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Bulletin No. 2
December 16, 2013
Sustainable Agriculture And Food
Security In The Region: An Overview
“A more effective water management can contribute to a better future for the
people of the region” says H.E. Dr. Akef El Zoubi, Minister of Agriculture of the
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “regional partnerships must be strengthened to make this happen”.
Jordan is confronted by several challenges in agricultural development: unpredictable rain patterns make this task
even more complicated. In the last decade the Ministry of Agriculture has mobilized resources and efforts to identify
innovative ways to prevent land erosion and improve the water agriculture productivity. “A regional initiative to
improve agriculture water management can support our efforts. We need to move from research and technical
solutions to application in farmers’ field. We need to reach out farmers and improve land use” affirmed Dr. El Zoubi.
Effective land and water systems are critical for the food security of the region. Almost 90% of the NENA land area is
arid or semi-arid with low rainfall that is becoming more unpredictable with changing climate patterns.
“In the past three decades, countries from the region managed to increase crop production by 1,7%, but this is not
sustainable on the long run as the ceiling of the agricultural potential has been reached in the NENA region”, says
Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant General Director. But efforts are not yet commensurated to the scope
The region currently imports more than 50% of its food need and, according to FAO projections, it will not be able to
feed itself by 2050 if current production and consumption patterns are not reversed.
The high dependence on food imports badly contributes to the vulnerability of NENA countries to any price shock in
international market. The less we produce the more we import. The more we import the more we are vulnerable.
Increasing urbanization, expanding urban settlements to the damage of lands and forests, usage of lands, current
consumption patterns, demographic trends and climate change are slowly but surely contributing to the degradation
of the fragile land and water resources of the region and limit to agriculture productivity.
What the solution?
Shifting gear: coping with Water Scarcity in NENA
Collaborative approaches are needed. Cooperation nowadays is no longer an option. Relevant stakeholders need to be brought around the same table to ensure the effectiveness of the strategies developed.
Water is not an isolated sector: integrated approaches are needed. The increasing competition for scarce
water resources in the Near East and North Africa highlights the importance of the food-water-energy
Progresses in technologies to support farmers need to be complemented by conducive political and
An in-depth understanding of the socio-economic aspects impacting resource poor farmers needs to be
Water use associations need to be supported to empower farmers in decision making processes
The increase of water productivity has to be accompanied by a sustainable management of natural
7. New policies and strategies need to take into account any regional efforts already exerted.
Bulletin No. 2 December 16, 2013
Soils - the
Tapping Expertise Across Regions,
Countries And Initiatives
Calls for regional land and water strategies are
growing. A lot of cooperation exists today – it is
time for it to increase.
The importance of increased cooperation, and communication
between countries as a solution to improving the food security –
land and water needs – of populations in the Near East and North
Africa is recognized and much talked-about. But is it really happening? And do countries recognize that cooperation across regions
complements effective national strategies?
A clear message emerging from the discussion in the Regional cooperation session of the FAO Land & Water Days in Amman this week, is
that without stronger cross-regional links, the land and water issues
faced by many in the North Africa-Near East region may not be
Six experts from international organizations, donor agencies and
partner countries exchanged examples of working regional cooperation efforts with participants and the group explored ideas for
They also looked at what
is needed for this cooperation
to work better.
The discussion on the potential for
regional cooperation on soils,
contrasted the view of this resource
with the many initiatives and activities around cross border and trans
boundary water use. “Soils are often
not the top priority for regional cooperation, yet they are the key to agriculture,“ commented a discussant.
The perception of many people is
that soils are for growing plants. But
there should be more appreciation of
the vast hidden value that soils bring
to ecosystems and food production.
A discussant commented that soils
are also a vital system for producing
carbon and retaining water – crucial
characteristics for dry lands.
Some members stressed that
regional partnerships for agricultural
development need to include soils
and comparisons were made
between planners’ perception of
water and soil management. “Water
resources planners ask what
purposes water should be used for, or
where is best location to allocate
limited water resources for food
production. The same should be
asked of soils. The reality is that there
are relatively few soils where good
crops can be grown in these dry
areas. There should be a more strategic focus on soils, nationally and as a
regional concept,” argued one participant.
