Twenty-seventh FAO Regional Conference for the Near East

Doha, Qatar, 13 - 17 March 2004

Follow-up to the World Food Summit and the World Food Summit: five years later: Regional Dimensions

Table of contents


1. This document provides a summary of the salient follow-up actions taken at the regional and sub-regional levels to implement the World Food Summit Plan of Action. By the time of the next Regional Conference, in 2006, all countries should be half way to achieving the WFS goal of halving the number of under nourished people by 2015. Therefore the Regional Conference in 2004 presents an excellent opportunity for collective reflection on the progress achieved to date. The main aim of this document is to highlight the region's particular needs, opportunities and weaknesses. This review is being conducted to affirm, inform, motivate, consult and seek advice on the successes and barriers of all the existing programmes aimed at reducing hunger.

2. The existence of hunger in a world of plenty is not just a moral outrage; it is also short-sighted from an economic viewpoint: hungry people make poor workers, they are bad learners (if they go to school at all), they are prone to sickness and they die young. Hunger is also transmitted across generations, as underfed mothers give birth to underweight children whose potential for mental and physical activity is impaired. The productivity of individuals and the growth of entire nations are severely compromised by widespread hunger. Hence, it is in the self-interest of every country to eradicate hunger.

3. Rapid progress in cutting the incidence of chronic hunger in developing countries is possible if political will is mobilized. A twin-track approach is required, combining the promotion of quick-response agricultural growth, led by small farmers, with targeted programmes to ensure that hungry people who have neither the capacity to produce their own food nor the means to buy it can have access to adequate supplies. Such approaches are mutually reinforcing, since programmes to enhance direct and immediate access to food offer new outlets for expanded production. Countries that have followed this approach are seeing the benefits.


4. Worldwide, the latest estimates indicate that 798 million people were undernourished in 1999-2001 in the developing world and represents a decrease of just 19 million since 1990-92, the benchmark period used at the WFS. Thus, the average annual decrease since the Summit has been only 2.1 million, far below the level required to reach the WFS goal. It means that progress would now have to be accelerated to 26 million per year, almost 12 times the current rate of reduction, in order to reach that goal.

5. But there are a few countries which achieved progress in reducing the number of undernourished. China alone achieved a reduction of 58 million since 1990-92. Indonesia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Brazil, Ghana and Peru have all achieved reductions of more than 3 million, helping to offset an increase of 75 million in 57 countries where progress has stalled. But if China and these six countries are set aside, the number of undernourished people in the rest of the developing world has increased by over 60 million since the WFS benchmark period.


6. Food consumption1, in terms of kcal/person/day, is the key variable used for measuring and evaluating the evolution of the world food situation. The world has made significant progress in raising food consumption per person. The levels of average national food consumption per person is likely to increase from 2680 kcal in 1997/99 to 2850 kcal in 2015 and close to 3000 kcal by 2030 (Table 1). This implies that the proportion of the population undernourished in the developing countries as a whole could decline from the 776 million in 1997/99 to 610 million in 2015 and to 440 million in 2030.

Table 1: Per capita food consumption (kcal/person/day)

© FAO, World Agriculture: towards 2015/2030

7. The latest United Nations assessment of world population prospects indicates that the world population of 5.9 billion of the three-year average 1997/99 is likely to increase to 7.2 billion in 2015, and 8.3 billion in 2030. However, this increase in absolute numbers is a decrease in growth rate of world population; it peaked in the second half of the 1960s at 2.04 percent p.a. and had fallen to 1.35 percent p.a. by the second half of the 1990s. Further deceleration will bring it down to 1.0 percent in 2010-15, and to 0.7 percent in 2025-30. Practically all the increases of circa 70 million people on average till 2015 will be in the developing countries.

8. The slow pace of progress in reducing the absolute numbers undernourished notwithstanding, the considerable overall improvement implied by the projected numbers should not be downplayed. More and more people will be living in countries with medium to high levels of per capita food consumption. For example, by 2015 81 percent of the world population will be living in countries with values of this variable exceeding 2700 kcal/person/day, up from 61 percent at present and 33 percent in the mid-1970s. Those living in countries with over 3000 kcal will be 48 percent of the world population in 2015 and 53 percent in 2030, up from 42 percent at present.

9. The number of countries with high incidence of under nourishment (over 25 percent of their population and most in need of international policy interventions will be reduced considerably: from 35 in 1997/99 to 22 in 2015 and to only five in 2030. None of them will be in the most populous class (over 100 million population in 1997/99). They will account for an ever-declining proportion of the undernourished, 72 million out of the 440 million in 2030 (1997/99: 250 million out of the 776 million).

