ESCWA and the International Food Policy Research Institute Urge Enhanced Regional Food Security

Beirut, 6 February 2012 – The Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Nadim Khouri called for the need to take advantage of available opportunities to improve food security in the region through trade and foreign investments to ensure benefits for all. The call came in a statement delivered today by Khouri at the opening session of the international conference entitled “A Food Secure Arab World: A Roadmap for Policy and Research,” jointly organized by ESCWA and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and held at the UN House in Beirut.

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The conference, which is convening 6-7 February, will tackle issues related to food security and poverty in the region, promising policies, technological and institutional innovations, and investments priorities.

“We have to guarantee food resources for future generations and their children,” said Khouri. Ongoing discussions are held in the parley to identify a roadmap and available options for the Arab countries on the short and long term access to food security, alleviation of poverty and unemployment, he added. The challenges facing food security in our region are substantial and interrelated, and thus need to be addressed by all and through urgent, decisive measures. These mainly involve the management of our natural resources, including water resources, in a way that ensures their sustainability. Khouri said it was important to identifying the best ways to mitigate climate change impacts on scarce water resources in the region. “Challenges are not limited to one country and not the others, and hence the need for collective work and regional cooperation to develop clear strategies and feasible work plans, based on hands-on, applicable researches and studies,” he emphasized. Khouri concluded that cooperation in this regard is no longer an option but rather a strategic necessity to achieve food security.

For his part, Chairperson of IFPRI’s Board of Trustees Fawzi Al Sultan said the Arab world is going through both an exciting and challenging phase in history. “While the political transformation has led to slower growth, many of the economic and development challenges have remained the same,” he added. These challenges are due to domestic and external factors. External factors include severe natural resource constraints, climate variability, and internationally volatile commodity prices and food availability. Al Sultan stated that the region’s double-digit poverty and unemployment rates, stunted private sector, struggling rural sector, lack of economic diversification, and overall weak governance need to be addressed in order to leverage food security for development in the Arab world. “As such, this event is very timely as it will address the important issues and challenges that face the region and their impact on the poor and the food insecure,” he said. The leading IFPRI official concluded by highlighting that ESCWA’s objectives of supporting the socioeconomic development of the region, promoting cooperation and interaction among its countries through the exchange of experience, best practices and lessons learned, seamlessly blend in with IFPRI’s objectives of a food secure development path for the region.

In his statement, Director General of IFPRI Shenggen Fan said food and nutrition security exist when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. “The Middle East and North Africa region is still far away from achieving food and nutrition security goals. On the one hand, more than 37 million people remain undernourished, and on the other hand the region has one of the highest incidences of obesity and overweight,” he added. Fan said IFPRI is committed to advancing efforts to improve food security in the region. Agriculture, particularly smallholder agriculture, has a strong role to play in enhancing food security as many poor and hungry people, especially in countries like Sudan and Yemen, still rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. He stated that non-farm-based economies in the region must also be developed and untapped human resources, particularly among the youth, must be fully utilized. “Carefully designed trade policy and regional food reserve strategies will contribute to the improvement of regional food and nutrition security more efficiently,” Fan concluded.

The conference addresses issues affecting food security, including economic transformation, climate change, health and nutrition, governance and conflict, trade, and foreign direct investment. Participants will also help set priorities on the most effective areas of research to reduce rural poverty; increase food security, nutrition, and health; improve sustainability of natural resources; and enhance opportunities for and participation of women.

The conference is also organized in collaboration with the American University of Beirut, Cairo University, the Economic Research Forum, the Hassan II Institute for Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine in Rabat and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Area. Participants from the Arab region include researchers, policymakers, program managers, and development practitioners. The conference will provide a roadmap for policymakers and advisors with a view to achieving their food security, poverty reduction, and job creation goals.

More information on the conference is available at: http://fsaw2012.ifpri.info/

Contact Information: 

Journalists interested in conducting interviews with participants can coordinate with Ms Maryam Sleiman via e-mail sleiman2@un.org, by phone on 03/910930 or 01/978815, or with Ms Sarah Immenschuh via e-mail s.immenschuh@cgiar.org or by phone on 76/073256

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