27 June 2019, Rome – Countries in the Arab region need to set up policies supporting local food production and improve their governance of natural resources if hunger is to be eradicated from the Near East and North Africa by 2030.
This was FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva’s message to participants at The Arab Region towards Zero Hunger: Challenge and Opportunities event on the sidelines of the 41st Session of the FAO Conference.
“No one is questioning the lack of natural resources in the region and that the main issue is water scarcity. But when you look at how water is used, you see a lack of good governance,” the FAO chief said.
He pointed out that many countries in the region – which has a population of some 400 million – do not have a central authority to manage the use of water and of other resources.
“Lack of policies and good governance make the problems of the Near East and North Africa region worse, Graziano da Silva said and asked countries in the region to consider setting up a “central authority” to better manage the use of water.
The FAO Director-General also urged countries to put more emphasis on stimulating local food production, pointing out that the issue of obesity – a growing concern in the region – is also due to a reliance on importing cheap and unhealthy food.
The Near East and North Africa region suffered a serious setback in its Zero Hunger progress
The region has been grappling over the past years with many challenges that have consequently led to a serious setback in its progress towards Zero Hunger.
These include the increasingly unsustainable use of already scarce or dwindling natural resources, especially water, rising hunger and malnutrition, protracted socio-political crises in several countries, the impacts of climate change and economic slowdown.
A recent food insecurity analysis shows that 52 million people suffer from hunger in the region’s 18 countries. But whilst hunger – driven mainly by conflict – is on the rise, so are overweight and obesity, with nearly one in three adults being obese.
“While all efforts to boost agricultural productivity need to be made, the countries of the region also need to look beyond production to ensure safe and stable access to food for all its people,” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa.
To achieve that, Ould Ahmed put forward the following: end conflict and refocus attention and resources on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly on SDG2 – Zero Hunger; achieve greater complementarity between policies on food security, agriculture, trade and water; invest more in initiatives that address water scarcity and climate change; reduce food loss and waste; and shift to healthier and more nutrition diets with less sugar and fat and more fruits, vegetables, and fish.
Ould Ahmed also urged participants to build on successful Zero Hunger initiatives of several countries and not let regional challenges outshine some countries’ progress in ending hunger.
Accelerating action on ending hunger
Several experiences and visions were shared at the side event as a spur to accelerate action on ending hunger in the region.
In a video message to the event at FAO, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General, League of Arab States pointed out the need to better understand and elaborate on the indicators of SDG2 to chart the region’s progress towards reaching the goal. “FAO is working tremendously hard to put the fight against hunger into the context of the future. This vision will be needed to face the challenges of climate change and address other environmental issues,” he added
Ahmed bin Nasser Al Bakri, Oman’s Undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth highlighted the need to tackle the greatest challenges facing agriculture in the region – “the common burden of water scarcity, land degradation and climate change”.
“We need to face the water challenge through a new perspective. For this reason, we need to develop new technologies and appropriate policies and choose the right kind of investment. The same applies to land degradation, which has become a major burden on the sustainability of agriculture in many of our countries,” Nasser Al Bakri added.
Darine El Khatib, FAO Special Goodwill Ambassador for Zero Hunger for the Near East and North Africa stressed how “everyone can play a role in eliminating hunger, and each of us can contribute to this goal in different ways. The media can play a leading role in this if used properly,” she said, adding that raising awareness on how not to waste food, or how to save energy and recycle waste can help boost everyone’s role in ending hunger.