The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) showed concern that countries in the Near East are suffering from malnutrition and food insecurity. The countries have become increasingly dependent on food imports as rapid population growth outpaced agricultural production.
“On average, cereal yields in the Near East are currently about half the world average, and the gap is widening,” Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of FAO, told delegates to the 30th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. “It is projected that the deficit in cereals will more than double between 2000 and 2030.
“This growing food deficit makes the majority of Near Eastern countries more dependent on imports and, therefore, vulnerable to shocks in international and domestic markets,” he added.
Near East countries are also suffering from limited water supply and land resources which make the region more vulnerable to food insecurity. The availability of water resources in the Near East is currently around 1,050 cubic meters per year. This is a very low water supply compared to the global annual average of 8,900 cubic meters per person. The Near East amount is projected to drop by half by the year 2050.
“Contrary to the period between the 1970s and 1980s, public expenditures on agriculture in the Near East have been very low in the past few years, particularly in relation to the contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product (GDP),” Diouf said. “While the share of agriculture in GDP is about 12 per cent for the region, its share in national public expenditure does not exceed 5 per cent.”
Diouf said that solutions to food deficits in the region require increase investments in agriculture and trade. “Increased intra-regional cooperation, through increased trade and investment, continues to generate a great interest in the Near East,” he said.
However, this is more problematic because countries falling under FAO’s Near East region are either differently endowed in terms of natural resources and socio-economic conditions or are in conflict. These include 30 States in Asia, the Middle East and North America.
Serious food security concerns exist in conflict zones, notably Afghanistan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, Mr. Diouf said.
Overall, the number of hungry and undernourished people in the Near East region is currently estimated at 37 million, according to FAO’s latest figures – an increase of 17 million people from 1996 levels, but 5 million fewer hungry people than in 2009.