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African, Arab ministers tackle food insecurity at joint summit - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A Palestinian farmer collects dates from palm trees during the harvest in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on September 29, 2013. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

A Palestinian farmer collects dates from palm trees during the harvest in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on September 29, 2013. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—On October 2, Riyadh hosted the largest-ever summit of Arab and African ministers. The summit discussed how to boost food supplies and tackle high prices and the rising food shortages in Africa and the Arab world. The summit also touched on how to boost the collaborative efforts of all Arab League and African Union states in achieving these common goals.

Agricultural development and food security were the main themes of the conference, as well as how to develop mechanisms for cooperation between the member-states of the two regional organizations, in order to advance Afro–Arab collaboration in tackling these issues.

All measures proposed at Wednesday’s conference will be debated, and possibly adopted, at the Arab–Africa summit to be held this November in Kuwait.

The Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union, Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, said: “We can turn this Afro–Arab cooperation into a powerful tool for enhancing trade and investment through the increasingly strong cultural ties in this geographical area, as well as enhancing capacities in the two regions.”

The summit was inspired by the fact that, internationally, 1.3 million tons of food is wasted each year while Arab and African states suffer food shortages, according to a recent report commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization. In 2010, the food gap for Arab states amounted to USD 34 million and the African food gap amounted to USD 14 million.

During the summit, the Arab and African nations and their financial institutions stated that they must reserve funds for agricultural development, scientific research and programs for agricultural guidance. Funding will also be required to invest in technology that can improve harvests.

Bridging the gap between the public and private sectors to increase the opportunities in agricultural development was also a goal. The summit highlighted the importance in acknowledging the human and social incentive for creating collaboration in agricultural development. It also indicated that there is a need to develop policies and legislation that can support investments in this field, especially policies focusing on the sustainability of natural resources.

The Saudi Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Fahd bin Abdulrahman Balghunaim, observed that food shortages have been affected by lower levels of food production, decreasing trade deficits for food, weaker economies, climate change, and the increasing number of natural disasters.

The Saudi minister said: “There are indications that there will be increasing demand for food in the future, at a much faster rate than the current production levels in the Arab and African regions. This will lead to an increasing dependence on food imports, and thus there is a potential risk of a repeat of the food crisis, as prohibitions and restrictions on exports in world markets.”

Balghunaim underlined that the current food insecurity confronting both regions will continue in the future. He called for concerted efforts and the mobilization of resources to confront that challenge, particularly a strategic partnership between the Arab League and the African Union to achieve food security and sustainable agricultural development in the two regions.

The Saudi agriculture minister added that “several factors have made this cooperation attractive, feasible and successful. The first of them is a commitment by the leaders and governments of the two regions for cooperation and coordination in the field of food security, reflected in the clarity of recommendations made in previous Arab–African summits beginning in 1977 and ending with the Sirte Summit in 2010.”

Additional reporting by Bandar Al-Sharida.