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3. National Agricultural Development Strategies and Food Security Challenges in the Near East

3.1 Food Security in the Context of Regional Integration

The Rome Declaration agreed at the World Food Summit in 1996 states that food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food security has three levels of intervention and three dimensions:

(a) At regional and national levels, the key objective is to ensure the availability of food of acceptable quality. Food availability may be assured through a combination of domestic production and regional and international trade. Successful overall development is the best way of promoting overall food availability. National level food security is not synonymous with food self-sufficiency and the promotion of self-sufficiency may run counter to improving food security;

(b) At the household level, the key objective is to ensure sufficient access to food by all households. Access is a function of the demand and purchasing power of both urban and rural consumers. Lack of access to food is basically an outcome of poverty. With 70 per cent of the world's extremely poor and food insecure people living in rural areas, the role of agriculture is crucial to the eradication of poverty. The rural poor depend on agriculture both for their incomes and food entitlements. Chronic food insecurity can be tackled most effectively through policies that promote agricultural productivity, rural incomes and food production There has been a tendency to generalize that economic growth reduces poverty, when in fact it is the direct and indirect effects of agricultural growth that accounts for virtually all of the poverty decline; and

(c) At the individual level, the key objective is to ensure food use and nutritional adequacy. Use of food relates to issues of consumption and nutrition and is affected by nutritional practices, the intra-household distribution of food, mother-child feeding practices and food preparation.

3.2. Food Security and Trade Integration

Food security will be affected by international trade in general and agricultural trade in particular. Increased intra-regional agricultural trade could also promote food security in the following ways: (a) the increased intra-regional trade fosters economic growth and increases employment prospects and the income-earning capacities of the poor, it will enhance access to food. Whether regional integration promotes overall economic growth or not will depend on the design of the agreement, and whether it succeeds in promoting more trade creation rather than trade diversion; (b) by augmenting domestic food supplies to meet consumption needs; and (c) by reducing overall food supply variability.

To evaluate the food security effects of RTAs in the Near East region, however, a more nuanced analysis is required. Lower trade barriers generate the potential for trade creation. However, potential beneficiaries of regional integration among low-income small size farm households in many countries in the region may be unable to take advantage of increased market access opportunities in the presence of supply-side constraints. Accompanying measures may be needed to assist them to increase both the volume and quality of their output to take advantage of the market opportunities created. This implies the need for targeted interventions focused on building the capacities and providing needed services to low-income farm households in the context of regional integration strategies. This will be particularly important in some countries of the CAEU, AMU and ECO where increasing numbers of small-scale farmers may be withdrawn from market production in the wake of domestic market liberalization.

There will also be those who either fall behind or lose out in the regional integration process. Thus, while trade integration may contribute positively to higher production and output growth, if those who lose out are concentrated disproportionately among food-insecure households, then the overall impact on food insecurity in the short run may be negative. In countries with export potential and dualistic agricultural structures, it may be the larger commercial farms already well-integrated into food markets which benefit, while semi-subsistence smallholders are simply too constrained to take advantage of the new market opportunities and may even lose out from greater import competition on the domestic market.

The extent of which farm household will fare following integration depends on both its commodity exposure (what the farm can produce profitably) and its asset exposure (its tenure situation and the sector specificity and diversification of its assets). The risks of trade integration point to the need for country-specific and region-specific evaluations of market integration on the overall status of food insecure households. Where supply constraints are identified, regional integration strategies should include investment and training interventions to address these constraints, including technology transfer and rural extension; new production alternatives, labour training on new farming practices and for off-farm activities; and possible ways to integrate smallholders with more commercial farm enterprises. Where negative impacts are identified, then a regional integration strategy which is food-security aware should be accompanied by parallel measures to address these negative impacts.

