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Arabs head-to-head with food security challenge

Khalid Dalal
Khalid Dalal is a former advisor at the Royal Hashemite Court, a former director of media and communication at the Office of His Majesty King Abdullah, and works currently as a senior advisor for business development at Al-Ghad and Jordan News. (Photo: Jordan News)
Two years of the pandemic have brought the Arab world face to face with a bitter reality that cannot be ignored and must be addressed urgently, and in a sustainable way.اضافة اعلان

His Majesty King Abdullah, in an interview during his recent visit to the US, with H.R. McMaster in Washington, DC, for the Battlegrounds series by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, made remarks which clearly indicate that this is the case.

His Majesty said that he “engages with Arab leaders in discussions on how countries in the region can find solutions for their own problems”.

“So you will see Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq, Egypt, and some of the other Gulf countries really coming together to tie in and chart a vision for their peoples,” the King added.

In their broader sense, His Majesty’s remarks are not exclusively about politics, as “charting a vision” for the peoples of the region through home-grown solutions means rising up to tackle every problem the region is struggling with, including food security, which is jeopardized by broader issues – climate change, shrinking of arable land, global population growth – and, more acutely now, by the Russia-Ukraine war.

What made things worse is that this war is happening during the highly challenging post-COVID era.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the inflation rate surged to 14.8 percent in the MENA region last year, due mainly to higher food prices. Ukraine and Russia, after all, produce a third of the global wheat and barley crops, and the Middle East relies heavily on these essential commodities. This year, even a loaf of bread can no longer be taken for granted in countries like Yemen, Lebanon and Syria.
The potential lies in the fact that willing Arab countries can complement each other.
Besides the latest urgent issues, the region is suffering from water shortage, lags behind, with the exception of a few bright spots here or there, as the world is embracing the knowledge-based Fourth Industrial Revolution, and scores low in the field of education.

The good news is that Jordan and the aforementioned countries are taking these challenges seriously, aware that this is a sink-or-swim situation, are on talking terms, and have the potential to succeed.

The potential lies in the fact that willing Arab countries can complement each other. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are already engaged in building a modern future, based on impressive visions, the availability of financial resources, and their ability to attract talent, both local and foreign, to help accomplish the mission. That is why UAE, for example, is heading toward world leadership in the fields of agriculture, high-tech industries, and helping dozens of under-developed countries tap their potential and stand on their feet.

Jordan and Egypt have a pool of talent that can man pan-Arab projects oriented toward a future where the nations of this region would not be subjected to global shocks, as they would be growing their own food and manufacturing the products they need without relying on external parties, although partnership with key players is necessary at this stage.

Maybe the best move now is to institutionalize this cooperation and coordination among Arab partners through an initiative overseen by the Arab League, starting with a meeting at the level of agriculture ministers, to set priorities and endorse the blueprints without delay.

Even a fifth-grader knows that Sudan can be the Arab world’s food basket if the right investments and technologies are in place there, for example.

Working toward reaching self-reliance would show understanding of the wisdom of Indian leader Abdul-Kalam who once said: “Do we not realize that self-respect comes with self-reliance?”


The writer is a former advisor at the Royal Hashemite Court, a former director of media and communication at the Office of His Majesty King Abdullah, and works currently as a senior advisor for business development at Al-Ghad and Jordan News.


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