By Khetam Malkawi – Feb 06,2017

AMMAN — Jordan imports food products worth $3.8 billion annually, in addition to wheat products not included in this amount, a senior official said on Monday.

Hayel Obeidat, director of the Jordan Food and Drug Administration (JFDA), said that despite large imports of food products, the administration is focused on food safety and has recently increased its inspection campaigns.

In 2016, he noted, 4,000 tonnes of food products were destroyed during the 185,000 inspection campaigns conducted. In addition, some 2,400 people were referred to court for food safety violations.

Obeidat made the remarks at the opening of the “Food Security in Jordan” conference, co-organised by the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies and the JFDA.

Speaking at the conference, Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply Yarub Qudah said the government is giving special attention to the country’s food security.

He added that there are several current and future challenges related to food security in Jordan, including water scarcity, urban expansion and loss of agricultural land, as well as population growth. These reasons, he explained, have increased the need to import food.

As a result of these challenges, according to the minister, who was deputising for Prime Minister Hani Mulki, the government has adopted several policies and strategies that seek to enhance food security in the Kingdom.

One of these policies, Qudah added, is to expand loan programmes to the agricultural sector.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has also implemented several projects in Jordan with the aim of reducing food loss and enhancing food security.

Last month, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO concluded a project in which more than 250 workers in food cultivation, handling and retailing in Jordan were trained to reduce food wastage throughout the supply chain.

In a previous interview with The Jordan Times, FAO Representative to Jordan Nasredin Hag Elamin said realising food security is challenging, as the Kingdom is suffering from an extreme scarcity of both water and land.

The Kingdom, he noted, needs a long-term strategy to deal with this challenge.

Jordan is located in an arid zone and subject to recurrent droughts, in addition to the impact of climate change. “Even the frost here has become more recurrent,” the UN official added.

As a result, Hag Elamin explained, Jordan is becoming increasingly dependent on food imports, with almost 80 per cent of the country’s food needs and 90 per cent of cereals imported.

Other challenges, according to the FAO representative, are also emerging, such as population growth due to the refugee crisis.

With the Syrian refugee influx to the Kingdom, water consumption has increased by 20 per cent in general and 40 per cent in the northern governorates in particular.

In addition, this crisis has led to a hike in food prices.

“This is an emerging challenge, but it is a long-term one,” Hag Elamin noted.

According to the 2015 Global Food Security Index, Jordan was ranked 55th among 109 countries in terms of food security. Regionally, it came in eighth place among 12 countries covered by the index.

According to FAO, the Near East and North Africa region faces unprecedented challenges to food security and nutrition, especially in countries facing conflict.