For intra-regional agricultural trade to impact positively on food security, barriers to such trade must first be reduced or eliminated. Trade facilitation measures which can be taken on an inter-governmental basis (improved information on market opportunities, reduced frontier formalities, recognition of the mutual equivalence of SPS controls, etc.) are important in this context. Improved physical infrastructure for transport, communications and payments between members of a regional grouping is paramount, particularly in countries where inadequate infrastructure (land locked countries like Kazakhstan) remains a huge constraint to increasing intra-regional trade. Finally, trade policy barriers arising from differences in the stance of domestic agricultural policies will need to be addressed. It is this latter issue which gives rise to the growth of interest in common agricultural market schemes in the context of regional economic groupings.

As noted before, agriculture is an important component of the agenda of all REOs in the Near East region. The objective is not to pursue intra-regional agricultural trade for its own sake but to remove artificial constraints which prevent potentially advantageous trade from taking place. Trade should be a consequence of appropriate trade and development policies rather than an objective in its own right.

As noted earlier, food security is an issue that must be addressed over a long period of time. Food security embraces several complex aspects related to access, stability, and availability of food.

The countries of the Near East region have been facing those issues for decades and despite their sound past effort they did not achieve significant success. For example the issue of accessing to food relates to the existence and the quality of infrastructure networks as well as broader issues such as political and economic stability. Improving access to food is a dimension of food security that cannot be addressed in the context of a single project with a limited timeframe. The increase in a given crop productivity since it is related to a natural cycle and to local endowment conditions has also to be taken into consideration over a long term period. At the country level all the local specificities and constraints are summed. As a result, the policy approach to food security improvement has to take into account this diversity and propose a framework that can address all kind of national or regional situations. Therefore for the issues of time, diversity, multidimensional and multi-sectoral problems, there is a need to deal with food security through strategies as a specific policy tool. This justifies the observation that most projects focused on food security are implemented within programmes and policies included in overall strategies.

The Near East Region faces special problems in ensuring food security, given the relatively scarce resources of cultivable land and water, and the resultant gap between domestic food production and the increasing consumer demand. Increasing quantities of food imports are required to meet the needs of the fast growing population. Those are common challenges for the countries of the Near East Region.

However, at the same time there are substantial differences in per-caput incomes and food supplies between and within countries of the Region. Even though aggregate food supplies for the region may be adequate on average, poverty and malnutrition are still present. The need for differentiated policy responses is particularly evident in the Near East Region. For a number of the countries in the region the overall food supply is clearly insufficient to ensure adequate and regular food flows for all and, indeed, a large proportion of their populations are chronically undernourished. For others, aggregate food supplies largely exceed what would be theoretically needed to ensure adequate food intakes for all; yet, significant segments of the population suffer from chronic under-nourishment, pointing to the predominance of equity and access problems. Since many constraints and challenges exist in many countries we present hereafter some initiatives undertaken in the context of Regional Integration process.

3.3. Food Security and Strategies for Agricultural Development in the Near East

3.3.1. Food Security Challenges and Situation in AMU countries

Established in 1989, the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) is an inter-governmental organisation that includes the North African countries of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. With a total population of 79 million in 2001 and a population growth rate which is still relatively high, demand for food in AMU countries is higher than the supply capacity. Self-sufficiency rates for many foodstuffs products have decreased dramatically in the last few years, in particular for cereals which constitute the basis for the alimentation of AMU households. Consequently, AMU imports annually considerable quantities of cereals (1.2 million tons, mainly wheat, wheat flour and maize), sugar (1.8 million tons), milk (2.5 million tons). This significantly places AMU on high dependency with respect to the international market.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, AMU countries have adopted a set of macro-economic and institutional reforms to stimulate economic growth. Their economies are currently over dominated by oil and gas which, in value, represent more than 95% of their exports. However reserves in energy are limited and governments are progressively trying to strengthen and diversify other productive sector of their countries. The agricultural sector actually represents an opportunity since the current productivity levels can really be increased (provided that a special attention is given to better land and water management and on the basis of the particular interest of the producers for irrigation and the possibility it implies for higher levels of productivity).

The objectives for the promotion of agriculture follow two main axes: (i) food security, through and as a result of poverty reduction and by improving access to food; (ii) an increase in productivity levels within the framework of sustainable use of natural resources.

