Twenty-seventh FAO Regional Conference for the Near East

Doha, Qatar, 13 - 17 March 2004

Initiative to Support the Review and Update of National Strategies and Policies
For Food Security and Agricultural Development:
Perspective from the Near East Region

Table of contents


1. The “Initiative to Support the Review and Update of National Policies and Strategies for Food Security and Agricultural Development” was launched by FAO at the end of 2002. The Initiative aims at inspiring FAO’s policy assistance at national level, in order to support Member Countries in their processes of monitoring, revision, and updating of existing policies and strategies. This updating would be a nationally-owned exercise, with full stakeholder participation, and FAO to play a supportive role. In conducting the process, other assessment, programming, and development initiatives will be taken into account for their contribution, such as United National Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). This would provide countries and their development partners with new opportunities to focus effort on hunger, food security, as well as agriculture and rural development.

2. This document summarizes the major elements and components that emerged from the implementation and execution of several endeavours and based on the information collected/collated from a wide policy assessment exercise that has been driven through: (i) filling of country questionnaire; and (ii) preparation of Country Policy Profiles (CPP’s). Both of these activities were executed through collaboration between the country FAO Representations and the Policy Assistance Branch (PABs) and Policy Assistant Units (PAUs) of the FAO Regional Office.


3. The Near East Region (NE) is characterized by an arid and semi arid climate with low and variable rainfall. It consists of a number of low and middle-income countries with a population of about 663 million in 2001, out of which 238 million are directly dependent on agriculture – including fishing and livestock. The Region faces some degree of problems in ensuring food security, given the relatively scarce resources of cultivable land and water, and the resultant gap between domestic food production and consumer demand. Increasing quantities of food imports are required to meet the needs of the fast growing population. At the same time, there are substantial variation 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, pockets of poverty and malnutrition are still present.

4. All Near-East sub-regions are projected to carry relatively large food deficits by the year 2010, with the exception of Turkey which has a large agricultural resource base. In 2010, it is expected that the Region’s food gap would increase by around 54 percent compared with that of 1995, reflecting an annual growth rate of 2.9 percent. The production contribution to food demand in the sub-regions, in relation to the size of their populations, differs considerably. Central Asia with 45 percent of the Region’s population would account only for 22 percent of the food gap. On the other extreme, the Arabian Peninsula with only 7.5 percent of the Region’s population would be responsible for 24 percent of that gap.

5. Region countries may also be grouped according to their projected food self-sufficiency ratios (SSR: food production/total demand). About one-third of the countries would have a ratio of less than 60 percent. They include three oil-rich countries and two low-income countries. The latter would be in a predicament due to their limited food import capacity. Although considered middle-income countries, Iraq and Jordan would face similar problems unless their foreign exchange resources increase commensurately. The second group comprises middle-income countries that would have to generate sufficient foreign exchange to finance the importation of 20 to 30 percent of their domestic needs. Turkey and Morocco in the third group would be able to meet their food demand from indigenous production. The other three in the group are low-income countries that have sufficient agricultural resources; both their high Sufficiency Ratios are attained at low nutritional levels. Regardless of these inter-country variations, the fact remains that the entire Region, with the exception of Turkey, would continue to be a food-deficit region.


6. There are several challenges and constraints to the achievement of sustainable agricultural development in the Near-East, which are pertinent to three main groups: natural resources base, policy reforms, and institutions. The first group is related to limited land and water resources, and to population. The second group pertains to urban bias, the highly autocratic planning systems, policy reform and liberalization, decline of investment in agriculture and rural development, and the problems of political/social stability and emergencies. While the third deals with stabilizing and/or increasing food production and incomes, safeguarding food security, and alleviating rural poverty. In doing so, traditional agricultural institutions have upgraded the role of the State as a producer of agricultural products and a provider of inputs and services. Moreover, disproportionate low investments in rainfed agricultural production technologies in relation to the number of households dependent on it, has been the norm in most of the Region countries’ economies. Other institutional constraints in the Near East includes those of little access to poor physical infrastructure, dominance by public-sector institutions over financial services, and the lack of sufficient rural finance.


