Maghrebi strategy to close food security gaps by 2030

The region’s food issue can be summarised in inadequate governmental strategies, lack of adequate investment in the food and food industries sectors and climate change.
Sunday 10/03/2019
Tunisian farmers harvest a wheat field in the vicinity of Kalaat El-Andalous near Tunis.    (AFP)
Increasing challenges. Tunisian farmers harvest a wheat field in the vicinity of Kalaat El-Andalous near Tunis. (AFP)

TUNIS - Maghreb countries are planning to initiate a comprehensive strategy to ensure food security, build capabilities and raise levels of preparedness ahead of increasing challenges in food production sectors.

Ministers of agriculture of Maghreb Union countries, meeting recently in Tunis, agreed to develop a common vision for food security for the next ten years.

The region suffers from a structural deficit in food security because arable land, estimated at 5.8 million sq.km, does not exceed 3.7% of the total area of the Maghreb countries. The total irrigated area does not represent more than 7% of total cultivated area.

In a communique released at the conclusion of 18th session of the Maghrebi ministerial committee in charge of food security, the ministers called for the development of joint Maghrebi programmes focused on food security, along with the creation of a special fund for research.

The ministers emphasised the need “to encourage private investment among the Maghrebi countries in the fields of agriculture and fishery to increase productivity and provide additional job opportunities for Maghrebi youth.”

Arab Maghreb Union members — Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia — have been working to meet various common challenges. Despite their efforts, they are experiencing difficulties implementing the plans.

Experts said the region’s food issue can be summarised in inadequate governmental strategies, lack of adequate investment in the food and food industries sectors and climate change.

To advance their plan, the ministers said there is an urgent need to set up a Maghrebi Bank for seed, grain and dry beans, as well as promoting bilateral and multilateral trading activities in agricultural and fishing produce in the region and reinforcing the role of professional organisations and specialised networks in food security.

The ministerial committee called for speeding up the establishment of an emergency Maghreb fund for food security to prevent the spread of animal and plant pests in addition to the establishment of an early warning drought observatory.

The committee urged the five countries to finalise procedures to accept agreed-upon protocols regarding veterinary, fishery and aquaculture.

Another important strategic goal considered by the committee was encouraging the use of technology, remote sensing and specialised systems to manage irrigation use.

Arab Maghreb countries rely on two major factors to achieve the highest standards of agricultural sustainability: doubling exports to markets across the Mediterranean and redirecting attention to Africa, considering changing economic conditions globally.

The second factor concerns increasing efforts to unify members’ participation in international fairs and exhibitions, which would enable them to increase exports and to build a unified, strong and competitive front.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said the absence of economic integration among Maghreb countries costs each country 1-2 percentage points of economic growth. An IMF report released in February stated that economic integration plays a significant role in economic growth in the region, resulting in an additional 1% growth for each Maghreb country.

Another study published on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Arab Maghreb Union stated that the combined GDP of the Maghreb Union countries could reach $360 billion if the economies of the countries were integrated.

The United Nations said inter-country trade in the region accounts for 5% of the total value of its external transactions, compared to an estimated 66% of inter-regional trade in the European Union.

It was noted that Maghrebi countries seem to prefer trading with European countries rather than increasing with Maghreb Union members. Experts said this illustrates the fragility of the Maghreb countries’ economies despite efforts to open to foreign markets, particularly in Africa.

Studies have shown that the Maghreb countries are losing 3% of GDP growth each year because of the recession, while they incur losses in foreign trade. The total volume of foreign trade does not exceed $6 billion annually.

What is also significant is that regulatory arrangements regarding inter-regional trade in the Maghreb have been finalised and more than 40 trade agreements, including deals on the unification of trade tariffs, free trade and the unification of customs tariffs, have been signed.

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