Monday 4 July 2011

FOOD SECURITY IN THE ARAB WORLD: Eventually “OPECS” for Meat & Grain

Talib Murad Comments  Published by Landgrab with regard to the aticle bellow which apeared in Jordan Times on 2.2.2011
Self-sufficiency should no longer be regarded as an achievable goal. On January 27th I addressed the Second Conference for Agriculture in Kurdistan, held in Erbil, on behalf of His Excellency, the Prime Minister under whose auspices the conference was held. The conference was attended by the Ministers of Agriculture for both Iraq and Kurdistan together with some three hundred specialists in agriculture and related disciplines. The subject of the conference was,”Towards achieving self-sufficiency in agricultural products in Kurdistan.” I had to tell those present that this is impossible to achieve, the concept of attaining self-sufficiency has its roots in the socialist ideals from the days of the Cold War.

Now this article refers to achieving food security, a wish that cannot be fulfilled in the Arab World. The $50 billion bill quoted by the Jordanian Minister for Trade and Industry as the cost of food imports to the Arab countries is, in my humble opinion, too low. During one of the sessions at the conference in Erbil, when the Ministers for Agriculture, their deputies and economists were present a provisional estimate of $30 billion was quoted for Iraq alone, so I wonder what are the true costs in the other Arab countries?

In addition the article contains the statement ‘there is a massive area of agricultural land and water resources in some countries that suffer financial restraints.’ I do not think that this is correct when the current demand for water is straining the resources of the rivers Nile, Tigris and Euphrates and land usage has been changed over time. Last October the UN advised all the Third World countries, including the Arab speaking states, to increase the allocation to agriculture from their annual budget from 5% to 10 %. At that time not one of the Arab countries were allocating even 5% to agriculture let alone increase to 10%. It is essential that the Arab countries recognise three points, namely:

1. There is no scope for horizontal development in agriculture because of limited availability of both land and water.

2. The majority of their decision makers never think that food security is important to national security.(This has been demonstrated lately in many Arabic countries, food prices ignites most of the recent problems of the region)

3. There is a lot of foreign currency available to them now allows them to import food but they must appreciate that the time will come when they may have available currency but there will be no food available for them to buy. Over the years I have been warning that, throughout the world, food costs will increase drastically while the availability of food on the food market will decrease. Each year there is a reduction in the numbers of countries exporting meat and grain and a reduction in the available amounts of food on the world’s market. The grain and meat exporting countries will consider their position and I have no doubt that within our lifetime we will see the formation of organisations, similar to OPEC, for grain and meat exporter countries. In addition the Arab countries may see the flow of ‘petro-dollars’ reverse as the dollars go to the food exporting nations and their agreements to use land elsewhere, land grabbing, may be overturned by the host countries.

Posted on 03 Feb 2011

Published by Jordan Times. 2nd,Feb.2011

DEAD SEA –– Arab officials and experts on Tuesday voiced concern over rising food prices in global markets and stressed the need to achieve food security and reduce Arab countries’ reliance on importing basic commodities.

Outgoing Minister of Industry and Trade Amer Hadidi remarked that annual food imports of the Arab world are around $50 billion, calling for Arab countries should adopt economic and agricultural policies to develop the agricultural sector in the region.

Hadidi, who resigned yesterday along with the rest of the government, stressed that Arab countries should work to attract investments in food industries, indicating that investments in the food manufacturing sector in Jordan, which employs around 35,000 people, reached over $2 billion, while local food exports were around $1 billion in 2010.

Hadidi made the remarks at the first Arab Food Industries and Franchising Forum, which was held at the Dead Sea yesterday and was attended by Kuwaiti Minister for Commerce and Industry Ahmed Rashed Al Haroun and Saudi Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Ben Ahmad Zainal along with other officials and private sector representatives from several countries.

During a panel discussion, Khalil Abu Afifa, director of the Arab Councils and Organisations Affairs at the Arab League, highlighted that indicators show that the supply of basic food items in the Arab world is expected to fall short of the expected increasing demand, which will worsen the situation in Arab countries.“Although the Arab world enjoys natural and human resources, countries did not invest in the agricultural sector which caused a gap in food supply and demand,” he said. Afifa blamed lack of funding to the agricultural sector for the low food production in the region, saying commercial banks adopt cautious lending policies to finance agricultural projects due to risk factors.

Haroun, the Kuwaiti official, said as rising food prices have become a global issue, Arab states should focus on achieving food security and self-reliance.

Stating that natural disasters in major food supplying countries such as Russia and Australia have affected countries around the world and prices of cereals and sugar are expected to go up even further, the official said. Arab countries, which import 90 per cent of their food needs, should find ways for reaching food security.

Haitham Jaffan, president of the Arab Federation of Food Industries, noted that the Arab market has become the favourite destination of global food manufacturers, saying many recommendations related to increasing food production have been referred to governments in Arab states but nothing has been achieved.

Elias Assouad, CEO of Tecmo Group, a food company, called for establishing an organisation or a ministry in all Arab countries to be in charge of securing food for all the people of the region, stressing the decisions of such an entity should be obligatory to all states.“It is about time to take tangible and important decisions and not to only discuss and talk,” he said.

There are massive areas of agricultural lands and huge water resources in some countries that suffer financial constraints, while there are some rich Arab states that have the money but not the land or the water, he said, adding that there are also other countries that have the skilled labour.“If we all work together we can produce food products with a cost of less than 10 per cent than that of the items we import,” he emphasised.

At the two-day forum experts and officials will discuss issues related to the future of food industry and franchise opportunities, investment, economic challenges facing the Arab world, and the role of scientific research among others

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