10. There is a strong correlation between economic growth and the reduction of hunger. This effect, of course, does not occur automatically. But it can be seen, that countries without economic growth or even a decline of GDP per capita weren’t able to reduce the number of the malnourished in their country or even faced a considerable increase. Hence the economic growth rates of several countries that have low food consumption levels and significant incidence of under nourishment are likely to fall short of what would be required for significant poverty reduction till 2015.

11. According to the latest World Bank assessment for the period 2000-15 slow growth in the first five years of the projection period is expected to be followed by faster growth in the subsequent ten years, 2005-15, on average it is expected to reach 1.9 percent p.a. in terms of per capita GDP. Higher growth rates is foreseen for all regions and country groups (particularly the reversal of declines in the transition economies) with the exception of East Asia.

12. The exogenous economic growth assumptions used here, together with the growth of population, are the major determinants of projected food consumption, hence also of the incidence of under nourishment.


13. What are the most efficient instruments and mechanisms to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)? The following gives a brief survey of some of the latest intentions:


A. Overview of Food Security Trends in the Near East Region

14. The Near East (NE) Region 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 people in 2001, of whom some 238 million are directly dependent on agriculture – including fishing and livestock. The NE 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 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 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.

i. Growing food gap in the Near East

15. As indicated in Table 2, all Near East sub-regions would have relatively large food deficits by the year 2010, with the exception of Turkey which has large agricultural resources. 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. Middle Asia with 45 percent of the region’s population would account only for 22 per cent of the food gap. On the other extreme, the Arabian Peninsula with only 7.5of the region’s population would be responsible for 24 percent of that gap.

Table 2: Projected Food Deficit in the Near East Region in 2010 (000 tons)









N.E. Africa




Arabian Peninsula




West Asia




Middle Asia





107, 470


(Surplus) 4,955

Total 2010




Total 1995




© FAO, World Agriculture: towards 2010

Table 3: Projected Food Self-sufficiency Ratios in Selected Countries of the Near East in 2010

Less than 60%

60 – 80%

More than 80%




Saudi Arabia

















© FAO, World Agriculture: towards 2010

16. Countries may also be grouped according to their projected food self-sufficiency ratios (SSR: food production/total demand) as illustrated in Table 3. About one-third of the countries would have SSR 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 SSR’s 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.

ii. Nutritional Status

17. As a result of the increase in consumption per-caput, nutritional levels have risen significantly since 1970. In 1995 the per-caput calorie availability is higher in the Near East than in any other developing region of the world. None-the-less there is still cause for concern. In many countries of the region, particularly the LIFDC’s, the average daily calorie intake per-person appears inadequate for general food security. Evidence suggests that on average about 5 to 35% of the population are undernourished when per-caput food supplies are in the range 2200-2500 cal/day. Clearly a significant proportion of the population of the LIFDC group is undernourished.

18. Available nutrition indicators show that prevalence of underweight children in the Region improved only slightly from 15% in 1985 to 13% in 1990. Infant mortality rates also fell rapidly in the 1990s. Most of this improvement was related to the growth of revenues from petroleum exports, which have also spread to the poorer countries in the region through labour migration and/or direct aid. Projections for the whole Region to 2010 indicate that growth of population, per-caput incomes and hence demand, will slow down. None-the-less food consumption per-caput will continue to rise, and nutritional levels should improve in aggregate, though not in the Middle and LIFDC’s. These changes will be associated with increasing food imports and falling SSR’s.

iii. Agricultural trade

19. The performance of intra-regional trade, including agricultural trade, remains low and stagnant. Paucity of up-to-date and detailed data precludes comprehensive examination of the structure and performance of intra-regional agricultural trade. With the available sketchy data, the silent features of the overall regional agricultural trade seem to include the following:

20. Low share of intra-regional trade in total trade: the share of intra-regional agricultural trade in total agricultural trade in the Near East stagnated at the 8% to 10% range and the region is becoming increasingly dependent on world market for its food supplies. There are considerable differences in the share of intra-trade and in the evolution of this share across sub-regional blocs and individual countries. In the GCC, the share of agricultural exports going to the Near East appeared to have an increasing trend, while in the other groupings it showed a declining trend.

