The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) released today the recommendations of its seventh annual conference held in Amman, which addressed food security in Arab countries. The recommendations were finalized by a high-level committee of experts and officials who participated in the conference.

AFED secretary general Najib Saab announced the recommendations, which call for filling the gap in food production, amounting to US$36 billion annually, by enhancing land productivity, irrigation efficiency and regional cooperation. While recognizing the importance of political stability and security in this regard, the recommendations pointed out to the role of food security in creating jobs and supporting political and social stability.

Here are the recommendations:

The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) held its seventh annual conference on 26-27 November 2014 in Amman, Jordan, under the patronage of His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein. The conference, dedicated to discuss AFED’s annual report on Food Security in the Arab countries, has brought together 750 delegates from 54 countries, representing 170 institutions from the private and public sectors, international organizations, civil society, academia and media.

The conference agreed with the findings of AFED report that, in their quest to enhance the level of sustainable food self-sufficiency, Arab countries face serious challenges emanating from a backdrop of constraining factors, including scarce water resources, limited cultivable land, degradation of natural resources and grave implications of climate change. Weak policies, insufficient investment in science and technology and agricultural development have contributed to the impoverished state of agricultural resources and to their inefficient use and low productivity. This resulted in an alarming food gap reaching 50 percent, with a value of over $36 billion. Population growth, rising demand for food, degradation of natural resources, and conversion of farmland to urban uses pose further challenges to the enhancement of the food security goal in the Arab region.

The conference found that, in spite of the gloomy situation, Arab countries can significantly enhance the prospects of food security through efficient management and investment in both the water and agriculture sectors, combined with regional cooperation and improvement in trade and investment. The conference agreed that actions and policies are needed to ensure an equitable access to food for all people, decrease the instability in the supply of food, and improve the nutritious value of food for all consumers. To this effect, the conference endorsed the following recommendations:

1. Strengthen regional cooperation among Arab countries, based on comparative advantage in agricultural and investable capital resources, coupled with coordination and harmonization of agricultural development strategies and programs and their contribution to overall food security.

2. Take the necessary actions to reverse the deteriorating state of agricultural resources and maintain their bio-capacity to regenerate their services and contribution to food security.

3. Consider implementation of the available options for increasing the ratio of sustainable self-sufficiency, including, among others, boosting crop and water productivity, improving water-use efficiency, reducing post-harvest and other losses, and promoting the use of treated wastewater for irrigation.

4. Allocate more investment in scientific research to support all elements of food security, agricultural know-how, and development programs, as well as human and institutional capacity development. Research should be geared towards more productive and environmentally protective inputs and agricultural practices, with the aim of boosting the productivity of rain-fed and irrigated agriculture. Additional funds should be allocated for research in areas including agricultural economic development, human nutrition, food safety, water and sanitation systems, and effective policy.

5. Undertake the required investments to develop the livestock production systems in a sustainable manner, with a view to increase production to meet local demand.

6. Increase the investment in fisheries as important source of good protein which enhances the nutritional value and food safety for consumers, with no pressure on natural resources. Such investments can increase sustainable production of fish to meet local demand and promote the potential of export.

7. Implement an awareness campaign to reduce food waste and losses, and to change consumption patterns, possibly through the substitution of food products with others having similar or greater nutritional value, but which are less water-intensive.

8. Adopt, through public-private partnerships, an integrated innovative approach to food security, incorporating key food value-chain components, comprising harvesting, transporting, import-export logistics, processing, storing, and retailing, to make food available, accessible, utilizable and stable, with good quality at the right time and place.

9. Develop responses to cope with the threat of climate change on food security in the region through adaptation strategies, based on relevant and reliable climate forecasting models, crop tolerance to drought, heat and salinity and adaptation mechanism, with the adoption of improved agricultural practices and water management, conservation agriculture, diversification of crops, and selection of crops and cultivars best suited to the predicted stressed conditions, among other adaptation and mitigation measures.

10. Encourage urban farming and the development of family farms, with the support of governments, private sector and civil society, and provide them with the facilities and training, to produce added-value products and create job opportunities and marketing options through agricultural cooperatives to improve income.

11. Enable women to play their expected role in development, including agricultural sector, due to their positive impact on food security.

12. Recognize the importance of political stability and security in Arab countries, to enable investment in agriculture without hindrances and the adoption of reform policies to promote the contribution of the private sector. Equally, recognize the crucial contribution of enhancing sustainable agriculture, which boosts food security and creates job opportunities, to political stability and better security.

13. Resolve differences and conflicts, in order to enable capacities for action on human welfare and food security. Also, support the Palestinian people’s right to their land and water and to utilize them for enhancing their food security.