Bulletin No. 2 December 16, 2013
Regional initiatives and information platforms
Good examples of regional cooperation lie in the various platforms and initiatives, some of which were presented in
Jordan participates in the MENSIS soils information system – a regional network that is developing in 20 countries in the
region. The platform is creating a regional soil network and soil map to help countries exchange on regional issues such
as degradation, erosion and urbanization, causing the loss of already limited arable soils.
A briefing on the RECAR initiative was given by the representative of the League of Arab States. This initiative is linked
to FAO water scarcity initiative and involved a host of partners across the region, including international development
groups, national agencies and non-governmental organizations. RECAR is producing an assessment of the state of
water resources in the region, creating an Arab regional knowledge hub on climate and using water modeling
techniques to develop regional climate scenarios and pinpoint vulnerability hotspots.
FAO’s Near East Water Scarcity Initiative aims to bring together 20 countries in the region to stimulate fresh thinking on
how water resources can be managed.
Participants considered that, generally, current, levels of food and water insecurity are not sustainable and that the way
water is managed in many countries does not reflect the severity of the of the problem in some areas. What does the
initiative mean by fresh thinking?
Improving performance of irrigated agriculture is important. But has it reached its limits? Other paradigms and
approaches can include the use of wastewater or grey water, water harvesting, supplemental irrigation, and other
approaches to expand rainfed food production systems. This initiative is engaging countries in dialogue to help them
define priorities and develop new lines of thinking on how they can do more with less water.
Starting five pilot countries – Egypt, Jordan Tunisia, Morocco, Oman, Yemen – the Near East Water Scarcity Initiative is
developing a regional strategy, targeting the use of water accounting and economic analysis on a ‘food supply cost
curve’ and a range of activities to strengthen regional thinking and partnerships.
Against this background and the expert consultation in this session, what is the state of regional cooperation on water
and land today? Participants concluded that there is quite a lot happening – but for optimal results, the pace needs to
be intensified. Countries need clear strategies for linking into stronger regional exchanges for water and land management, they said. And, bridges are needed – to link the proliferation of useful initiatives, activities and platforms – into
Exploring alternative water resources:
the importance of awareness raising
Low water quality, limited choices of crops and soil degradation, coupled
with high costs and need for energy supplies, are the main challenges to
the exploration of alternative water resources and the use of treated waste
water in the NENA region.
Socio-cultural influences lead, at times, users and farmers to reject the
reuse of treated water. Pshycological aversion due to the questionable
origin of the wastewater or to the health concerns related to it make the
reuse of waste water a difficult concept to accept.
Education and awareness raising campaigns can mitigate this disincentive
and play a key role in changing this traditional negative perception.
Campaigns need to be strengthen by continuous efforts to regularly monitor the quality of water and resources should be mobilized to enhance
national capacities to make monitoring systems accurate and effective.
Bulletin No. 2 December 16, 2013
What is the future of transboundary cooperation?
Where would you start from to promote transboundary cooperation? From the information?
From the legal framework? (ESCWA)
When it comes to transboundary water management, political borders represent an additional constraint to cooperation, providing occasion for conflicts. Initiatives to promote transboundary cooperation need time to be established
but, eventually succeed.
Established between Egypt, Libya and Chad, the Nubian Sand storms Aquifer System
is the largest one ever created. As for all transboundary efforts, a decade was needed
for its establishment and now it can be considered a model to strengthen regional
The presence of a Joint Authority for the Study and Development of the Nubian Sandstorm Aquifer System has been pivotal to ensure that the decision making process
was sustained by an appropriate institutional framework. The multilateral ownership
also facilitated a multidisciplinary understanding of the function of the aquifer.
The Nubian System can be considered as a success story because it succeeded in
promoting a shift from transboundary cooperation on joint assessment to joint management. The Strategic Action Programme recently endorsed at ministerial level,
within the NSAS clearly highlights how the political will is crucial to translate ideas
and knowledge into processes. “Scientific research can provide recommendations,
but the implementation of recommendations depends on the political will and
The experience of ESCWA and its partners in
Western Asia suggested that encouraging joint
data collection and assessments can become a
good practice in transboundary water
resources management, building the necessary trust among participating countries to
accelerate the shift towards joint management
of water resources. As data collection can be
challenging in some contexts, the promotion
of joint knowledge-based inventories can help
the development of reliable databases to
interconnect different aspects of water