21. Declining trends of agricultural exports: The export of agricultural products is essential for economic growth in many NE countries as agriculture plays a major role in most of these economies. The value of total agricultural exports of the NE, which amounted to US$ 14.4 billion in 2001, is growing extremely slowly, having been US$12 billion in 1990. The share of the NE in world agricultural exports has dropped steadily, from 7 percent in 1971-80 to 3 percent in 1991-2000.

22. While products such as live animals, cotton lint, pulses and cereals are principal agricultural exports for a few countries in the Near East, exports of fruits and vegetables are important for almost all the countries in the region (Annex 1). On average, exports of fruits and vegetables constituted about 40% of the region’s total value of agricultural exports during 1992-96. This share exceeded 50% in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, and Islamic Republic of Iran. These shares are expected to increase further in the future as the growing scarcity of water region-wide may drive many countries to shift further to the production of fruits and vegetables, which have relatively high returns to water use.

23. High dependency on food import: Most of the Near East countries are net food importers with high dependence on food imports. For the region as whole, imports of cereals, as a proportion of the total annual consumption, expanded from 15% in 1970-75 to 37% in 1995-2001.The import dependence varies considerably between countries. In 1995-200, for instance, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen imported about 44%, 70% and 90% of their requirements of wheat and wheat flour, the staple food in these countries.

24. High dependence on food imports means that countries are exposed to some risks. Because of this high import dependence, the Uruguay Round Agreement has prompted widespread concerns in the region, as it is expected to reduce subsidised food exports and result in some increase in world food prices. Although oil exporters are unlikely to face significant challenges to their ability to import food, the non-oil exporters face greater challenges. The Low-Income-Food-Deficit countries (LIFDC’s) in the region in particular are facing difficulties in developing adequate foreign exchange earnings to finance food imports.

25. Heavy reliance on exporting primary commodities: Many NE countries depend heavily on a few primary commodities for their export revenues and, thus, are vulnerable to high fluctuations in international commodity prices. Excessive dependence on a narrow range of products has a number of important consequences: it exposes farmers unduly to the vagaries of climate, pests and diseases and to price fluctuations; leads to fluctuations in farm income and government revenue; contributes to environmental degradation; and has negative effects on diet and health.

26. There is a clear need to diversify the production and export base (both horizontally and vertically) from low value added to high value added agricultural products. The challenge is to initiate and sustain the momentum for diversification in order to realize the considerable potential that undoubtedly exists in the Region.

B. Major Issues Affecting Food Security in the Near East Region

While there are significant differences in resources for food security between individual countries in the region, they share a number of common issues and concerns.

i. Managing scarce natural resources

27. The growing resource scarcities in a relatively harsh physical environment make exploiting the region's untapped potential and sustaining the quantity and quality of the productive resources, priority concerns. The region is dominated by arid and semi-arid lands with low and erratic rainfall severely limiting food crop production and causing production instability. About 70 percent of the total area is arid or semi-arid, where only expensive irrigated agriculture and limited nomadic grazing are possible. As a result, year-to-year variability in crop production is higher than in all other developing regions.

28. In 2001, the total arable land reached 50 million hectares, approximately 34 percent of which is irrigated. The total land area that could be irrigated without excessive investments, about 40 million hectares, is already mostly exploited. Surface water used for irrigation accounts for 90 percent of irrigation while 10 percent comes from ground water sources. Ground water, mostly fossil and thus not replenishable, is of primary importance in several countries. While further growth in agricultural production from the irrigated areas may not be as high, these areas would require resources to maintain the current level of productivity. Also, further development of irrigation must rely as much as possible on low-cost methods and technologies adapted to local conditions. Examples include water harvesting, use of cheap low-lift pumps and exploitation of shallow aquifers requiring simple methods of water extraction. Also, new approaches to irrigation must emphasize the development of skills and incentives and participatory management of water resources.

ii. Land size and quality

29. The land available to farmers and pastoralists has a direct bearing on their production levels. Growing population, fragmented parcels and traditional/religious inheritance rights have led to small landholding sizes. The quality of land is poor as a result of soil degradation, diminishing fertility, over-use, and wind and water erosion. Poor pastoralists, whose livelihood depends on rangeland and common property water resources, have been adversely affected by encroaching urban and rural communities, and by previous government policies that encouraged barley production, over-grazing and mechanization with unsuitable land preparation implements. Furthermore, rigid rangeland tenure policies and poor social organizations have made it impossible to develop effective common-property management programmes that encourage beneficiaries to use and maintain the rangelands in a more sustainable manner.

