Opening Speech - FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa Region, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed

34th Session of the Regional Conference for the Near East

Excellency Ambassador

Excellency Engineer Louis Lahoud, Director –General of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Lebanon

Excellencies Ambassadors,

Representatives of the NENA countries,

Representatives of the observer states, international organisations, and nongovernmental organisations,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my name and on behalf of FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, I am pleased and honoured to welcome you all to the Senior Officers Meeting of the 34th  Regional Conference for the Near East and North Africa Region (NENA).

Please allow me first to thank the Lebanese Republic and His Excellency Lebanese Minister for Agriculture Ghazi and General Engineer Louis Lahoud, Agriculture Ministry Director for the support they have provided for the organization of this regional conference.

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Senior Official segment of the 34th Session of the Regional Conference for the NENA Region provides opportunities to review together the progresses made in our collaboration and update  the FAO  priorities for the region for the coming years in the light of emerging challenges and new opportunities.

Unfortunately, our region continue to grab the headlines with the persistence of conflicts, violence and protracted crisis.

Conflicts and protracted crisis are taking a heavy toll on people’s lives and livelihoods, on the economy and on the society as a whole.

As a result, the overall food security and situation in the region has continued to deteriorate for the fourth year in a row.

The FAO 2017 regional report on  Food Security and Nutrition  indicates that the number of undernourished in the region has reached 40.2 million people, 11 million more as compared 2012-2014.

Conflict are driving massive population displacement across the region. Nearly 40 percent of the total displacement in the world originate from just five NENA countries.  

Displaced populations are among the most vulnerable in the world, experiencing high levels of food insecurity and undernutrition.

Refugees movement have put an immense burden on the economies and societies of the host countries in the region, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and are also impact significant parts of the European Union.

The surge in conflicts are compounded by droughts or other weather-related events in our region where response capacities were already overstretched amid deepening water scarcity, land degradation, rapid population growth. 

On the nutrition and while there has been improvements in child stunting across the region over the last decades, these progresses are under serious risks of being reversed in countries affected by conflicts.

Finally, the region continues to underperform when it comes to childhood overweight.

While it is a widespread phenomenon in the world, the percentage of children under 5 years old who are overweight in the NENA exceeds the level in other low and middle-income countries by a wide margin.

There seems therefore to be specific factors influencing the nutrition outcome in the region that would require careful consideration from the decision makers.

Your Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

The Near East and North Africa Regional Conference endorsed in 2014 three regional initiatives to address the complex and interconnected challenges facing the region: the food security and nutrition challenges in the context of conflicts and protracted crisis, the escalating water scarcity challenge in the context of climate change and sustained population growth, the lagging small holder productivity, rural development, youth and rural employment and migration.

The three regional initiatives are: the Regional Initiative on building resilience for food security and nutrition; the Regional Initiative on water scarcity and climate change challenge and the small-scale family farming for inclusive economic growth regional initiative.

Since they have been launched, the  regional initiatives have guided the work of the organization in the region and provided a reference for the country programming frameworks.

The Regional Initiatives provided support to the member countries along four main work streams; i) Advocacy; ii) Policy and capacity building; iii) Exchange of knowledge and experiences between countries in the region; and iv) Support to country specific projects and programmes.

We will have the opportunity to review  tomorrow the achievements, and the progresses made under the regional initiatives.

Let me just highlight some of the major developments that would deserve your attention.

 First, FAO has stayed and delivered in countries riddled by conflicts. Our teams have worked tirelessly to advance the resilience agenda, supporting not only emergency operations but also sustainable livelihoods, capacity building and sustainable management of natural resources.

The FAO resilience agenda in the region is gaining momentum, raising resources and attracting partnerships.

During the last biennium the resilience initiative on building resilience for food security and nutrition has implemented a number of resilience programmes in Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, and Palestine .

