Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) on March 30, 2016, world leaders from OFID and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) member countries as well as Heads of Austria-based international organizations, met in Vienna for a seminar to discuss the pressing issues facing agricultural development in the Middle East and Africa.
The seminar was entitled “The Long-term Challenges of Food Security” aiming to find new ways to enhance food security by discussing “Challenges, Potentials, and Complementarities for Collaboration”.
The seminar’s key note speaker, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, was accompanied by three discussants, Dr Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, Parvindar Singh, Managing Director of the Common Fund for Commodities, and Ambassador Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass, Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security.
Dr. Solh gave a presentation that analyzed many of the evolving changes in food security in Arab and Sub-Saharan countries. He stressed that investments needed to focus on small farmers as well as on large scale sustainable projects. In developing countries, including Sub-Saharan Africa and many countries in the MENA Region, about 80% of food is produced by small farmers.
“Focusing on small farmers contributes to two major goals - sustainable rural development and better incomes for the resource-poor farmers, and this by guaranteeing food security in both -the recipient countries and the investing ones. Small farmers need to have access to improved technology, training, extension, and connections to markets by developing organizational representations such as farmer groups; this will increase agricultural productivity and enhance food security,” states Dr. Solh. Additionally, he said that it is crucial to insure that an enabling policy environment is in place to secure timely agricultural supplies, to provide micro-finance and micro-insurance, to support farmers and women’s groups, and to encourage public–private partnerships.
Dr. Solh continued, “Investment in large projects implementing high-tech operations is also very important to continue the flow of capital to the agricultural sector, but such investment needs to avoid negative impacts on small farmers. Land utilized for large scale investment should not be appropriated from local communities’ farming or grazing lands at the expense of farmers or livestock owners. If it is, this will breed inequality and widen the gap between investing and developing countries. Another important objective is to encourage local governments to remove obstacles and increase production to export back to the investing countries.”
Since 2008, worldwide prices for food, including meat, dairy, and cereals, have risen sharply. Oil and sugar prices have more than doubled. Causes for the increases are attributed to a slow- down in productivity growth, climate change, the greater use of food crops for bio-fuels production, and other changes. Today, the largest concentration of countries that have been labeled “large losers” by the FAO in 2008 - due to their worsening trade balance - are Arab and Sub-Saharan countries. In 2013, the MENA region was one of three world areas that had net negative cereal imports - they imported 85.6 million tons, which is a 30% increase from 2010; Sub-Saharan Africa imported 29.9 million and Asia imported 64.3 million tons.
Many Arab and Sub-Saharan African countries face economic and physical water scarcity due to multiple developments, such as natural resource degradation and desertification, land degradation, groundwater depletion, drought and heat, acidic soils in Africa, and salinity. In addition, low fertilizer use drastically affects crop productivity. The average annual fertilizers use in Africa is 15 kilograms per hectare, as compared to the world average of 124 kilograms; this is often due to African farmers paying 2-6 times the world average price for fertilizers, as import taxes and poor infrastructure increase local market prices.”
The seminar asked for the support of policy makers to enhance food security in Arab and Sub-Saharan African countries. Many changes are needed for progress with the focus being on small farmers and large scale investment. The event was largely picked up by mainstream media.