TWENTY-SEVENTH FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE
FOR THE NEAR EAST
REPORT OF THE SENIOR OFFICERS MEETING
Doha, State of Qatar, 13-15 March 2004
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
I. INTRODUCTORY ITEMS
Organization of the Meeting
1. The Senior Officers Meeting of the Twenty-seventh FAO Regional Conference for the Near East was held from 13 to 15 March 2004 in Doha, State of Qatar.
2. The Meeting was inaugurated by Mr Ibrahim Bin Rashid Al-Misned, Undersecretary of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture, and addressed by Mr. Mohamad Albraithen, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for the Near East. In attendance, there were 58 delegates from 20 countries, and 18 observers. The Meeting was also attended by a number of senior officers from the host country, representatives of UN and Regional Organizations and representatives from the news media. The list of participants is given as Appendix B.
3. His Excellency Mr. Al-Misned expressed his sincere thanks to FAO and its Regional Office for the Near East for convening the FAO Regional Conference in Doha and for its continuous efforts in providing technical assistance to member countries in support of sustainable agricultural development and food security.
4. Mr. Albraithen, in his Opening Statement, expressed his thanks and appreciation for His Highness the Prince of Qatar, and the People and Government of Qatar for their warm welcome and hospitality. He thanked Mr. Al-Misned for inaugurating the Meeting and for the valuable efforts exerted by the Ministry and the organizing committee, as well as the excellent arrangements and facilities provided for the success of the. He also thanked the senior officers and representatives of member countries and International and Regional Organizations for their attendance.
5. The Regional Representative highlighted the importance of the Senior Officers Meeting as an integral part of the Regional Conference and as a preparatory forum for in-depth discussions of technical issues of concern to the Near East. He reviewed the Meeting Agenda and hoped that it would reach positive viable recommendations.
6. Mr. Albraithen pointed out the significance of the Roundtable on Financing Agricultural Development which was convened as a side event to the Conference, commending the constructive collaboration between FAO and the Islamic Development Bank under the leadership of H.E. Dr. Ahmed Mohamad Ali.
Election of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairpersons and Appointment of the Rapporteur
7. The Meeting unanimously elected Mr. Ibrahim Bin Rashid Al-Misned, Undersecretary of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture (Qatar), as its Chairperson and resolved that all other Heads of Delegations for the Senior Officers’ Meeting would be Vice-Chairpersons. Ms Wafa’ Al-Dikah Hamze (Lebanon) was appointed Rapporteur.
Adoption of the Agenda and Timetable
8. The Provisional Annotated Agenda (NERC/004/1) and Timetable (NERC/04/INF/2) were adopted without amendments.
II. ITEMS FOR DISCUSSION
Follow-up to the World Food Summit and the World Food Summit: Five Years Later- Regional Dimensions
9. The Meeting reviewed Document NERC/04/3 "Follow-up to the World Food Summit and World Food Summit: Five Years Later - Regional Dimensions", which provided a summary of the salient follow-up actions taken in the Near East Region to implement the World Food Summit Plan of Action, highlighting the Region's particular needs, opportunities and constraints.
10. The Meeting noted with satisfaction FAO efforts for renewing the political will to achieve the goals of the World Food Summit and for holding the WFS: five years later, in June 2002. The Meeting also appreciated FAO efforts to monitor the food insecurity and hunger in the world in close collaboration with member countries.
11. The Meeting recognized that the existence of hunger in a world of plenty was not just a moral outrage; it was also short-sighted from an economic viewpoint, underlining that productivity of individuals and the growth of entire nations were severely compromised by widespread hunger. Hence, it was in the self-interest of every country to eradicate hunger.
12. The Meeting noted that rapid progress in cutting the incidence of chronic hunger in developing countries would be possible if political will was mobilized. The Meeting agreed that a twin-track approach was required, combining the promotion of quick-response agricultural growth, with targeted programmes to ensure that hungry people could have access to adequate food supplies. The Meeting stressed that such approaches were mutually reinforcing, since programmes to enhance direct and immediate access to food offer new outlets for expanded production.
13. The Meeting noted with concern that progress in reducing the number of hungry people was very slow. The average annual decrease since 1996 has been only 2.5 million, far below the level required to reach the WFS goal. The Meeting underlined that progress would now have to be accelerated to reach 24 million per year, almost 10 times the current rate of reduction, in order to reach that goal.