We are also advancing the nutrition agenda in the region. The Sultanate of Oman hosted, in December 2017, the first regional workshop on nutrition in the near east and North Africa with the participation of all the concerned UN organization (UNICEF, WFP, WHO), the Committee on Food Security, the Scaling-up-Nutrition Movement and with the participation of experts from the member countries in the region.

The participants agreed to keep the nutrition agenda high on the UN common priorities for the region and to work in unison to deliver comprehensive nutrition strategies and programmes, including agriculture  nutrition-sensitive programmes.

Second, the water scarcity regional initiative has become a major reference in the region.

The League of Arab States has endorsed the initiative and it reports regularly to its council of ministers of water.

One major development under the regional initiative is the launch of the four-year programme on “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for water efficiency and water sustainability in NENA countries” with funding from the Kingdom of Sweden.

This USD 10 Million programme will support the establishment of water accounting units and the strategic planning of water resources adopting a nexus approach recognizing strong interconnections among water, energy and food security in the regional context.

Finally, the Regional Initiative on Small-scale Family Farming has focused its work on supporting and enhancing agricultural producers’ organizations and cooperatives, supporting  agricultural value chains and management of food losses and waste . The initiative is also developing regional programmatic work on social protection that will improve policy targeting of small holders and is piloting programmes to address youth unemployment and migration.

The Launch last year of the UN decade of Family Farming provides an opportunity to develop partnership within the local and regional stakeholders and with the UN family.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The strengthening of the FAO presence and capacities in the region has continued apace.

 The agreement for the sub-regional office for the countries of the Gulf Council has been renewed and I would like to acknowledge the generosity of the United Arab Emirates.

The agreement for the sub-regional office for the Mashreq countries is also under implementation thanks to the support of the Government of Lebanon.

A record Resources Mobilization level of USD 294 million has been achieved in 2016-2017, an eighty percent increase as compared to the previous biennium.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The immensity of the challenges facing the region requires bold and multidimensional partnership.

Partnership is at the heart of the FAO strategic framework and is a subject of a specific Sustainable Development Goal: the SDG17.

In this context, The FAO regional office  expanding and strengthening its partnerships with the regional and international institutions in the region.    

We are working closely with the League of Arab states, the Arab Organization for Agriculture Development (AOAD), the UN Economic and Social Commission of the UN (ESCWA), the World Food Programme to advance the sustainable development Goals in the region and in particular the SDG2: End Hunger and malnutrition, Achieve Improved Food security and promote sustainable agriculture.

Together, FAO and WFP are chairing a regional working group on SDG2 and we will are supporting the League of Arab States in implementing SDG2 in the region.

The FAO Regional Office and the UN Economic Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) have published this year the first report on the prospect of achieving the SDG2 in the Arab Region

FAO, ESCWA, AOAD and the LAS are working together to promote a unified framework for food security and nutrition monitoring in the Arab Region

FAO, AOAD the Khalifa Award foundation have launched an alliance to protect and develop date palms value chain and we are working together on a framework for the development of date palm value chain.

The FAO and ICARDA agreement is in its third year of implementation and it has supported farmers in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia and it will soon be expanded to cover capacity building for the Ministry of Agriculture in Libya.

 The Regional Office has also an effective partnership with CIHEAM and with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The agenda of the 34th session of the NERC touches on strategic matters for the region: Agroecology and climate change; agriculture transformation and its role in economic growth, employment and migration; transboundary animal and fish pests and diseases. 

These are matters that are high on the FAO global agenda but are also of particular relevance to the region and each one of our member countries.

In total there are six main documents, five information notes and four side events during this session of the NERC.

It is very busy agenda.

As it has been the case for the previous sessions of NERC, the agenda was developed in close consultation with the group of the Near East and North Africa.

The agenda has benefitted from the recommendations of previous NERC deliberations and is well informed by the FAO global agenda.

The substantive papers have been the subject of regional technical consultations involving experts from within and from outside the region.

The civil society has also been consulted on the main papers under discussions.

We are looking forward to your deliberation and guidance.

I thank you for your attention.