A. Major Policy Issues in the Near East Region

i. Rationalizing the use of irrigation water

7. Most, if not all of the Region economies, depend on irrigated agriculture. Water supply in the Region is limited, but demand is open ended. Water quantity and its quality are serious issues in the Region. Water saving can come from improving the productive and allocative efficiency of water use.

ii. Trade liberalization and market development

8. Many Near East countries are currently opening their agricultural markets at three distinct, yet increasing levels: unilateral liberalization, regional integration schemes, and multilateral trade liberalization. Several of these economies have liberalized their agricultural sectors by eliminating or reducing subsidies of all kinds, and liberalizing the exchange rate and trade regime. Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan are clear examples. Economic Cooperation Organization-ECO economies are undergoing this practice. The degree of liberalization varies widely, however, among these various economies. This is in addition to the fact that heavy subsidies are still in effect in some other economies. At the regional/sub-regional level, several trade agreements (RTA’s) have been signed with objectives to liberalize agricultural regional trade. Examples are Council of Arab Economic Unity (CEAU), ECO, Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). At the multilateral level, many of the Region economies have acceded to the WTO and made commitments to liberalize their agricultural sector under various agreements, particularly the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). Currently, 16 countries out of the total of 30 are WTO members, whereas 9 are observers.

iii. Rural poverty and food security issues

9. Poverty in rural areas is much more widespread than in urban areas. It is conditioned primarily by lack of access to the limited soil and water resources, low productivity, unpredictable rainfall, the existence of relatively few crop and livestock options, and the continuous natural resource degradation. Unfortunately, statistics on poverty, especially in rural areas, are not readily available for all countries in the Region. The declining trend in financing agricultural and rural development is of high relevance to the current and emerging poverty alleviation and food security issues in many countries of the Region.

iv. Pollution and environmental issues

10. One of the main concerns in the Near East is the environmental degradation. A most threatening hazard is the scourge of salt combined with water logging as the case in Southern Iraq, Pakistan, I. R. of Iran, Egypt, and the Gulf States. This situation is even aggravated with the excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers as a result of crop intensification and governmental subsidy. As the case in many Central Asian States, including Azerbaijan, there is the problem of excessive irrigation and lack of drainage that significantly would increase salinity. Water and wind erosion of soil is another environmental issue facing the Region. Fisheries have also been adversely-affected by pollution.

v. Institutional reform issues

11. Many of the Region countries are turning to institutional reform and capacity building as a means of effecting development and growth. Redesigning of the development process combined with building of appropriate institutions for generating growth is adopted. This process includes: changing role of the State, improving rural grass-root organizations, building/initiating market institutions, assigning of property rights, and increasing the pro-poor orientation of rural financing services.

B. Agricultural Development in the NE Region: A Prospectus

12. Many Near East economies have already started the implementation of policy reforms, notably the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) since the early 1980s. Examples include: Egypt, Turkey, I. R of Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, and Sudan. Such policy reforms possess serious impacts on food availability and access to food in a number of ways. The radical changes associated with such Adjustment Programmes, while essential for increasing food production, have costs that threaten the short-term welfare of the poor. However, initial assessment of the agricultural reforms in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia in the second half of the 1980s, suggests that these reforms helped the overall agricultural output to expand to record levels in the early 1990s.

13. Familiarity and access to new agricultural technologies will eventually lead to the promotion of development that results in increasing yields, reducing risk, and sustaining the environment. The capacity of the Region countries to absorb new technologies is greater at present than ever, due to the continuing rise of educational levels. This is particularly true as far as the availability of a large pool of expertise in agriculture is concerned. Moreover, governments of the Region are conducting institutional reforms and practicing changes in governance by strengthening decentralization, privatization, and reduced State control. On the other hand, close proximity to main export markets provides agriculture in the Region with some good developmental opportunities. This is due to the Region strategic location, both historically and currently. Changes in the policy environment in the Region following the Uruguay Round/AoA are expected to have pronouncing impacts on both the magnitude and direction of intra-regional trade. The broad scene seems to suggest that the WTO agreements, on balance, might create limited but no positive improvements in intra-regional agricultural trade.

