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FAO NELWD Bulletin No.2 - 16 Dec, 2013

FAO NELWD Bulletin No.2, Land and Water Days in Near East & North Africa, 15-18 December 2013, Amman, Jordan

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FAO NELWD Bulletin No.2 - 16 Dec, 2013

  1. 1. 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 challenges. 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 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 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 nexus. Progresses in technologies to support farmers need to be complemented by conducive political and institutional frameworks An in-depth understanding of the socio-economic aspects impacting resource poor farmers needs to be developed 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 resources 7. New policies and strategies need to take into account any regional efforts already exerted.
  2. 2. Bulletin No. 2 December 16, 2013 Soils - the ‘forgotten resource’? 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 solved. 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 improved collaboration. 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.
  3. 3. 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 this session. 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 coherent whole. 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.
  4. 4. 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 cooperation. 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 context”. 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 resources.