14. The Meeting noted that the food gap in the Region was expected to increase by around 54 percent in 2010, compared with that of 1995, reflecting an annual increase of 2.9 percent. The Meeting recognized that the Near East Region faced special problems in ensuring food security, given the relatively scarce resources of arable land and water, and the resultant gap between domestic food production and consumer demand. Increasing quantities of food imports would be required to meet the needs of the fast growing population.
15. The Meeting expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in the agricultural sector and food security in the Palestinian Territories and the destruction of infrastructure, especially due to construction of the “Separation Wall.” It invited FAO to provide, within available resources, support for the rehabilitation of the Palestinian agricultural sector.
16. The Meeting noted that the performance of intra-regional trade, including agricultural trade, remained low and stagnant. The Meeting recognized that the salient features of the overall regional agricultural trade included the following: low share of intra-regional trade, declining trends of agricultural exports, high dependency on food imports and heavy reliance on exporting primary commodities.
17. The Meeting recognized that, for many countries in the Region, future economic and food security prospects would be largely contingent upon agricultural performance and increasing yield. Adequate agricultural production growth would be needed to limit dependence on food imports, meet the growing food needs of urban populations and improve the food security and incomes of poor rural populations.
18. The Meeting noted with concern that sustainable agricultural production throughout much of the Region was constrained by the serious degradation of the natural resources, particularly water and land resources. This was due to inefficient and unsustainable use of water resources, soil erosion, desertification, water-logging and salinity. The Meeting stressed that managing natural resources, particularly water resources, in an efficient and sustainable manner clearly constituted the greatest challenge for food production in the Region in the coming years.
19. The Meeting recognized that, despite resource constraints and adverse climatic conditions, in the Region, food output could increase by over 70 percent by the year 2010 as compared with 1988-1990 production levels, according to FAO projections. This could be achieved by an integrated approach combining production intensification, relevant research, effective extension and efficient marketing systems. The Meeting also highlighted the high returns from investment in agriculture in the Region as compared to other regions of the world and urged for increased investment in agriculture.
20. The Meeting called upon Governments to:
21. The Meeting requested FAO to:
International Alliance Against Hunger
22. The Meeting appreciated that national alliances were being established as an outcome of the WFS: five years later which recognized “the urgent need to reinforce efforts of all concerned partners as an international alliance against hunger, for the fulfilment of the 1996 Summit”. The Meeting also recognized that national alliances could be building blocks for the International Alliance Against Hunger. The main aim of this alliance was to facilitate initiatives at local and national levels by which the poor and hungry are enabled to achieve food security on a sustainable basis by mobilizing political will, technical expertise and financial resources.
23. The Meeting also agreed that National Alliances could be important catalysts in mobilizing political will and resources at national and international levels, and could play a key role in reducing hunger. It was also agreed that a twin-track approach would address food security in all its dimensions mainly availability, accessibility/utilization and stability of food supplies.
Towards Improved Water Demand Management in the Near East
24. The Meeting examined Document NERC/04/04 “Towards Improved Water Demand Management in the Near East” and discussed the proposed available options for water demand management in agriculture for the Region.
25. The Meeting noted the importance of the irrigation sector in the Region and its contribution to food security as well as its role in the economies and rural development. It also noted with concern that the Near East Region was facing a huge challenge with water shortages and food insecurity. Based on available data and future projections, the Meeting warned that available water resources were evidently insufficient to meet the expected food demand in the coming years.
26. The Meeting acknowledged that water scarcity, deteriorating quality, and the rising cost of irrigation were key issues. The Meeting urged countries to intensify efforts to promote more efficient measures for managing scarce water and agricultural land in a sustainable manner.
27. The Meeting noted that water demand management offered means of replacing the need for additional water resources and could forestall certain supply costs. It underlined that appropriate water demand management was not to replace supply-side sources and investment but rather to encourage a cost effective mix of supply and conservation resources. The Meeting stressed the need for focussing on improving water use efficiency and productivity. It also emphasized the importance of promoting intraregional trade in agricultural products to meet the food needs of water-deficit countries from other water-rich countries in the Region.