However, the development of agricultural production is under serious constraints among which it is worth mentioning an underdeveloped private sector in many countries, a lack of adequate infrastructures, and poor institutional capacities to manage complex and urgent development issues. On top of that, agricultural trade (both intra-regional and international) is seriously affected by the absence of harmonization of trade policy and measures as well as low competitiveness of the agricultural sector.

3.3.2. Food Security Challenges and Situation in CAEU countries

CAEU is an inter-governmental organization established by the Arab League in 1957. At present, the CAEU comprises ten members of the Arab League: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In 2001, the total population of the CAEU countries was estimated at 183 million and was increasing at an average rate of 2.5 percent annually. The share of agriculture in total GDP of the CAEU countries was 21 percent in 2000. But this average conceals wide differences among countries. The share of agriculture in GDP ranges from 2 to 10 percent in Jordan and Libya, 10 to 20 percent in Egypt and Yemen, 20 to 30 percent in Mauritania and Syria and exceeds 30 percent in Sudan. The relative decline in the role of agriculture in recent years partly reflects the strong growth in other sectors, particularly oil, services and construction. It is also estimated that 39 percent of the total labour force in CAEU countries engage in agriculture, but the percentage reaches 71 percent in Somalia, 61 percent in the Sudan and 51 percent in Yemen. This makes the agricultural sector critical for improving food security and alleviating poverty in the region.

Total land area in the CAEU is 802 million ha. Arable land plus permanent crops occupied 37 million ha in 1999, of which 11 million ha were irrigated. In most CAEU countries farming systems rely on irrigation which is constrained by the availability of water. However rainfed agriculture is important in some countries. In Syria about 77 percent of the total cultivated area is used for winter crops, mainly cereals and winter vegetables under rainfed conditions, while nearly 80 percent of wheat production and 45 percent of barley production are under rainfed conditions in Iraq. Rainfed agriculture is also important in parts of Sudan and Yemen. The cropping pattern in the CAEU is dominated by cereals, particularly wheat (4.8 million ha), barley (2.8 million ha), maize
(1.3 million ha), sorghum (5.2 million ha) and rice (757 000 ha). Vegetables (1.2 million ha) and fruits (1.2 million ha) account for substantial areas, in addition to cotton (699 000 ha) which, concerns mainly Egypt, Syria and Sudan.

The CAEU countries have a total cattle and buffalo population of 56 million heads, which is largely concentrated in Sudan and Somalia, and some 138 million heads of sheep and goats. Livestock potential is not well exploited especially in the less developed countries (Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) due to problems of animal diseases and poor marketing facilities as well as to social and cultural considerations. Livestock is raised under predominately traditional systems of production. These include small farmers who raise small herds of cattle, sheep and goats in villages and around small towns for their household requirements of milk and meat as well as for market sale. Nomads and transhumant tribes in the steppes also raise sheep and goats in relatively larger flocks. They depend mainly on rangelands but in dry years they move closer to crop areas to graze agricultural by-products.

According to FAO estimates, the undernourished population of the CAEU countries ranges from as high as 72 percent in Somalia to 37 percent in Sudan, 24 percent in Yemen, 21 percent in Iraq and down to 3 percent in Syria, Jordan and Libya. Women and children are among the most vulnerable groups. The percentage of malnutrition in children under the age of five is 48 percent in Mauritania, 46 percent in Yemen, 11 percent in Egypt and 5 percent in Jordan. Malnutrition remains a serious health problem in most CAEU countries where under-nutrition as well as over-nutrition are found. Chronic under-nutrition (stunting) and micronutrient deficiencies are most prevalent in rural areas. Iron deficiency anaemia is a common problem, goitre is endemic and rickets and other nutritional deficiencies, such as zinc, are also prevailing.

