Home » Holistic solutions required to address food insecurity

Holistic solutions required to address food insecurity

by Madaline Dunn

The MENA’s food insecurity crisis is being exacerbated by climate change, an over-dependence on imports, and rocketing food prices. But, as the MENA’s population continues to grow, the clock is ticking to find sustainable food security solutions.

Feeding a growing population amidst complex challenges

The MENA already has limited food production capabilities, but, as Shaikh Dr. Majid Al Qassimi, Co-Founder and Partner at Soma Mater Management Consultancies, notes, climate change and extreme weather events are straining this further. 

On top of limited water resources, shrinking arable land and decreasing agricultural productivity, Dr. Al Qassimi highlights that food insecurity in the region also stems from both internal and external instabilities. Externally, he said, this comes from fluctuation in sources of trade. 

Indeed, for decades, the region has struggled to produce the food required to feed its population, meaning it has increasingly relied on imports. It is now one of the largest net food-importing regions in the world.

However, such reliance on imports means the region is extremely susceptible to changing weather patterns, market shifts and external conflicts, which Dr. Al Qassimi notes, creates distortions in price and results in source and trade instability. 

This over-reliance on imports has proven especially risky in recent years. The Covid-19 pandemic was a catalyst for exposing the global food system’s fragility. But in a region already grappling with intersecting crises, this pushed food insecurity levels even higher. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of people in the Arab world without access to adequate food increased by over ten million. The number of undernourished people, meanwhile, increased by 4.8 million.

On top of existing bottlenecks, global geopolitical tensions and conflicts continue to disrupt supply chains. For example, Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, while the MENA is the top grain-importing region, meaning the war has had a significant impact on food security. 

The conflict has led to a sharp increase in food prices, although countries in the region have been affected to varying degrees. Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia are all on the list of countries most dependent on Ukraine and Russia for agri-food commodities. However, food inflation has been high across the region, with the poorest households hit with double-digit food inflation the hardest. 

Concerningly, experts have noted that “even temporary” food price increases can cause “long-term, irreversible damages.” They warn that this may have “altered the destinies” of hundreds of thousands of children in the MENA. 

Food security rises to the top of the agenda

With such widespread challenges, food security is now a top priority for many MENA countries, with GCC countries, in particular, ramping up efforts toward greater self-sufficiency. 

The UAE’s National Food Security Strategy 2051, for example, aims to make the country the world’s best in the Global Food Security Index by 2051. Already, this has led to significant investment in various innovation projects and initiatives, as seen in the creation of the Food Tech Valley, aimed at tripling the UAE’s food production. 

Meanwhile, last year, Saudi Arabia launched a $10 billion food security plan. Qatar has also launched its own food security strategy, and between 2017 and 2019 alone, domestic food production reportedly grew 400 per cent. 

There’s also been a rise in cross-border initiatives and regional partnerships. Last year, for example, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan signed a $10bn industrial partnership agreement for cooperation across five areas. This included food, agriculture and fertilisers. 

Tech innovation as a central part of the solution

With food security an increasing priority, investment in tech innovation is also ramping up. For example, investment in the region as a share of global agritech investments jumped from 1% in 2021 to 4% in 2022. 

And indeed, agritech is providing farmers with the tools they need for greater farm and field management, reduced inputs, and higher productivity. 

Vertical farming and hydroponics also look like they will play a role in reducing reliance on imports. Red Sea Farms, the produce arm of RedSea, is using the latter, along with the region’s natural resources, to bolster production capabilities. It uses 90 per cent saltwater to grow its crops, which saves 300 litres of freshwater per kilogram of produce.

Meanwhile, Desert Control is working on nature-based solutions to enable crop growth across the region’s arid landscape. With its non-intrusive Liquid Natural Clay (LNC), it’s able to transform desert land into fertile soil.

Likewise, foodtech solutions are proving effective in reducing the inputs and land required to produce food, and could be a key part of boosting food self-sufficiency. 

Take precision fermentation, for example, which some have said “may be the most important green technology ever.” A refined form of brewing, it uses genetically modified microorganisms to produce proteins and other compounds which can be developed to make meat, eggs, and dairy. Further, research shows that precision fermentation can use up to 99 per cent less water, and up to 60 per cent less energy, resulting in up to 97 per cent less greenhouse gases. 

Additionally, while these proteins are currently more expensive, the price is coming down. In 2019, think tank RethinkX predicted it would result in proteins being five times cheaper than livestock farming by 2030 and ten times cheaper by 2035.

Commenting on the potential and role of alternative proteins, Dr. Al Qassimi said they do indeed have a part to play in giving countries an opportunity to “look at other nutrition pathways to solve food insecurity.”

However, he noted that many of these ventures are in the early stages of their technology and need “much more investment, research and application studies.”

Dr. Al Qassimi also highlighted the potential of regenerative agriculture. “Regenerative Agriculture shows incredible potential to develop and restore soil systems and food productivity to already limited or stripped land, and bolster the natural resource challenge,” he said. 

Ultimately, as countries in the MENA mobilise to fight food insecurity, one thing is clear: addressing food insecurity requires holistic strategies working in tandem. As Dr. Al Qassimi notes: “None of our food security challenges will be solved by single technologies or companies, or countries for that matter.”

You may also like  | About Us | Careers | Privacy & Policy

 © 2024 ESG Mena