Emirates Business 24/7 | 28 July 2010
Arab nations are considering launching an ambitious strategy involving investment of nearly $65 billion (Dh238.7bn) in the next 20 years to expand their farming sector and ensure food for their fast-growing population.
The Khartoum-based Arab Organisation for Agricultural Development (AOAD), an affiliate of the 21-nation Arab League, has completed the Emergency Programme for Arab Food Security, which it said has been prompted by the deteriorating farm shortage in the region and soaring food prices.
The strategy includes three phases, the first of which is a five-year plan during 2010-2015.
The second stage will cover the 2010-2020 period and the third one stretches until 2030, when most farm products will nearly double.
Preparatory measures for the implementation of the first stage began in the first half of 2010 and it could be officially launched in 2011.
The first farming season in this five year plan is scheduled to begin in early 2012 once it is ratified.
AOAD, which oversees Arab government farming policies and promotes joint agricultural projects in the region, said the first phase involves investment of about $27bn, which will rise to $51.5bn at the end of the second stage.
Total cumulative investments will reach $65.4bn in 2030.
Funding of the plan would be shared by the governments and the private sector and it will mainly cover nine large Arab nations--Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen.
AOAD said it had chalked out the strategy in line with a decision by Arab farm ministers during their April 2008 meeting in Riyadh with the aim of facing any future global food crises, adding that it has to be endorsed by governments.
The strategy will focus on wheat, rice, barley, sugar cane, beet, sesame, and other products which are in a sharp shortage in the region, it said.
"This plan has been prompted by the recent global developments in the agricultural sector and the need to take effective measures to tackle this persistent and chronic food shortage in the Arab World," it said.
"As a result of a high population growth in the region, poor investment in the farming sector and soaring prices, the Arab food gap has steadily risen over the past years...it peaked at around $18bn last year and could surge to $71bn in 2030 without measures to tackle this problem."
The report estimated the combined Arab population at around 350 million at the end of 2009 and said they could soar by 63 per cent to 545 million in 2030.
It said investments in the emergency programme would have three main targets, including improvement of productivity, expansion of cultivated land by developing water resources, and establishment of joint farming ventures.
"The arable land is expected to be expanded by around 2.9 million hectares by 2030....the main aim is to increase wheat production by 81.3 per cent, rice by 56.5 per cent, barley by 81.2 per cent and sugar crops by 69.3 per cent. This will largely boost the rate of self sufficiency in these products and at the same time create nearly 8.7 million new jobs," AOAD said.
The report showed Arab states are currently suffering from a massive shortage in most of those products, standing at 43.9 per cent in wheat and other cereals, 74.8 per cent in cooking oil and 63.7 per cent in sugar products.
"The food security problem in the Arab world could deteriorate in the absence of real measures...many poor people in the region could become unable to get enough food and this poses serious threats to social stability," it said.
"The Arab food gap is going from bad to worse mainly because of the high population growth and relatively low growth in the farming sector."
Releasing its annual report on the farming sector in the region last month, AOAD said Arab countries have reeled under a cumulative food gap of more than $180bn over the past 10 years to emerge as the largest single farm importer despite their massive arable land potential.
Except for fish, vegetable and other minor crops, Arab nations are suffering from a persistent shortage in all types of farm products and the gap has steadily worsened over the past two decades, it said.
The report also blamed poor water resources in the region, low land utilization and investments, and what it described as defective Arab farm policies.
Nearly three years after they approved a 15-year common farm strategy in 2005, the Arab countries have become more reliant on farm imports as such a strategy remains inefficient in the absence of right policies and sufficient funds, it said.
What complicates the problem is that most wealthy Arab nations are still reluctant to invest heavily in farming projects in fertile member states for political and security reasons while only around 12 per cent of the total available arable land in the region is exploited, according to AOAD.
"There are several obstacles and challenges facing the development of the Arab farming sector...they include low investments, defective government policies, poor water resources, inefficient use of available land and water resources, and the low level of utilisation of available cultivated areas," it said.
"The biggest obstacle has been and will remain the relatively small water resources available in the region. This obstacle has blocked investment in the farming sector and will hinder any programme aimed at exploiting those areas."
The report showed the emergency plan would target wheat production of 3,409 tonnes in 2015, around 12,314 tonnes in 2020 and nearly 20,483 tonnes in 2030.
Barley output will reach 476 tonnes in 2015, about 1,689 tonnes in 2020 and nearly 3,201 tonnes in 2030.
Production of rice will rise to 1,182 tonnes, to 3,850 tonnes and 6,292 tonnes in the same period.
Total cereal production is targeted at around 5,067 tonnes in 2015, nearly 17,853 tonnes in 2020 and around 29,976 tonnes in 2030.By Nadim Kawach