Prioritizing Food and Nutrition Security SDGs

The Arab region participated in the global dialogue that developed the 17 new SDGs adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2015. Emerging regional consensus has established food security as the priority goal (ESCWA 2015b), based on the final version of SDG 2 (which promotes the integration of sustainable agriculture with food security and the necessity of ensuring support to women), and has specifically highlighted the importance of nutrition (ibid.). The goal of eliminating extreme poverty (at the level of US$1.25 per day) also has regional acceptance. Notably, the consensus recommendations recognized the importance of improved governance and peace to development (ESCWA 2014).

Prioritizing food security (SDG 2) is consistent with the latest estimates and research-based evidence on the development needs of the Arab region.[1] National-level food insecurity remains “serious” or “alarming” in most Arab countries, reflecting pervasive vulnerability (Fig. 10.3). The Arab region will remain dependent on food imports, despite a persistent but important discussion in the region on the desirability of “food selfsufficiency at any cost.” While most Arab countries spend less than 20 percent of their foreign exchange earnings on food imports (Fig. 10.3), any discussion of self-sufficiency needs to explore the feasibility and true cost of this idea, which is likely to be high.

National-level food security. Source

Fig. 10.3 National-level food security. Source: Arab Spatial: National Food Security, IFPRI calculations based on the formula: food import/(total exports + remittances). Food import data: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Statistics Division database; Total export and remittance data: World Bank, World Development Indicators (WDI) Databank. Note: A country's macro-level food security is defined as the share of food imports divided by total exports plus net remittance inflows (food imports/[total exports + net remittance inflows]). All indicator values are generally computed as three-year averages over the period 2010-2012. For more information, see C. Breisinger, O. Ecker, P. Al-Riffai, and B. Yu, Beyond the Arab Awakening: Policies and Investments for Poverty Reduction and Food Security, IFPRI Food Policy Report 25 (Washington, DC, International Food Policy Research Institute)

Some Arab governments prioritize domestic availability of food for stability reasons. International markets are perceived to be unreliable, especially because food price shocks compound fiscal strains for non-oilexporting Arab countries that subsidize food (Lampietti et al. 2011). GCC do not yet face high levels of food insecurity but are also vulnerable to food price shocks as oil prices decline. Whims of producing countries, thinness of the international grain markets (e.g., only 6 percent of global rice production is actually exported), and world conflicts add a certain level of anxiety regarding a continued supply. Further, the present social contract in most Arab countries implies that governments provide cheap food and security for which the people give up on some of their demands for freedoms and good governance. Thus, relying on imports may introduce a measure of weakness/loss of control that is not favored by the authorities (Devarajan and Mottaghi 2015).

While there is much focus on domestic food availability in countries’ development strategies, food security does not equal self-sufficiency (Breisinger et al. 2010). Other pillars for achieving food security, including reliable international availability, but more importantly household access as well as food nutritional components carry significant importance. Securing future national and household access to food in Arab countries should thus be based on a mix of domestic and international investment strategies. Decreasing the gap between production and consumption in a sustainable way may present positive outcomes. This may be achieved through domestic investments targeted at reaching a fuller potential of agricultural production, with a particular focus on targeting remote or “lagging areas” to decrease historical and present issues of rural-urban disparities in youth unemployment and access to education and services (e.g., see Fig. 10.4).

Another more realistic and beneficial strategy for reducing food insecurity may be to further improve trade and trade infrastructure, including storage. In several countries, domestic agriculture, including rain-fed

Percentage of women in Jordan with no education (Governorate 2012). Source

Fig. 10.4 Percentage of women in Jordan with no education (Governorate 2012). Source: Arab Spatial: Country survey reports and MEASURE DHS STATcompiler (based on Standard and Interim Demographic and Health Surveys (DhS)); UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) and Family Health Survey (FHS)

Regional violent conflicts and food insecurity. Source

Fig. 10.5 Regional violent conflicts and food insecurity. Source: Arab Spatial: Violent conflicts data: Raleigh, C., Linke, A., Hegre, H., and Karlsen. J. (2010). Introducing ACLED-Armed Conflict Location and Event Data. Journal of Peace Research 47(5) 1-10; Child wasting data: WHO Global database on child growth and malnutrition Online (based on DHS, MICS, Country-specific Maternal and child health survey (MCHS), and Family Health Surveys (FHS)). Note: The density map displays all violent conflict events that have occurred between 1997 and 2014 in North Africa

Damaged buildings and food insecurity (selected countries struck by war). Source

Fig. 10.6 Damaged buildings and food insecurity (selected countries struck by war). Source: Arab Spatial:, Damaged buildings data: United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT); Food insecurity Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). 2015. Global Food Security Index. Note: the map displays damaged and destroyed buildings in 2015 for some cities facing armed conflict

agriculture, has the potential to increase its contribution to regional food security. However, given regional water scarcity, any efforts to increase agricultural production or productivity will need to address sustainability issues for food production systems, as laid out in the SDGs. Conflict management will also be central to improving household-level food and nutrition security, including eliminating hunger, which is often concentrated in areas undergoing conflict (Figs. 10.5 and 10.6).

Nutrition interventions should focus on child stunting, obesity, and the combination of both, the so-called double burden of malnutrition. Stunting levels in many Arab countries are significantly higher than per capita income levels would suggest, with more than 20 percent of children too short for their age in ten Arab countries (Fig. 10.7) (Breisinger et al.

Latest available data on child stunting in Arab countries. Source

Fig. 10.7 Latest available data on child stunting in Arab countries. Source: Arab Spatial: Child Stunting (Country), Data from WHO Global database on child growth and malnutrition Online (based on DHS, MICS, Country-specific Maternal and child health survey (MCHS), and Family Health Surveys (FHS)) 2015). Several countries, including Djibouti, Egypt, Kuwait, Somalia, and Syria, experienced a decrease—rather than the desired increase—in the annual rate of reduction in child stunting in recent years. At the same time, obesity rates in the region are among the highest in the world. An estimated 45 percent of adults are severely overweight, with serious health consequences, including for children of obese mothers (IFPRI 2014).

  • [1] See, for example, Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), Food Security:Challenges and Prospects 7, annual Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development(Beirut, Lebanon: AFED, 2014); C. Breisinger, O. Ecker, P. Al-Riffai, and B. Yu. Beyond the ArabAwakening: Policies and Investments for Poverty Reduction and Food Security, IFPRI Food PolicyReport 25 (Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2012); World Bank, FAO,and IFAD, Improving Food Security in Arab Countries (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2009).
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