Middle East and North Africa

Trade and infrastructure

Middle East and North Africa - Dimensions of food security

Given the region’s high dependency on food imports and projected increases in food price volatility, functioning international and national trade is crucial for food security in MENA countries. According to two recent IFPRI publications concerning trade liberalization in MENA and the prevention of recurring global food crises, solutions have to be found at international and national levels, including improving existing trade regimes, domestic programs, and by bettering the design and management of grain reserves.

Like other countries, many Arab countries are trying to build up costly national reserves, and focusing on increasing self-sufficiency. Because the loss of confidence in trade due to price volatility, Arab countries engage instead in foreign direct investment to ensure their national food security, by acquiring land from other countries. However, a global problem is likely to require global responses. A physical grain reserve for global emergencies can help address the adverse effects of food price crises for the most vulnerable. Managing institutions should strategically position emergency reserves in both large, food-producing countries and —more importantly—in food-importing, poor countries. An international working group is needed to regularly monitor food production, consumption, trade, stocks, prices, and policies, as well as energy prices, input prices, and financial market speculation. This working groupcan trigger action to prevent excessive price volatility, including guiding governments on the optimal level of grain reserves to be held for food security emergencies, when and how to release them, and at what prices. Arab governments can also take action “at home” by improving trade agreements, logistics, and infrastructure. Governments should establish and expand targeted safety net programs, and combine them with gender sensitive interventions that improve the productive capacity, health, and nutrition of vulnerable individuals and households.Improving basic social services and infrastructure, especially education and health for women, can foster food security and transformation effectively rapidly, and broadly.