Jehad Al-Fadhel, Bahrain parliament: Media plays a significant role in raising awareness on food security legislation

Experts' corner - 09.06.2021

9 June 2021, Manama/Rome-  Parliamentarians are uniquely placed to contribute to ending hunger and malnutrition.

Sitting at the Shura Council of the Kingdom of Bahrein, Dr. Jehad Al-Fadhel explains how the region is putting the right to adequate food at the top of national agendas through the Observatory for Human Rights or initiatives such as the Arab Center for Food Security. Press and public relations are great allies in this successful story.

To learn more on the process, read this Q&A with the woman who is leading food security and nutrition in the National Assembly of Bahrain and in the Near East and North Africa.

Your academic background is in Media and Academia. How did your interest in food security and nutrition arise? In your view, to what extent can journalism and communications play a role in the fight against hunger?

Dr. Jehad Al-Fadhel: I chose to be a member of the Services Committee in the Shura Council, as it is responsible for Media, Education and Training and Labor issues. This Committee is concerned with the Sustainable Development Goals, including fighting famine. Reports, articles and conferences have significantly helped to promote this issue, which is vital for the security and stability of societies, and thus, it has acquired a status of top urgency.

When I was appointed to the Shura Council, I continued to research on food security and nutrition.  

Parliamentary work is a forum that enables the various experts to contribute to the advancement of legislation in multiple disciplines. I found that it interrelates with my academic and professional experience. This qualified me to participate in high-level parliamentary meetings for Arab and African Parliaments and led to my nomination as the Vice President of the Parliamentary Network for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the Arab World. This opportunity and honor gave me access to a broader network and venues that enhanced my knowledge and guided my efforts to advocate for food security.

Media and press are the bridge through which we legislators deliver our messages to reach efficiently the community. In my case, media has played a significant role in raising awareness of legislation related to food security. Furthermore, it has been effectively involved in relief campaigns for nations that suffer famine due to wars, tension and armed conflicts, including some Arab states.

"Media and press are the bridge through which we legislators
deliver our messages to reach efficiently the community."

Last April, the Arab Parliament appointed you as a member of the Board of Trustees of its Arab Observatory for Human Rights in recognition of your wealth of parliamentary experience. Which are the main concerns on the right to adequate food in the region, and how is its realization advocated?

Dr. Jehad Al-Fadhel: I am honored to be selected as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Arab Observatory for Human Rights, which will hold its official meeting in the coming period. It will indeed prioritize topics related to food security and the right to food. This will be an excellent chance for me to promote and monitor human progress in the Arab world. We are amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has struck the economies of vulnerable countries and highlighted the need to pay attention to this right in particular.

"The Observatory for Human Rights will be
an excellent chance for me to promote and monitor
human progress in the Arab world."

Moreover, we will ensure that countries fulfill their obligations to implement the right to food, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

One of the many tools of the Observatory is the periodic report on human rights indicators. I will include the right to food index in the evaluation criteria, as it will enable us to monitor, analyze and follow up on its progress. I will also strengthen networking with specialized regional and international organizations, like FAO.

As was put in evidence during the FAO virtual parliamentary dialogue on 1st April, Arab countries have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has come on top of other existing challenges. Would you highlight any successful experience from Bahrain or another country to address and mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on food security, both in the containment and recovery phases?

Dr. Jehad Al-Fadhel: Various countries have promoted initiatives to revive economies affected by the increasing pressure on the general budgets. Each country has its unique experience. In some, direct monetary support has been provided to citizens, while in others, indirect support decisions have been taken. But all of them aimed at achieving greater security and stability in societies, especially those most affected.

One of the most inspiring examples is the Gulf States, where the wise leadership at their Annual Summit acknowledged the need to work on an integrated food, water and energy security system. During that, the business community has cooperated with governments to achieve high levels of food security for the region's people.

The Gulf States have not faced any food shortages due to their plans to provide adequate stocks for this extraordinary period. Their governments have strengthened their stockpile of essential commodities by importing all required goods and enhancing their emergency reserves.