iii. Institutions

30. While there is a wealth of religious and local cultural traditions among the tribes, clans and kinship groups in the Near East, new forms of association among rural people, that would help them interact with political, administrative and economic institutions, are relatively undeveloped. The range and number of citizens’ groups and informal institutions in the Region are very limited. As a result, poor rural people are unable to claim their rights and entitlements; they have little leverage in negotiating with more powerful elite groups; they are ill at ease when dealing with formal government institutions; and they have a weak voice in local politics.

iv. Technology

31. The rural poor are constrained by disproportionately low investments in rainfed agricultural production technologies in relation to the number of households that depend on it. These constraints are reflected in the poor spread of improved, drought- or salt-tolerant, crop varieties, limited application of water-saving technologies, few investments in research and scarce attention to improved rangeland management techniques. Similarly, improved animal breeds, or the technology to produce them, are either not available in the poor areas or, due to the high costs involved, they are beyond the reach of the poor.

v. Rural infrastructure and social services

32. Poor rural people in the NE Region have very little access to physical infrastructure such as roads, safe water, sanitation, and communication and information networks, and there is a shortage of social infrastructure, such as schools, clinics, and training centers. Cuts in public expenditure following structural adjustment programmes have further reduced state investments in the rural areas. With little access to services to improve their human capital, the rural poor are unable to engage in rewarding economic activities. As a result, and especially in remote areas such as the mountainous regions of Morocco, Turkey and Yemen, the rural poor are often economically, physically, intellectually and socially isolated from the rest of the nation.

vi. Financial services

33. Financial services continue to be heavily dominated by public-sector institutions, especially with respect to finance for agriculture and other rural-based economic activities. In the past, governments have used state financial institutions in the rural areas to implement national development and planning programmes, allocate subsidies and provide inputs on credit. These institutions' lending policies tended to favor larger farmers and entrepreneurs with physical or financial collateral, thus excluding the rural poor. Low-income rural households have few alternative sources of finance, and informal financial institutions or community-level savings and credit groups are very rare in the Region.

vii. Uneven resource distribution and labour migration

34. The dichotomy in resource distribution, in particular between oil-exporting and labour-surplus countries in the region, represents both a constraint and an opportunity. A major influence affecting economic and agricultural performance in the region has been the labour flow from the capital-deficit to the capital-surplus countries. At its peak in 1985, the number of migrant workers in the oil-exporting countries of the region exceeded 5 million, of which around 3.5 million were from countries within the region. Although the number of migrants has widely fluctuated, reflecting in particular oil market changes and political developments, remittances from migrant workers continue to represent major sources of foreign exchange.

viii. Environmental protection for food security

35. A major issue constraining sustainable agricultural production throughout much of the Region is the serious degradation of the natural resources due to soil erosion, desertification, water logging and salinity. In fact, managing natural resources in an efficient and sustainable manner is now one of the most critical issues for food production in the region. Land has been subject to varying degrees of degradation. Wind erosion is believed to affect 35 percent of the total area, while water erosion affects 17 percent. Many of the slopes are stony and denuded by water and wind erosion. This process has led to desertification which has become irreversible in many areas. Where irrigation is intensive, as in Egypt or Iraq, salinization has emerged as a major problem. In those cases where the major source of land degradation is excessive irrigation, policies that correct for the price distortion of the past, notably free or subsidized irrigation, will help reduce both the problems of excessive water use and its negative effect on soil degradation.

ix. Market liberalization

36. Almost all countries in the Near East have entered a process of market-oriented economic reforms, albeit with varying degrees of commitment and success and amidst considerable economic, political and social difficulties in some instances. Governments have in general moved away from past practices of large-scale procurement of cereals from producers at high guaranteed prices. Annual increments in support or procurement prices have deliberately been kept low in many countries of the region.

37. Parastatals monopolies on procurement and marketing have also been lifted and the private sector encouraged to compete with the parastatals in these activities. Similar trends, notably reduced subsidies and increased private sector handling of retailing, are apparent in inputs such as fertilizers. Policy reforms implemented in Egypt in the past four years are a leading example of this process. Key reforms implemented include: ending restrictions on cropping patterns; revoking obligatory deliveries of, inter alia, wheat and rice; freeing up restrictions on private transportation and milling of rice; and rescinding the ban on the marketing and lifting of controls on bread production. Major liberalization programmes along similar lines are in progress in several NE countries.

38. While the reform process is still under way, some countries have already recorded farm productivity and income gains from reduced interventions on farm production and marketing operations, lower trade barriers and freer prices. However, the reduction of previously high levels of both input and food price subsidization has created the need for special programmes and measures to protect poor farmers, consumers and vulnerable populations.