As for the National Strategies for Food Security in CAEU, The members of the CAEU are heterogeneous with respect to their resource endowment and economic and social development. Nevertheless food security is one of the most important objectives in the CAEU countries. Economic reforms and structural adjustment programmes were adopted by most of the Governments of CAEU in the 1990s inter alia: (i) to reduce the role of the state in the management of the economy and to strengthen the market-based economic system; (ii) to improve the regulatory environment for the private sector; and (iii) to reduce price distortions.

To enhance the role of the private sector and improve efficiency of the economy, several governments (e.g. Yemen and Egypt) initiated a privatization programme. Public sector enterprises were removed from the control of ministries and restructured as affiliates under diversified financially independent holding companies.

In agriculture, the following policy measures have been taken during the 1990's: (a) removal of crop allotments and delivery quotas; (b) liberalization of producer prices, marketing for most commodities (with some exceptions such as sugar cane in Egypt); (c) removal of subsidies on feed, fertilizer and pesticides; (d) increased role for the private sector in input distribution; (e) liberalization of land rents; and (f) cost-sharing with the beneficiaries of irrigation and drainage schemes. The reforms have led to renewed investment in agriculture and encouraged farmers to raise production in response to market opportunities.

In a few countries, mainly Syria, Iraq and Libya, state control in the agricultural sector remains strong and is managed by a hierarchy of public institutions. The instruments of control include annual production targets by area for each major crop, establishment of procurement prices, subsidies, inputs delivery to farmers and decisions regarding financial and marketing arrangements for agricultural produce.

The countries of the CAEU have achieved mixed results with regard to food supply and consumption. During 1998-99, the daily calorie supply per caput amounted to more than 3 000 kcal in three countries: Egypt, Libya and Syria. It ranged between 2 500-3 000 kcal in Jordan and Mauritania, and 2 000-2 500 kcal for Sudan, Iraq and Yemen. The daily calorie supply per caput in conflict ridden Somalia was only about 1 552 kcal. On average for the CAEU countries, the 1998-99 figure was
2 648 kcal, which is slightly lower than the 2 670 kcal in 1979-81. The unequal access to food among the population, particularly for the poor, resulted in unsatisfied nutritional needs that reached high incidence in several countries.

3.3.3. Food Security Challenges and Situation in ECO countries

ECO is an inter-governmental organization comprising Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The ten ECO member states now cover a region of 7.9 million square kilometres inhabited by more than
372 million people, growing at an average annual rate of 1.72 percent.

There are significant variations among the ECO countries and within each country in terms of food security and capacity to meet the increasing demand for food and agricultural products. Six of the ECO member countries are considered as low-income food deficit countries (LIFDCs) namely: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Despite the magnificent growth in agricultural production, especially for cereals (Over 88 million metric tons in 2001) together with the considerable improvement in infrastructure, distribution and social services, in some countries, the ECO countries still far from being self sufficient in food production. Meanwhile they are net food importers. There was evidence that some improvement in domestic food output have taken place in these countries, especially in producing wheat, rice, barley, sugar cane, cotton, meat, milk and eggs.

While the incidence of poverty is not well known, evidence suggests the existence of poverty and food insecurity among some segments of the population and even in countries with relatively high income levels. Nomadic population with small herds, desert shepherds, landless labourers, families with small land holdings in rain fed areas and the unemployed urban population face occasional food security risks.

Although the average daily caloric supply per caput in the ECO member states was relatively high (2,700 kcal in 1994-1996), and declined to reach 2572 kcal in 1997-1999 (Lower than the developing countries level of 2680 kcal), there are significant variations among countries and within each country. An upper limit of 3490 kcal was reported in Turkey and a lowest level of 1800 kcal in Afghanistan) and within each country.