C. Existing Strategy/Policy Frameworks in Near-East Countries

The following section presents a summary of the existing strategy/policy frameworks in the Near East economies that provide a brief on each country’s existing national strategy/policy framework, rural/agricultural/sub-sector strategy/policy frameworks, and FAO past/current support and future needs.

i. National strategies and/or policy frameworks

14. All RNE countries possess, in varying degrees and forms, policies/strategies and strategic frameworks that start from undergoing major to modest market-oriented structural adjustment programs and/or development plans. Examples include: Algeria, Egypt, I. R. of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. Some are experiencing constitutional changes like in Bahrain, which has recently become a constitutional monarchy, which might have some impacts on national strategies/policies framework. While other counties are to completely rely on foreign assistance, like in Djibouti.

ii. Rural/agriculture/sub-sector strategy/policy framework

15. Most of the Region countries do possess a national agricultural development plan of some sort that is in some phase of implementation. For instance, Algeria is currently adopting a National Agricultural Development Plan-Phase l (2002-2005), in addition to having a Rural Development Strategy under formulation. Bahrain has a Development Strategy for 2010, in addition to a medium-term Agricultural Development Plan. Egypt has an Agricultural Development Strategy for 2017, in addition to a Rural Development Plan which is under formulation. I. R. of Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Tajikistan, are examples of countries that have similar agricultural policies/strategies under different titles but of similar objectives. On the other hand, countries such as Djibouti, Kuwait, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen have what could be called Agricultural Strategy Papers; whereas a country such as United Arab Emirates (UAE) has currently no agricultural strategy/policy at the Federal level or at the level of each individual Emirate. However, a document called the UAE Strategy for 2010, has been prepared by FAO in April 2000.

iii. FAO role in supporting Region countries

16. In formulating and implementing strategic frameworks for sustainable agricultural development and food security, FAO has collaborated with Member Countries to achieve that. For instance, FAO supported the implementation, formulation, and updating of the national agricultural development plans/programmes for the majority of the Region countries. This includes: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, I. R. of Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Palestinian Territory, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. The support to Uzbekistan and Abu Dhabi Emirate of the UAE is under preparation. In addition, Djibouti has requested technical assistance for the formulation of Strategy and Action Plan for Rural Development; Iraq has very recently (November, 2003) seen an end to the Oil-for Food Programme and the adoption of FAO's "Transition from Relief, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction to Development" programme; Kuwait has presented a request for medium-term Agricultural Development Plan; Lebanon is preparing the Draft National Agricultural Development Strategy and further FAO policy support is envisaged; and Turkmenistan has received FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) while the government has yet to indicate its ultimate priorities in technical assistance at project level.

iv. The policy support needs

17. FAO policy support for most Member Countries included offering capacity building in agricultural policy analysis and implementation, and updating of strategies. Equally important, is directing efforts to issues pertaining to marketing, trade, and environmental resource management and pollution abatement. Some other forms of future assistance could take the form of building an export-oriented agribusiness sector, developing of cottage industries, promoting small enterprises, and reforming of the cooperative sector (case of Egypt, for instance). In addition, FAO policy assistance is particularly needed in:

- improving competitiveness of the agricultural sector which includes a range of technical improvements, policy changes, and institutional reforms;

- improving efficiency of land and water resource use in the Region and increase the pace of policy reforms for the water/irrigation sector, in addition to increasing investment in irrigated agriculture;

- reforms that provide a balance between the private and the public sector, create an enabling environments for these sector to prosper and to provide appropriate legal and regulatory framework; and

- moving from rehabilitation phase to one for reconstruction and development of agriculture sector in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq.