inputs to enhance agriculture productivity.
  • Since Arab countries are unlikely to become completely self-sufficient, they should also embrace several strategies aimed at reducing overall vulnerability and improving overall resilience. These would include enhancing food stocks and measures to improve food sovereignty in the medium and long term both at the regional and national levels.
  • Governments need to take action to enhance cereal trade, diversify sources of imports, and remove customs on imports and practices impeding food trade.
  • There is a need also to revamp trade strategies including diversifying trading partners, using all available trading strategies (e.g., derivative markets), revisiting national policies to facilitate trade and providing adequate incentives to enhance trade in line with food security objectives.
  • Enhance regional cooperation for trade negotiation, intra-regional food trading and taking measures to reduce conflicts.

Presentation 1: It reviewed the major vulnerabilities facing the Arab region as outlined in the 2020 publication entitled “Arab Food Security: Vulnerabilities and Pathways” building on the Arab Food Security Monitoring Framework. Food insecurity is a high concern as seen through the 3 core indicators of the framework with many of the 21 explanatory indicators showing poor performance as well. It also noted that the region’s natural resource scarcity is increasing with the impact of climate change on the rise. The pandemic had a negative effect on the food availability due to the measures taken by countries to overcome its impact.

Presentation 2: It overviewed a few key takeaways as related to the complexity of ensuring food security and the role of well-functioning food systems. It then outlined a few broad recommendations related to building resilience, strengthening the food security base, and addressing overarching issues such as macroeconomic difficulties, conflicts, and the need for greater regional integration. It noted that substantial subsidies are being spent in the region which constrains public budgets while they could be harnessed to finance food security and the SDGs for greater impact. Two questions for further discussion were suggested, which related to the likely evolution of the food security status over the next couple of years and the kind of policies that are needed to address food security in the short-, medium- and long-run.

Presentation 3: It provided an overview of the Arab Program for Sustainable Food Security, which has 8 components distributed over 3 levels: boosting food production, investments and enhancing nature to improve food security. It also outlines specific goals and targets that cover many aspects encouraging national investments to diversify food consumption. The program is expected to be implemented through 2 consecutive phases from 2021-2025 and from 2026 to 2030.

Briefings were provided on the prevailing food security situation in Morocco, Algeria, and Lebanon. Each highlighted critical indicators showing the level of food production and food security in the concerned countries as well a succinct overview of supporting programmes being implemented and how they support the achievement of food security. These were put in the context of recent food market disruptions caused by many factors including the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Ukrainian war.

  • The discussions highlighted the need to invest more in the agriculture sector to increase productivity to achieve sustainable agricultural development to enhance resilience for food security. Food systems have to become more responsive to arising crises including national, regional global conflicts and disruptions.
  • Countries should work to protect and improve agricultural lands and to develop adequate irrigation capacity. Several million hectares of arable lands exist in the Arab region though less than 50% of this land is used for agriculture production and usually with low productivity.
  • Poverty rates are increasing in most countries because of the impact of high food prices and inflation while job opportunities and income growth remain stagnant or even decreasing.
  • Food sovereignty is essential and needs to be considered. It would help reduce the vulnerability on food security due to changes on the world food market. The global finance market could be tapped upon to finance food security and create a pathway for sustainable food systems and healthy diets. There would be a need to look into how to harmonize the use of subsidies to better support people in need and farmers.
  • Nowadays, people are tempted to buy cheaper products while overlooking the fact that they may lack nutritious elements which could increase the level of obesity and undernourishment.
  • The cases of Palestine and Yemen were also highlighted because of their current conflicts which has a direct impact on their food security stability and status and the increase in food commodities prices.

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