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In combination with population growth and rising incomes, urbanization can be expected to increase the demand for processed foods.
In combination with population growth and rising incomes, urbanization can be expected to increase the demand for processed foods.

Water Scarcity, Food Imports Will Worsen in MENA Region

The food security challenges place an added burden on the available water sources over and above the higher demand brought about by population increases

Water Scarcity, Food Imports Will Worsen in MENA Region

Conflict and insecurity remain the key barriers to development progress in the Middle East and North Africa. In Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, about half the population—around 40 million people—require humanitarian assistance. Across the region, countries depend heavily on food imports. As their populations urbanize and grow, the need for imports will increase.
These are some of the Middle East and North of Africa related key findings of the 2017 Global Food Policy Report, which was issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute on May 24 at an international experts meeting in Cairo, IPSnews reported.
Dealing with the major challenges facing MENA social and economic development, the Cairo international experts seminar focused on food import dependency in a region rife with population growth, urbanization and conflict.
Organized by IFPRI and the Faculty of Economics and Political Science of Cairo University under the theme “Rapid Urbanization Challenges Food Security in Egypt” the meeting examined the situation in Egypt.
In an interview with IPS, Clemens Breisinger, economist and senior research fellow based in IFPRI’s Cairo office, said that rapidly growing populations and the related increase in food consumption are likely to increase MENA countries’ dependence on food imports.
Countries with sizable agriculture sectors, such as Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia, generally have a low food import dependency ratio of between 10 and 20%—that is, food imports account for 10 to 20% of food consumption, he said.

Food and Water Dependency
Nevertheless, the food imports dependency ratio of all other MENA countries exceeds 30%, with Iraq, Mauritania, Oman and Yemen reaching about 50%, and (Persian) Gulf Arab countries such as Kuwait and the UAE reaching up to 70%, said Breisinger.
According to the researcher, scope remains for increasing agricultural output in the region—but additional land and water resources for crop production are limited; climate change is expected to reduce crop yields; and fast-growing cities are encroaching on (often fertile) agricultural land.
“To ensure future food security, MENA countries should be prepared to import more food from international markets in the near future.”
Asked about the growing water challenges in the region, Breisinger said that water scarcity is projected to get much more severe in MENA, but there are technical and policy options to avoid disaster.
The food security challenges place an added burden on the available water sources over and above the higher demand brought about by population increases, he said, while informing that by 2050, projections show that global per capita renewable water resources will fall by 25%.
“These pressures vary greatly across different regions of the world. In the MENA region, further declines, estimated from 778 m3 to 506 m3 per capita per year, are expected to severely constrain livelihoods and economic development.”
According to Breisinger, possible solutions to mitigate climate change impact on water scarcity include: increasing water use efficiency, and investing in alternative sources of water.
Breisinger added that the share of people living in urban areas is projected to overtake the share living in rural areas in most MENA countries by 2030—with the notable exceptions of Egypt, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
“In combination with population growth and rising incomes, urbanization can be expected to increase the demand for processed foods. This likely trend provides an opportunity for agroindustry-led economic transformation in the MENA region to generate employment opportunities, improve food security, and reduce poverty.”

Double Burden of Malnutrition
Asked about the “the double burden of malnutrition” in MENA, i.e. “over-and-under-nutrition”, he said this has been particularly prevalent in middle-income countries and especially those in the region.
“Egypt faces relatively more pronounced instances of the double burden of malnutrition than other developing countries. For instance, almost every third Egyptian child under five years of age is chronically undernourished, while 78% of all (non-pregnant) ever-married women 15–49 years of age are overweight.”
According to the researcher, addressing these challenges through the reform of existing policies and programs can be expected to make a critical contribution to accelerating the country’s economic and social development.

 

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