As for Bahrain, food security has been a subject of interest for top authorities. Before the pandemic outbreak, His Majesty the King gave his directives to develop a strategic project for food production and allocate multiple sites to establish fish farming and agriculture production. This project is led by His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, and Prime Minister.

Bahrain enjoys a high rank among countries in the region to welcome expatriates and has assisted various entrepreneurs in continuing work despite the crisis. It has also maintained a natural flow of cargo shipments to provide food commodities and endeavors to establish partnerships with food companies in the private sector. Moreover, a new provision has been introduced in the State's General Budget for strategic food stock for $6,630,000. Finally, it had signed an agreement with FAO to develop Bahrain's strategy for diversifying food sources.

It is worth highlighting two further good practices. United Arab Emirates has established a national committee to reduce food waste aiming at 15% by the end of 2021 and Saudi Arabia, which has the most significant amount of food stocks in the Middle East, has accelerated the establishment of Grains Companies.

During the virtual parliamentary dialogue, you proposed creating an Arabic centre on food security, strengthening multilateral cooperation, and enhancing the role of the UN. Why is it essential to join efforts at national and regional, and global levels to develop an enabling environment towards sustainable and inclusive solutions?   

Dr. Jehad Al-Fadhel: The Arab Center for Food Security is a strategic project for the region. This promising center will enable Arab countries to predict the future of food security by reading present indicators and come up with trusted scientific solutions to face challenges in the upcoming period, as many countries are suffering from the effects of COVID-19.

My vision for the center goes beyond routine administrative tasks. It must be an extension of a well-known regional organization, for instance the Arab League or others, to ease the flow of food among the Arab States. We hope it will reduce food prices and enhance economic security and social stability, which are a considerable concern.

To ensure its success and prepare the ground for its establishment, collaboration between states is key. FAO will play a significant role in helping the Center by facilitating the exchange of expertise and resources with foreign countries.

"To ensure the success of the Arabic Center for Food Security, 
collaboration between states is key."

The importance of establishing this center is undeniable, as it will be discussed in the UN Food Systems Summit.

The UN Food Systems Summit will serve as a turning point in the world's journey to achieve the SDGs, particularly eradicating hunger and malnutrition. Stakeholders across several sectors have been called to sit at the table to dialogue and discuss. Which role can policymakers and legislators play to help this endeavor?  

Dr. Jehad Al-Fadhel: The UN Food Systems Summit is an important global event because it places food security as a priority and gathers all the decision-makers at one table. In preparation for the Summit, I'm studying the option of holding a forum remotely for Parliamentarians from different countries, FAO and other partner organizations to research on food security and to develop recommendations. More details on the forum will be announced later.

"The UN Food Systems Summit is an important global event
because it gathers all the decision-makers at one table."

I submitted a draft law proposal on Strategic Stock of Essential Commodities, including food and non-food, approved by the Council and currently being drafted by the Cabinet. This strategy determines the size of the strategic stock of food commodities and the percentage to ensure a continuous supply for food in the market. I believe this initiative must be shared at an international level as a model to be followed.

I have also participated in discussions with the Parliamentary Network for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the Arab World and FAO officials on a food security model and nutrition law in Africa. Water security must be taken into account, as it is one of the most worrying challenges that causes conflicts among some States. Therefore, the UN Food Systems Summit must study it carefully.

About Dr. Jehad Al-Fadhel

Dr.  Jehad Al-Fadhel has served as Member of the Shura Council of Bahrein since 2012, where she chairs the Services Committee and is part of the Women and Child Affairs Committee. She is also Vice President of the Parliamentary Network for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the Arab World.

She has worked as Executive Director of Public Relations and Media and as professor at the Department of Information, Tourism and Arts at the University of Bahrein (UB). 

She obtained a Doctorate in Media, speciality in Press, from the University of Bedfordshire in 2009 and a Higher Diploma in the development of academic practice from the the UB in collaboration with the University of St. York Britain. She was honoured with the Certificate of Appreciation from the UN Office for Education in Beirut.

The Shura Council is the upper house of the National Assembly, the main legislative body of Bahrain. The Committee Services is one of the sixth standing committees of the Council, and it deals with issues like media, literacy, or culture.