FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Regional cooperation is key to sustainable agriculture and food security in the Near East and North Africa region

FAO and partners convene the 2019 Land and Water Days in Cairo

31 March 2019, Cairo -“Water and Land are arguably the most precious resources to the countries of the Near East and North Africa region,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) declared today.

“Food security, agricultural development and improved livelihoods for rural communities depend on access to good quality land and water systems, which are severely lacking in many locations in the region,” FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional for the Near East and North Africa, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed said today, opening the Land and Water Days conference 2019 in Cairo.

Addressing the conference, Ould Ahmed highlighted that fresh water resources in the region are among the lowest in the world, decreasing by two thirds during the last 40 years. “Per capita share of water availability in the region is 10% of the world average, underscoring the need for a significant overhaul of farming systems,” he added.

Farming and other agricultural activities consume more than 85 percent of all available water resources, and the demand for agricultural products is expected to grow amid burgeoning urban populations and increased exports.

Not only 90 percent of the regions’ land area is arid or semi-arid – with low rainfall, which is becoming more unpredictable with changing climate patterns, but also 45 percent of the total agricultural land is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion.

“Effective land and water systems are critical for the food security of the region,” Ould Ahmed stressed.

The future outlook in the region is not as positive as it should be. Fresh water resources per capita are expected to fall by over 50 percent by 2050, which was underscored by Ould Ahmed saying, “this is why the region's leaders need to act now to tackle the significant stresses placed on the resources to protect the livelihoods of the region's populations.

He emphasized that the compounded impact of water scarcity, climate change and land degradation threatens to hamper economic growth, as well as to exacerbate poverty, employment and migration problems, and ultimately undermining peace and stability.

“We need to promote agriculture production systems that consume less water, more resilient to climate change impacts and reverse or prevent land degradation. This is vital in the next few years if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved,” Ould Ahmed added.

Managing scarce resources through partnership

Ould Ahmed praised the enormous efforts and investments mobilized over the past decades, by countries in the region to address water scarcity and land degradation.

“More effort is needed to synthesize and spread this knowledge so it can be scaled-up to many more communities across the region. But having good technology is not enough,” he commented. Moving from research and technical solutions to application in farmers’ fields requires initiatives that encourage the synthesis and sharing of practical knowledge on land and water management. This is the objective of the 2019 Land and Water Days, he explained.

“Cooperation nowadays is no longer an option,” Ould Ahmed declared and added “relevant stakeholders need to be brought around the same table to ensure the effectiveness of the strategies developed and what has been already built at a regional level, since the previous edition of this conference back in 2013.”

FAO's work on water scarcity

Policy advice and best practice ideas on the sustainable use and management of water is a key offering in FAO's Near East and North Africa Water Scarcity Initiative, backed now by a network of more than 30 national and international organizations and endorsed by the League of Arab States.

FAO's work in the region has already led to developments such as decentralized groundwater governance schemes in Yemen and Morocco, the introduction of solar pumping in Egypt, water harvesting in Jordan, and innovative methods of water accounting and bolstering drought preparedness in Lebanon and Tunisia.