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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Observations on food insecurity in Arab countries

From Ya Libnan:
[T]he most severe case of food insecurity in the world happens to be the Arab world.

A United Nations study speaks in very unambiguous terms about the absolute need for Arab governments to take major steps in order to contain the expected effects of a major food crisis in the Arab countries. Studies by FAO; Food and Agriculture Organization;show that the Arab world imports over 50% of its caloric import every year and furthermore, this gap is expected to increase substantially at least until 2030.

The Arab countries , as a group, are the largest net importers of cereal in the world; larger than Asia. Arab countries imported around 60 million metric tons of cereals during 2008. One reason, not the only reason, for that huge dependence on cereal is the Arab diet. On the average the typical Arab gets 35% of his/her daily calories from wheat. This problem could be partially addressed through a different and more varied diet but above all the major reason for the continued growth in the gap between production and consumption is the above average growth in population. That is one reason why family planning , if encouraged by government policy would be expected to make meaningful contributions in this area. Lower population growth rate should make it easier to manage poverty, hunger and malnutrition. It is currently estimated that over 31 million Arabs are classified as hungry, that is almost 10% of the population.

It would be very difficult to foresee a scenario that would eliminate food insecurity in the Arab countries for the very simple reason that the Arab world has already overshot its carrying capacity. It is true that the Arab countries do not exploit enough of the available arable land; Arab countries use only about 12% of the estimated 550 million hectares available; but water shortage poses a huge problem. Renewable water resources form almost an unsurmountable problem. Water places a real constraint that is very difficult to overcome. But improved agricultural techniques would help contain the resulting food insecurity gap since the average yield in the Arab world is much below the world average. This is where investments in machines, water management and research could pay dividends.
31 million Arabs are going hungry - yet no one hears about anyone but Gazans.

Arabs could reduce the problem by a combination of family planning and changing diet - yet no one ever suggests that for Gazans.

One final observation. There is an even simpler move that Arab countries could take to help increase their food production enormously, and that is to make peace and normalize relations with Israel. The simple fact is that Israeli policies do not affect Arab lives one iota in any of the Gulf states and very little even in her Arab neighbors. The Palestinian Arab issue, which is made to appear to be the linchpin for all other issues, is not near the top of real Arab priorities and the Arab leaders do precious little for Palestinian Arabs. With the stroke of a pen, hundreds of Israelis with deep experience in maximizing food production on dry land would happily swarm the Arab world and help start innovative projects that could put a big dent in this significant problem.

Yet this is not even considered a possibility. No researcher or scientist would dare suggest such a solution to their national leaders.

So either the leaders aren't really that concerned over the prospects of their people running out of food in the next couple of decades, or they hate Israel so much that they would never consider the benefits that peace would bring.

Either way, it is a telling omission.