Nov 26, 2014

AMMAN — The Arab region, which imports about half of its food needs, can boost its food production primarily by improving productivity and irrigation efficiency, in addition to regional cooperation, according to a report that will be launched in Amman on Wednesday.

The 2014 annual report by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on food security points out that Arab countries face serious challenges in their quest to enhance food self-sufficiency, including aridity, limited cultivable land, scarce water resources and population growth, in addition to the serious implications of climate change.

An advance copy of the report, which was made available to The Jordan Times, also blames weak policies, insufficient investment in science and technology in agricultural development, and a lack of regional cooperation as factors that contributed to “the impoverished state of agricultural resources and to their inefficient use and low productivity”.

The food deficit is underscored by a self-sufficiency ratio of about 46 per cent in cereals, 37 per cent in sugar, and 54 per cent in fats and oil, according to the report, which will be launched at AFED’s annual conference that opens in the capital on Wednesday.

According to a statement released by organisers, around 1,000 leaders in agriculture and food production are participating in the two-day conference, including 75 ministers, heads of organisations and development funds, senior strategic experts and CEOs of major corporations in the Arab world.

A point of focus for participants will be the link between food and water, the statement said, highlighting the issue of water scarcity, as reflected in the fact that the annual renewable water resources per capita are less than 850 cubic metres, compared to a world average of about 6,000 cubic metres.

“This regional average masks the widely varying levels among countries, of which 13 are classified in the severely water scarce category, at less than 500 cubic metres per capita. The situation is so alarming in six of these countries, with availability of renewable water less than 100 cubic metres per capita, that this report has created a special ‘exceptionally scarce’ category for them,” the statement explained.

The water scarcity issue is critical for Jordan which now ranks as the world’s second water-poorest country, where water per capita is 88 per cent below the international poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres annually, according to government officials.

This dilemma has been aggravated by the swelling of the population, with the Kingdom currently hosting around 1.4 million Syrian nationals escaping the conflict in their country.

According to AFED, water scarcity in the Arab region is accentuated by the utilisation of about 85 per cent of total water withdrawals for the agriculture sector, which is characterised by low irrigation efficiency and crop productivity.

It quotes the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as saying that countries are in a critical condition if they use more than 40 per cent of their renewable water resources for agriculture and could be defined as water-stressed if they extract more than 20 per cent of these resources. Based on this definition, 19 Arab countries could be defined as water-stressed because their current abstraction rates from their renewable water resources for agriculture greatly overshoot the defined limits, according to the report.—-report