Agriculture sector has been major economic contributor to national economy of the ECO member countries. According to FAO estimates, it generates 23.4 percent of GDP employing 42 percent of the economically active population in the ECO region in 2000. The average annual growth in agricultural GDP reached 5.8 percent in 1999-2000. The industrial sector share to GDP in ECO region reached 30.4 percent in 2000 (A highest rate was 50 percent in Turkmenistan and the lowest was 1.9 percent in Uzbekistan), with an average annual growth equals 10 percent in 1999-2000. However, there are variations among the countries within the region. While as high as 39.4 percent of the Kyrgyzstan's GDP comes from the agriculture and forestry sector, only 9.2 percent of the Kazakhstan's GDP is generated by agriculture and forestry sector. Although there are variations in contribution of agricultural sector in the national economy in the ECO member countries, these variations are likely to get reduced in near future as nearly half of the region's population lives in urban areas and role of agriculture in the rural areas need to be more efficient and productive to meet increasing urban demand. However, the relatively low level of only 26 percent land being cultivated in 2000 as compared to 49 percent potential cultivable area indicates the prospects for increasing agricultural production through both intensification process and expansion of cultivated area.

Food imports in ECO region valued at US$ 9.588 million in 1999, and declined dramatically to reach US$ 5,939 million in 2000. Total exports (fob) in ECO countries reached US$ 69,643 million in 2000, meanwhile the reported total imports (CIF) was US$ 83,016 million with a net balance deficit of about US$ 13,373 million. In general, total exports of the ECO region cover about 83.9 percent of its total imports in 2000. Major farm products of the ECO member countries in 2001 were wheat, sugar cane, sugar beets, seed cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, and barley, rice, meat, milk, and milk products.

As for the National Strategies for Food Security in ECO, the agricultural strategies of ECO Member country Governments, as articulated in programmes and policies, emphasize self sufficiency in basic food products (more so in Iran), while at the same time stressing the importance of promoting the production of export crops.

Central Asian countries, in particular, are engaged in structural reform with the aim of liberalizing their economies. The measures introduced so far include the elimination of export taxes on agricultural products and of price controls, especially on food items and energy. However, many problems continue to hamper the efficient functioning of markets. Market information is not circulating properly, seasonal and long-term credit is scarce and poorly distributed, new networks for input distribution are not functioning properly and land ownership reform and land utilization remains a difficult undertaking. Furthermore, as most agro-industrial enterprises are in difficulty, there are few solvent outlets for agricultural output.

In line with an endeavour to refrain from interfering in production choices and leave the options to the farmers, several Governments tend to focus their intervention more on providing farmers with the best possible technical, administrative and regulatory support, along with adequate market infrastructures and services. The main lines of public financing are discussed below (Agricultural Production, Promotion Policies and Programmes). It is recognized that these forms of support are prerequisites for the achievement of national food security, whatever the relative importance in national strategies of domestic production for increasing self-sufficiency or of a competitive export sector to generate additional income, employment and foreign exchange.

In other ECO member countries the strategies to improve economic access to food include higher wages, lower prices, generation of new sources of income and national programmes for poverty alleviation, including land reform and land distribution.

In the context of macroeconomic reform, public production promotion policies emphasize liberalizing the agricultural sector whereby growth in output is to come primarily from the private sector supported by selected state investment financing. In most ECO countries such public financing focuses on the following: agricultural research and extension with priority for cereals and cotton; investment in infrastructure and the promotion of farm or village level processing and storage facilities for farm products; construction of feeder roads to farms after restructuring; soil and water conservation measures and rehabilitation of irrigation systems; support for the livestock sub-sector through genetic improvement and health interventions and the prevention of pests and diseases.

Since 1994 FAO has launched the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) targeted towards low income, food deficit countries (LIFDCs). The results of Phase I throughout the developing world are promising, and give hope for increased resorting to the SPFS approach in agricultural development projects that aim to increase food production and productivity, while reducing the year-to-year variability of production, and improving access to food through a multidisciplinary participatory approach on an economically and ecologically sustainable basis. Particular attention is paid to the socio-economic constraints that prevent farmers from adopting the technologies and methods offered in terms of different irrigation systems, intensification of crop production and diversification of production systems.

3.3.4. Food Security Challenges and Situation in GCC Countries

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) includes six Arab Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. In 2001, the GCC countries had a combined population of 29.5 million. Expatriates constitute a high proportion of inhabitants and this phenomenon accounts for the high growth rate of population, about 3% per year.