28. The Meeting considered that cost recovery of water services was essential for inducing higher productivity of water, underlining that needs of poor farmers should be given due consideration. In addition, other dissuasive and persuasive measures were necessary, particularly awareness on water shortage both at the highest possible level of decision-making and at that of water users. In this respect, great efforts were needed to change less efficient traditional irrigation practices.
29. The Meeting observed that small-scale farming could be productive in marginal rainfed areas if supplementary irrigation is available to overcome short-term droughts that were critical to crop yield. Land improvement techniques and integrated watershed development have shown promising results. The Meeting identified that farmers in rainfed areas needed support to reduce the risk and achieve their production potential.
30. The Meeting agreed that there were considerable potential benefits to be gained from the use of treated wastewater for irrigation. However, the Meeting highlighted the need for careful management and professional monitoring to reduce the potential risks of pollution loads. Clean up technologies and management tools were available, but technical assistance and regional cooperation were needed to transfer and adopt them.
31. The Meeting noted that recent regional and international events on irrigation advisory services, organized by FAO, identified lack of or low capacity in irrigation advisory services as one of the main constraints to improving irrigation performance and stressed the need to give this issue priority. It considered developing the capacity of irrigation stakeholders essential to overcome lack of skills, inadequate organization, ineffective legislation and insufficient motivation that often jeopardized the best irrigation projects.
32. The Meeting called upon Governments to:
33. The Meeting requested FAO to:
Food Safety and International Trade in the Near East Region
34. The Meeting considered Document NERC/04/5 “Food Safety and International Trade in the Near East Region” and noted that food safety had ascended to the forefront of international trade discussions following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round in 1995. Since then, Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standards and regulations in developed countries have become increasingly comprehensive, and stringent, in some cases restricting trade and/or significantly increasing the costs of food exports from countries in the Near East Region.
35. The Meeting recognized that with the growing scarcity of natural resources, especially water, meeting food needs and ensuring food security depend to a large extent on food imports; therefore, systems to control their quality and safety were vital for public health. Food exports, on the other hand, provided important means for countries in the Region (non-oil economies in particular) to generate foreign exchange. Therefore, the Meeting underlined that effective food safety systems were critical to maintain and expand market shares in food and agricultural exports.
36. The Meeting recognized that although several countries in the Region have been taking steps to develop new and improved food safety systems, like drafting new food legislation according to international requirements, developing national strategies for food control, harmonizing food standards with Codex Alimentarius, introducing good manufacturing practices (GMP) and quality assurance, and moving towards an approach based on risk management, the capacity of most countries needed still to be improved in order to effectively control the safety of locally produced and imported food, and to ensure and demonstrate compliance with food safety standards for export markets. This was of particular importance as the Region's exports were dominated by fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish, for which food safety requirements were very strict and continuously changing, particularly in the EU markets, where food standards were higher than other export markets.
37. The Meeting noted that even though, there was growing acceptance and increasing use of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) throughout the Region; these were still undertaken by industries on a voluntary basis. The Meeting also noted that food control systems in many countries in the Region were still overly fragmented, less developed, or outdated. At the national level, responsibility for food safety is usually shared between several different ministries and departments with little clarity on roles, and weak coordination among the institutions involved. In some countries, food legislations were not separate from the more general public health or fraud prevention legislations. In others, the domestic inspection systems continued to focus primarily on end-product control.
38. The Meeting noted that in spite of some countries’ successful adoption of the risk analysis approach, many countries still enforced requirements and restriction on imports which lack scientific justification. In addition, the Meeting expressed concern that food-borne disease surveillance mechanisms were not well developed in most countries; and information, when available, was not communicated to food control authorities.
39. The Meeting also noted with concern that several countries faced difficulties in meeting international safety and quality standards because of their weak capacity in scientific research, testing, and demonstrating conformity and equivalence. This has led to rejection of food shipments from some countries in the Region and sometimes to product bans which have resulted in significant economic losses for the exporting countries and in considerable difficulties to re-enter and regain market shares in once important developed country markets.
40. The Meeting highlighted that, in general, most countries in the Region had limited capacity and funds to plan and implement policies that affect food safety and trade, to implement relevant international agreements, to take advantage of trade opportunities, and to participate in the works of international standards-setting bodies like the Codex Alimentarius.
