Arab world to import half its food until 2050, says expert

June 30, 2011

The Arab world will still need to import at least half of its food until 2050, a specialist has said.

“The Arab world is the region that is most hit by food imports and fluctuations in food prices,” said Teysir Al Ganem, regional communications manager for the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

“Some 65 million Arabs live on less than $2 a day and fluctuations in prices affect the number of poor people,” he said at the World Conference for Science Journalists in Qatar.

According to Al Ganem, the Arab population will reach 692 million by 2050, resulting in the import of 142 million tonnes of wheat, compared with 84 million in 2000.

Mahmoud Al Solh, director general for International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), warned that climate change in the Arab region would result in less precipitation, extreme temperatures, shorter growing seasons and new diseases and pests emerging. North Africa will be hardest hit with a 15-50 per cent decrease in precipitation, he was quoted as saying in the Qatari daily Gulf Times.


Climate change, biotic stresses such as locusts and disease, and abiotic stresses like drought and soil salinity are “interrelated and cause what we call a poverty or food insecurity trap”.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 70 per cent of the necessary increase in food production should come from agricultural intensification.

If not practised in a sustainable manner, this intensification will have long-lasting repercussions on the environment, requiring significant technological development and diversification of agricultural systems, adopting an “eco system based approach”.

Expanding agricultural land areas will only result in a 10 per cent yield increase and is effectively restricted to countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Al Solh said that higher commodity prices have only benefited farmers who were directly connected to markets while those who went through intermediaries often saw no financial improvement.

New programmes have helped to lower costs by having farmers switch from expensive imported machinery for tilling fields to cheaper local methods of field preparation.

While farming can be made more efficient, the effects of climate change looms over the agricultural sector, the daily reported.

Black stem rust, a disease that targets grain crops, has emerged in Uganda and is spreading north, devastating crops as far as Yemen and Iran.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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