Improving food security in Arab countries

Executive Summary

This joint working paper lays out a rationale and strategic framework for improving food security and managing food-price shocks in the Arab countries. The paper does not provide country specific policy and project recommendations. Such recommendations will follow from the country by country application of the framework, taking into account each country's political and cultural preferences, resource endowments, and risk tolerance.

In 2007 and the first half of 2008, a sharp rise in agricultural commodity and food prices triggered grave concerns about food security, malnutrition and increased poverty throughout the world. While the threat of a prolonged food-price shock receded with falling energy and commodity prices and a weakening global economy in the second half of 2008, many factors underlying the volatility in food prices appear here to stay and will require careful management if the world is to avoid future food-price shocks.

Arab countries import at least 50 percent of the food calories they consume. As the largest net importers of cereal, Arab countries are more exposed than other countries to severe swings in agricultural commodity prices, and their vulnerability will probably be exacerbated in coming years by strong population growth, low agricultural productivity, and their dependence on global commodities markets.

Arab countries need to act urgently to improve food security. Projections of the region's food balance indicate that dependence on imports will increase by almost 64 percent over the next twenty years.