Thought-provoking discussion at the ICARDA fireside chat for MENA Climate Week
Mar 30 2022
Today during MENA Climate Week held in Dubai, ICARDA carried out an engaging and thought-provoking online ‘fireside chat’, hosted by ICARDA’s Climate Change Advisor Ms. Roula Majdalani alongside three co-speakers from the donor, development, and private sector.
ICARDA invited FAO Regional Programme Leader Mr. Jean-Marc Faures together with Ms. Laila Kenawy, National Programme Officer at the Embassy of Switzerland in Cairo, and Mr. Amr Elmohr, Quality and Food Safety Manager of Kellogg Tolaram Noodles in Egypt.
Over 100 members of the audience also participated in discussions focused on how to improve the resilience of MENA agrifood systems, providing inspiring insights and solutions.
As the most water-insecure region in the world, MENA countries are highly dependent on food imports to meet their populations’ nutritional needs, making them particularly vulnerable to global food commodity shocks.
While two years of pandemic have brought to light the vulnerability of global and regional food systems, the onset of the conflict in Ukraine in late February – which halted all grain exports from Ukraine and Russia – created a shockwave that hit Arab countries hard.
“The war in Ukraine is revealing the extent to which global food systems are actually not resilient: a handful of countries export the majority of food commodities, while many others are fully dependent on those exports, especially in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Jean-Marc Faures, who added that Russia and Ukraine combined export 30% of the total wheat exports and 65% of sunflower oil. “There are short-term and long-term solutions that need to be implemented to create stronger food systems, and I hope we won’t forget this series of crises – but build on it.”
Amr Elmohr, from the private sector, explained that food manufacturers have struggled over the past couple of years to access wheat – a vital component of Kellogg Tolaram Noodles’ operation in Egypt.
“Prices hikes and lower wheat supplies have disturbed our operations, and when the war in Ukraine started, we had to look for alternative, non-wheat-based flours to produce our instant noodles,” he said. Kellogg Tolaram is now assessing the feasibility of using cassava and other protein, fiber-packed flours instead. “The general trend in the food manufacturing sector is going towards sourcing more products domestically,” he explains.
With COP27 taking place in Sharm el-Sheik later this year, there is a growing momentum to push for more sustainability in most sectors – including agriculture. Laila Kenawy explained that dryland farmers can greatly benefit through low-cost innovations and farming packages, especially as climate change impacts yields. She was involved in a project in Minya which supported small landholders adopt low-tech greenhouses made of locally sourced material.
“Farmers’ productivity per acre of land went up 200%, and crop per drop productivity improved tremendously,” she explains. “A kilo of greenhouse-grown cucumbers, for example, needed 75% less water input than a kilo of conventionally grown cucumbers,” she says. “I am not saying it is a golden solution, however: investment costs remain quite high, and farmers need to be provided with training on how to control and manage pests and fungi in a greenhouse ecosystem. But we can produce more with less, provided the science-based, and affordable solutions are handed to farmers, along with training.”
Fixing global and regional food systems to ensure food security and price stability of food commodities is an extraordinary challenge we cannot afford to ignore. It is particularly urgent, according to our experts, to strengthen food systems in the Middle East and North Africa to maintain food security and political stability. ICARDA and its partners are fully involved in helping support this much-needed transition, for a peaceful, food-secure region.