41. The Meeting emphasized that countries in the Region faced the challenge of raising the SPS standards of food exports to reach internationally recognized levels, as well as the often higher standards set by developed countries, and of being prepared for the upcoming challenges related to the testing and certification of food imports and exports, including food derived from genetically modified organisms, traceability, organic food and the provisions of scientific risk assessment whenever there was diversion from international standards.
42. The Meeting called upon Governments to:
43. The Meeting requested FAO to:
Establishment of the Animal Health Commission for the Near East and North Africa (AHCNENA)
44. The Meeting considered document NERC/04/6 “Establishment of the Regional Animal Health Commission for the Near East and North Africa (AHCNENA)”. The Meeting further emphasized the need for inter-country cooperation and coordination in disease monitoring, reporting and emergency response for improving animal health in the Region and control of trans-boundary animal diseases. The Meeting noted that the purpose of the document was to review legal aspects for establishing the Commission.
45. The Meeting took note of previous recommendations adopted by various technical and regional fora on creating an Animal Health Commission in the Region, particularly the 25th NERC held in 2000 in Beirut, which unanimously agreed to establish the said Commission.
46. The Meeting appreciated efforts exerted by FAO and its Regional Office for Near East in support of the establishment of AHCHNENA, particularly in hosting the Interim Secretariat within the FAO Regional Office; establishing an email list for AHCNENA, including chief veterinary officers, associated Regional Organizations, senior livestock specialists, as well as FAO and UNDP offices in the Region; development of the AHCHNENA website (http://www.ahcnena.net); production, reproduction and distribution of FAO publications relevant to animal diseases; as well as organizing the 2nd Roundtable Meeting on Food and Mouth Disease (FMD), in October 2003 in Cairo.
47. The Meeting appreciated the offer extended by Kuwait to host and support the Commission, when established.
48. A number of delegates indicated their need to refer to further legal advice.
49. Following thorough discussion, the Meeting resolved to refer the “Agreement for Establishment of the Regional Animal Health Commission for the Near East and North Africa” to the Ministerial segment of the Conference for final decision.
Report of the 3rd Session of Agriculture, Land and Water Use Commission for the Near East (ALAWUC)
50. The Meeting reviewed the Report of the Agriculture, Land and Water Use Commission for the Near East (ALAWUC), which met from 9 to 11 March 2004 in Doha, Qatar. Following thorough examination and discussion, the Meeting adopted the Report, after introducing some amendments.
III. OTHER MATTERS
A. Side Events
(i) Roundtable on Financing Agricultural Development in the Near East
51. The Meeting welcomed FAO’s initiative for holding, in cooperation with the Islamic Development Bank, the Roundtable Meeting for Financing Agricultural Development in the Near East as a side-event to the Regional Conference. The Roundtable aimed at spearheading the discussion on the need and importance of increasing financial flows towards agricultural development. The Meeting requested FAO to consider holding follow-up events to further discuss ways and means to promote investment in agriculture, in collaboration with other partners-in-development and with the countries of the Region. (Annex F includes the Summary Report of the Roundtable).
(ii) Sub-regional Strategy for Food Security for North Africa
52. The Meeting took note of the side-event held on Sub-regional Strategy for Food Security for North Africa. The side-event was attended by Representatives of all member countries of the Sub-region. The side-event stressed the need and importance of continuing the technical collaboration between FAO and the Secretariat of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) in formulating a Sub-regional Strategy and Programme for Food Security It was agreed to continue the dialogue in that respect and FAO expressed its readiness to consider providing technical support for such process, as needed and requested. (Annex G includes more information on this side-event).
B. Desert Locust Control Efforts
53. The Meeting noted with appreciation, FAO efforts in combating desert locust, through its EMPRES programme. It urged donor countries to provide urgent support for control of desert locust and bird swarms in the Western Region.
C. Rural Digital Divide
54. The Meeting appreciated FAO’s new programme for bridging the rural digital divide, and invited support for development of global partnerships to harness information and knowledge for enhancement of food security and poverty reduction, as well as human and institutional capacity building in this regard.
IV. CONCLUDING ITEMS
Adoption of the Report of the Senior Officers Meeting
55. The Meeting adopted the Report following intensive discussions and introduction of some amendments.
Closure of the Senior Officers Meeting
56. Following short statements of thanks and appreciation by delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on behalf of all delegates, by the FAO Representative and by the Chairperson; the Meeting was declared closed at 18:00 hrs on 15 March, 2004.