C. Prospects for Enhancing Food Security through Expanded Food Production

39. For many countries in the region, future economic and food security prospects will be largely contingent upon agricultural performance. Adequate agricultural production growth will be needed to limit food import dependence, meet the growing food needs of urban populations and improve the incomes and food security of poor rural populations, in particular.

40. Despite resource constraints and adverse climatic conditions, untapped potential does exist. FAO projects that food output could increase by the year 2010 by over 70 percent as compared with 1988-1990 production levels. This could be achieved by a combination of increases in yield, intensification of farming and some expansion of the area under cultivation. About 70 percent of the projected increase in crop production over the period is expected to come from yield improvements. This considerable scope for yield improvement reflects the existing wide inter-country yield differential, with most countries at present having average yields well below those achieved by the highest-yielding producers. Although many factors are involved in this, the high yields achieved by the better performers suggest that even with the existing technologies (e.g. high-yielding varieties, improved land and water management, judicious use of modern inputs, especially fertilizers, crop protection inputs, good cultural practices, etc.), there is still considerable scope for increasing yields in a sustainable manner.

41. Several countries in the Region have made remarkable advances in controlled-environment horticultural production for the domestic and export markets. Besides generating foreign exchange and seasonal employment opportunities, such farming systems are noted for their high productivity, controlled use of agricultural chemicals and water saving.

42. Increases in livestock numbers and in off-take rates would continue to be the dominant sources of growth in meat production in the region. The former is expected to contribute 35 percent and the latter 27 percent of growth in meat production during the coming two decades. Raising production in this manner would require enlarging the feed resource base by increasing the intensity of range and pasture utilization and by using more feed concentrates and agricultural by-products. Striking a sustainable balance between livestock numbers and the availability of forage and feed is of paramount importance in the semi-arid conditions of the region.

43. In many countries of the Region, the lack of potential for expanding the grazing areas means higher yield per animal is an increasingly important source of growth. The intensive and semi-intensive production systems, such as dairy and poultry, which are more responsive to market conditions, are spreading in many countries. Improved production systems and animal health and expanding and upgrading the region's feed base, will all be essential to achieve the projected growth in livestock production.

44. The overall goal for the region would be to reduce the level of under nutrition by a significant margin. FAO considers feasible a reduction in the rates of the undernourished from 16 percent of the total population in 1990-92 to 11 percent by the year 2010. This would still leave several countries with high proportions of their populations undernourished (40 or 50 percent in countries like Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan), and special efforts would be needed in these countries in order to achieve sharper reductions in the numbers of their undernourished people. This would require a further increase in the annual growth rate of food production in the region as a whole (3.1 percent at a minimum, instead of 2.9 percent), but a strong and difficult acceleration in the countries with the highest levels of under nutrition.


45. The main aim of this document was to provide a summary of the salient follow-up actions taken in the Near East Region to implement the World Food Summit Plan of Action and to highlight the Region's particular needs, opportunities and weaknesses.

46. The review clearly pointed out that the major issue constraining sustainable agricultural production throughout much of the Region is the serious degradation of the natural resources, particularly water and land resources. This is due to inefficient and unsustainable use of water resources, soil erosion, desertification, water logging and salinity. In fact, managing natural resources, particularly water resources, in an efficient and sustainable manner clearly constitutes the greatest challenge for food production in the Region in the coming years.

47. Recommended Action

(i) Member Countries are called upon to:

(ii) FAO and other concerned international and regional organizations are called upon to:

Annex 1
Agricultural Trade in the Near East Region: Major Exporters and Importers
(annual average 1998-2002)

Source: FAO (2002) FAOSTAT


Total exports of the Region (000 MT)

Major exporters

Total imports of the Region (000 MT)

Major importers

Total exports as % of total imports





Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco




Pakistan, Egypt


Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey


Live animals (sheep)
000 heads


Syria, Sudan


Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman


Meat and meat products


Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Iran


Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE




Pakistan, Turkey, UAE, Sudan


Iran, UAE, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia


Fruits +


Turkey, Iran, Morocco, Egypt, Syria


Saudi Arabia, UAE, Pakistan


Oils and fats


Turkey, Iran, UAE, Tunisia


Pakistan,Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria




Turkey, Iran, Syria


Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey


Milk and products


Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan


Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE




Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia


UAE, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait


Source: FAO (2003) FAOSTAT

1 The more correct term for this variable would be “national average apparent food consumption”, since the data come from the national food balance sheets rather than from consumption surveys.