The region is rich in hydrocarbon resources but poor in cultivable land, forest and water resources which are indispensable for agriculture and food production. Marine resources are probably under-exploited, but are in danger of pollution. Sustainability of these resources is being challenged.

Agriculture represents a small proportion of the total GDP and contributes only 12% to total employment. However, in some areas agricultural and fishing activities are the only sources of income for the indigenous population. Agricultural exports are negligible while agricultural imports are significant (12% of total imports for 1994-96).

Under the limited resources for agricultural production and adverse climatic conditions, the region has to continue to rely on imported food in meeting domestic demand. Nevertheless, or for that reason, the main objective for agriculture, as accepted by all GCC countries, is to increase food self-sufficiency by making the best possible use of the limited natural resources available. To achieve this objective, GCC Governments are providing various policy and financial support to domestic food production. They include raising the productivity of land and water resources by introducing new technology, soil and water conservation, use of plant varieties suitable to local conditions, enlargement of dairy breeds under intensive managed units, industrial farming of broilers and layers, and encouraging the private sector to invest in agriculture.

As for the National Strategies for Food Security in GCC, most of the GCC governments have been supporting agricultural production by providing both direct and indirect subsidies. By promoting agricultural development, the GCC countries aim at further diversifying the economy away from oil, achieving self-sufficiency in key agricultural products, improving the welfare of the rural population and limiting immigration into urban areas. Owing to the scarcity of water supplies, limited arable land, and harsh climatic conditions, little grain is produced; most of the food requirements have to be imported. Although agriculture registered positive, though modest, growth rates over the last two decades, its contribution to GDP has been continuously constant or even declining, chiefly due to the increasing importance of the oil sector in the GCC economies. The oil era started in early 1970s has enabled the Gulf States to maintain a tremendous progress in combating poverty, malnutrition, and income disparities between different regions and communities. There was evidence that the quality of life has improved tremendously in the GCC countries after the sudden rise in oil prices in early 1970s.

There has been a growing concern on the development plans in the GCC countries called for diversification of their economies and the related production base away from the oil sector. Food security has been a long standing and major goal of most of the GCC countries during the last decade. Agricultural development and enhanced food security and self-sufficiency constitute a major national objective of the Gulf States. The GCC countries have an open economies with a free market orientation characterized by a prudent stance of macroeconomic policies including free exchange system, and a liberal trade regime; an outward oriented strategy that stresses private sector initiative; and improved confidence in domestic financial institutions; and price subsidies to agricultural crops, which in fact has led to an expansion of the farm sector by stimulating agricultural production in most of the GCC countries.

Nevertheless, the Gulf States are still far from achieving a comprehensive food security strategy because of some current institutional, natural, and technical constraints. Despite efforts given to increase the food self sufficiency ratios in order to narrow the food gap and to improve the overall food security situation in some Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and UAE which is aiming at decreasing reliance on imported food, but in fact actions should take place to improve the overall environment in the farm sectors of the GCC countries.

Self-sufficiency in food production has traditionally been on important overall policy objective in most of the Gulf States during the last two decades. There was evidence that some improvements in domestic food output have taken place in these countries, especially in producing milk and milk products, eggs, vegetables, poultry, and fish. Saudi Arabia has become a net exporter of wheat in 1984/85. A large part of the Saudi production of wheat and dates is provided as humanitarian assistance to needy countries through the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Oman and Bahrain have a relatively great potential for fishing development. Domestic output of fruits is promising in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Large quantities of red meat are domestically produced in Oman and Qatar.

In the long-run, however, domestic food production and current policy support would be challenged by many factors including the sustainability of financial support, international trade rules, availability of productive resources and environmental degradation.

To ensure food security and sustainable agricultural development in the long run, GCC countries will have to take actions in many important policy areas. They would include rationalization of state financial support and trade policy, improvement in infrastructure, accelerated human capital development, prevention of environmental degradation and strengthening technical assistance and research.

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