The Director of the Arab League’s Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD), Dr. Ibrahim El-Dukheri, warned that food security in the Arab world was shrouded in ambiguity, adding the region would not be safe from the repercussions of the ongoing war in Europe.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, El-Dukheri noted that supply chains would weaken, or sometimes interrupt, especially if the Russian-Ukrainian war continues.
He stressed that the Nouakchott Declaration, which was recently adopted during the 37th General Assembly meetings in the Mauritanian capital, had highlighted the issue of food insecurity, which would worsen with the war in Europe, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.
“Urgent measures must be taken to guarantee food security in the Arab region and maintain supply chains,” El-Dukheri underlined, adding: “In this context, we presented what was known as the Permanent Program for Arab Food Security, which is an integrated study that was conducted during the past two years in coordination with the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States and Arab foreign ministers.”
He pointed to the sustainable food security initiative, which was launched at the same time as the Nouakchott Declaration and detailed the arrangements required to achieve public food security.
The most important points agreed upon, according to El-Dukheri, include the launch of the Sustainable Arab Agricultural Development Strategy 2030, and the Arab Program for Sustaining Food Security, which aims to increase productivity and agricultural production levels of basic food commodities by a minimum of 30% during the next ten years.
This goal can be achieved through the use of technological packages and the correct standards for inputs, especially drought and salt tolerant seeds and fertilizers, in addition to the development of irrigation systems for irrigated and rain-fed crops, the expansion of the use of agricultural mechanization, and the adoption of smart agriculture.
The AOAD director said the declaration focused on seeking to find a specialized financing mechanism for agricultural development and Arab food security, to implement the projects of the Arab Program for the Sustainability of Food Security, which would be led by the AOAD in close cooperation and coordination with the relevant Arab and regional countries and organizations.
According to El-Dukheri, the Arab Program for the Sustainability of Food Security focuses on investments and trade.
He explained that the program looks at the existing agricultural infrastructure in order to increase the efficiency of the various modern irrigation systems, with the aim to expand water capacities and subsequently, promote agricultural investments in the sector of rain-fed crops.
“This gives us a wide ability to increase the volume of total production in the Arab world, while also improving agricultural integration, by looking at the mechanisms of intra-Arab trade between countries,” the Arab official remarked.
Furthermore, he stressed that the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has two major implications.
El-Dukheri pointed to great fear over the interruption of supply chains, as “we know that Russia and Ukraine are countries that produce a major commodity, such as wheat.”
Thus, supply chains will deteriorate or be interrupted at times, he warned.
El-Dukheri noted that with the continuation of the war, many European countries would think about sustaining their national needs and perhaps fail to meet export pledges that were made before the eruption of the conflict.
He stressed that food security in the Arab world was shrouded in ambiguity. He added that the region would not be safe from the repercussions of the crisis in the near term, as prices of food are likely to soar, making them inaccessible for a large number of people.
As for the alternatives, including the option to resort to imports from the United States or Canada - given that they are wheat-producing countries – El-Dukheri explained that the shipping costs would be very high and would thus increase the prices of the products.
Most affected countries
The most affected countries in the Arab region are those in which the levels of income or development are limited, he explained.
The Arab region relies mostly on imports. Consequently, Gulf states, which enjoy financial and security stability, would be less impacted than countries that suffer from economic hardship, conflicts and instability, according to El-Dukheri.
El-Dukheri said the sustainable program for Arab food security presented a clear and comprehensive vision that took into consideration the capabilities of the Arab world in terms of the existence of suitable lands, rainfall rates, water resources, weather, and viable crops, according to a comprehensive and integrated study.
He pointed to another supporting document under the title, Finance Mechanism, which explains the means to support the program through “national and regional agencies,” including the Union of Arab Banks, Arab Chambers of Commerce, and all organizations that operate under the umbrella of the General Secretariat of the Arab League.
“It is necessary to have arrangements to reduce the gap and differences between the Arab countries,” El-Dukheri urged, explaining that the program was aimed at increasing self-sufficiency to 50%, while the rest would be imported from outside the Arab region.