HONG KONG – Struggling countries in the Middle East who have teamed up to boost their food security have acted in a manner that will help ease the problem, experts said.
Recently, the OPEC, or Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Fund for International Development announced it was also providing Jordan with a US$100 million loan for an Emergency Food Security Project, aimed at increasing the country’s food security and mitigating the impact of rising commodity prices.
The expansion of 70 grain bunkers, it said, will increase Jordan’s storage capacity of wheat and barley by a total of 700,000 tons.
The statement also said that Jordan, a net importer of food, and the more than 10.5 million people living in the country – among them close to 1.3 million refugees from Syria – “have been severely affected by the recent supply crisis”.
Arhama Siddiqa, a Middle East expert and research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad in Pakistan said: “If the implementation of the deal is successful, it holds a vast array of opportunities, no doubt. For one, these countries have a water shortage problem, which compounds the food security issue.”
On Sept 25, the Agriculture Ministers of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria met in Jordanian capital Amman to discuss the issue and back a bid by the host to hold a regional Food Security Observatory to draw up policies and offer solutions, the Jordanian News Agency Petra reported
On Sept 25, the Agriculture Ministers of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria met in Jordanian capital Amman to discuss the issue and back a bid by the host to hold a regional Food Security Observatory to draw up policies and offer solutions, the Jordanian News Agency Petra reported.
They also agreed to facilitate trade, develop infrastructure, encourage investment and unify procedures for registering fertilizers, pesticides and veterinary medicine, among others.
Salman Zafar, founder of EcoMENA, an environmental think tank in Doha, Qatar said, “The cooperation among these countries, coupled with the collaboration with World Food Programme, will enable them to implement international best practices and adopt modern agricultural technologies for boosting agricultural output.”
On Sept 28, Qu Dongyu, director-general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said that as the Ukraine-Russia conflict stokes a crisis for countries who are struggling to access the food their populations need, the international community needs to ensure that it “does not spill over into a food availability crisis”.
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On Oct 4, Middle East media reports quoted Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as saying that more than 141 million people in the Arab world “are exposed to food insecurity”.
Rima Habib, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the American University of Beirut, said some countries are more vulnerable than others.
She added that even wealthier countries like the Gulf countries – United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait – are trying to grow their own crops but they are “never enough” as they do not have vast agricultural lands.
“I am concerned about food security globally even in places where they get enough water from rain and even in countries that don’t suffer from water as security like some African countries,” said Habib.
“Here in Lebanon, we import about 85 percent of our consumption of our needed resources for our food. So we are at threat,” said Habib.
On Sept 27, Türkiye’s state-run news Anadolu Agency reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had blamed the global food crisis as a result of the West’s “predatory policies” during a meeting in Sochi on Russia’s agriculture sector.
Siddiqa from ISSI believes there is a “ring of truth” in Putin’s statements as anti-Russian sanctions in the field of agricultural exports “have destroyed the usual logistics routes and worsened the situation on the food market” in the face of numerous global challenges.
She said it seems “the West is doing what the West does best”, and that is “extracting resources from Ukraine for their own personal benefit” while simultaneously causing disruptions in food supply chains to states in Africa and the Middle East, as well as disrupting payment systems, shipping, insurance, which had prevented many Russian exports of food and fertilizers.
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“The sharp increase in global food prices is the combined outcome of Russia’s aggression against the world’s bread basket Ukraine and West’s scramble to augment food security at the expense of poor countries,” according to Zafar of EcoMENA.
“Western nations should realize their responsibility to rein in Putin and ensure unhindered supply of grains from Ukraine to poor countries of Asia, Africa and Americas,” he added.
“In short, when food, which is a basic right and should be affordable, becomes out of reach, it will drive people to the streets. Needless to say, that by domino effect, the wave will eventually seep into every corner of the world,” said Siddiqa from ISSI.
Xinhua contributed to this report.
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