Strong partnerships for improved food security in the Arab world

Written by: Khalida Bouzar, Director of the Near East, North Africa and Europe Division - IFAD

Partnership is crucial to the way we work, here at the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). To see this, one need look no further than IFAD’s founding at the World Food Conference in 1974. Troubled by the great droughts and famines that had struck Africa and Asia, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) decided to create an institution that would tackle poverty and hunger in non-oil developing countries. Pooling resources from OPEC and OECD countries, this institution would work to counter poverty and hunger through investment in agricultural and rural development. Out of this partnership, IFAD was born.

Since then, an increasing number of developing and transition countries have been experiencing both rising levels of prosperity and economic opportunity. As a result, co-operations between the countries of the so-called South (South-South cooperation) have emerged as a complement to the traditional North-South cooperation. Between 2005 and 2012, GDP growth rate strengthened on average to 6.1% annually in developing countries as compared to 1.2% in developed countries. International finance and trade flows, which have historically been tilted toward developed countries, are steadily rebalancing in favor of the Global South. According to the UNCTAD 2014 World Investment Report, gross flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) to developing countries reached US$ 778 billion in 2013 (or 54% of the total), exceeding FDI to developed economies.

Today, we find ourselves at another historical crossroads, as we look toward the launch of the post-2015 development agenda. Improved food security in the Arab world is definitely high on this agenda, and regional cooperation will be essential to our collective success.

Despite their diversity, the countries of the Near East and North Africa region share many similar development challenges. These include: water scarcity, natural resource management, food and nutrition security, gender disparities and high youth unemployment. Reaching rates of 28 per cent in the Near East and 29.5 per cent in North Africa, youth unemployment in these regions is the highest in the world.

The Arab region is also characterized by its dependence on food imports. Coordinated investment in rural areas is also essential, as a reduced dependence on food imports can only be achieved by strengthening regional cooperation. The issue of rural poverty is at the core of IFAD’s mission. Globally, awareness is growing that rural and urban areas are interdependent: Rural farmers feed cities, and cities provide markets, money, and services. But it is a tragic irony that many of the people who grow the food that feeds the cities go hungry themselves. Indeed, although the rural areas of developing countries provide four-fifths of the food consumed in urban centers, these same rural areas are home to three quarters of the world’s hungriest and poorest people.

Unless the development community directs its attention – and investment - to rural areas, overall sustainable development cannot be fully achieved.

Another particular challenge faced by the Arab region is that it is one of the most under-researched regions in the field of economics from 1985-2005. Access to data is difficult, which makes evidence-based decision-making challenging. A lack of data also limits the monitoring and evaluation of projects.

Here, too, we believe that partnership is part of the solution: Greater regional cooperation will enhance institutional effectiveness and impact on the ground, including intergovernmental processes at both regional and global levels.

For this reason, the Arab Spatial knowledge platform emerged as part of the IFAD-IFPRI partnership to promote open-access data and M&E tools for the Arab World. With over 150 socio-economic and biophysical indicators, the platform allows users to download, map and chart layers of these indicators for research, policy analysis, and general information.

In the Arab Region, we need to expand and scale up our efforts to build stronger partnerships in order to better the lives of all. With this newly launched Arab Food and Nutrition Security blog, it is my hope that IFAD will contribute to yet another valuable means to make our interventions on the ground more impactful in our pursuit of development effectiveness and poverty reduction.