In effect, three ways cities can help feed the world . . . without costing the Earth, per Silvio Caputo, University of Kent seem to be one of the few options remaining for life on earth to carry on.
Climate change is underway, and human activities such as urbanisation, industrialisation and food production are key contributors. Food production alone accounts for around 25% of global carbon emissions. Ironically, the changing weather patterns and more frequent extreme weather events resulting from climate change also put the world’s food supplies at risk.
Food production drives deforestation, meaning there are fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide, which contributes to the greenhouse effect. What’s more, the fertilisers and pesticides used to protect crops have caused a dramatic decline in insect populations, and in soil fertility, by affecting the microbial organisms that enrich the soil and enable plants to gain nutrients.
At the same time, the world population is rising and there are expected to be more than 9.5 billion people on Earth by 2050. In response to these projections, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is campaigning for a 60% increase in food production by 2050, by intensifying agriculture to be more productive and use fewer resources, all without increasing the amount of farm land.
It’s not yet clear exactly how this “intensification” should happen. Alternative methods, such as organic farming, are respectful of soil ecology and insect life and can restore soil fertility. But they cannot, at present, produce as much food as industrial agriculture.
Yet the idea that we need more food is debatable. Although, according to the FAO, there are 821m people globally suffering from hunger, the world produces 50% more food than is needed to feed the global population. Another estimate from biologist and author Colin Tudge suggests that the current food production can feed as many as 14 billion people. But one third of this food is wasted because of distorted supply systems, unjust food distribution and unhealthy and unsustainable diets.
So, the efforts of experts in the food sector should not concentrate on agriculture intensification, but rather on strategies to change patterns of consumption and waste at a local and global level. My own research on urban agriculture and sustainable cities suggests there are three main areas where effective changes can be made.
1. Recycling food waste
Food consumption needs to become “circular”. This means that organic waste such as food scraps does not go to landfill, but is instead transformed into compost (which will be needed in a transition to organic agriculture) and biogas.
At present, organic waste is only recycled to a small extent, with some countries such as Germany and the Netherlands leading, while others including Italy and Belgium lag behind. But there are new technologies emerging to make this process easier.
For example, the Local Energy Adventure Partnership (LEAP) has created an anaerobic digester designed for an urban context: this machine can transform organic waste from residential or commercial buildings into compost and biogas that can fuel urban food growing.
Some experts also suggest that some food waste – if treated properly – could be used as animal fodder: a practice currently forbidden on hygiene grounds. If reinstated, this measure could reduce the environmental impact of grain cultivation, as less is grown to feed livestock.
2. Urban farming
Another option is to decrease demand for agricultural land by growing food in cities, where more people need it, thereby reducing the distances food has to travel. This would also allow producers to map and match consumers’ demand more effectively, by producing close to the places where food is consumed.
There is a lot of research on urban agriculture and how cities can support it, spanning from vertical farms – hydroponic systems enabling cultivation on vertical surfaces – to principles for planning cities that facilitate the use of land, rooftops and other spaces to grow food into a continuous green infrastructure.
In this area, too, it’s possible to find innovations designed to make urban farming easier and more sustainable. For example, The Farmhouse is a modular housing system suitable for vertical stacking that enables all residents to grow food. And Blockchain Domes is a patented system that uses excess heat from computer servers to provide optimal thermal conditions for greenhouses in colder climates.
3. Changing diets
The third option is to encourage people to change their diets. Growing middle-income groups in developing countries are consuming ever higher quantities of meat, cheese and eggs. In China, since 1990, consumption of beef and poultry has quadrupled. But the diet of farmed animals is heavy in grains, which instead could be used to feed people more efficiently. Also, cattle farming requires vast quantities of water and grassland, sometimes obtained through deforestation.
Getting people to eat less meat will help to ease the pressure on the world’s food system. In cities, governments, research institutions, communities and businesses can collaborate on food initiatives to give people healthier, cheaper and more sustainable choices – but this requires political will and organisation between different levels of government.
Clearly, each of these approaches has a limited scope of action, compared to agricultural techniques or strategies which can be deployed at an industrial level. But with so many promising proposals, there can be a many-pronged approach that that makes efficient use of the existing resources in cities, while also changing consumers’ habits. Together with these three changes, more effective policies for food justice and sovereignty can establish fairer food supply chains and more just distribution of food around the world.
WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America, March 27, 2019 / APO Group/ —
The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems
Today, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green announced a $90 million investment in three leading universities in Egypt, which will form partnerships with American universities to create Centers of Excellence in energy, water, and agriculture.
The three Centers of Excellence will establish linkages between Egyptian universities and leading counterparts in the United States, help forge relationships between Egyptian and American researchers and experts, and drive research and innovation in sectors that are key to Egypt’s future economic growth. The three partnerships will be the following:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will partner with Ain Shams University to establish a Center of Excellence in Energy;
Cornell University in New York will partner with Cairo University to create a Center of Excellence in Agriculture; and
The American University in Cairo will partner with Alexandria University to develop a Center of Excellence in Water.
Through the establishment of the Centers of Excellence, USAID and the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, will increase the capacity of Egypt’s higher-education institutions and create linkages between research and the public and private sectors in the areas of agriculture, water, and energy. Each Center of Excellence will use applied research to drive innovation and competitiveness in the public and private sectors, strengthen Egyptian Government policy to stimulate economic growth, and contribute solutions to Egypt’s development challenges. The three Centers of Excellence are a part of the investment by the American people in Egypt’s human and economic development.
The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems, driving innovation, and leading to lower unemployment and improved performance in the private and public sector.
The main activities of the partnership will include the following:
Creating lasting partnerships between Egyptian public universities and U.S. universities;
Updating university curricula and teaching methods to align Egyptian university education with the needs of local industry; and
Establishing undergraduate-and graduate-level scholarships for students with high financial need; and
Implement exchange programs to foster cross-border learning.
Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development based on our shared ideals and interests.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Africa Regional Media Hub.
This article originally appeared on Fast Company, it was republished by the World Economic Forum on 8 March 2019. It is to be noted that in the eastern end of the MENA region, notably in the Gulf Cooperation Countries, Asian populations and investments happily cohabitate with the respective native minorities.
By Parag Khanna, Senior Research Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
This excerpt is from Parag Khanna’s book “The
future is Asian”. The book was chosen as February’s book for the World
Economic Forum Book Club. Each month, a new book will be selected and discussed
in the group. The author will then join in on the last day of the month to
reply to some questions from our audience.
When we look back from 2100 at the
date on which the cornerstone of an Asian-led world order began, it will be
2017. In May of that year, sixty-eight countries representing two-thirds of the
world’s population and half its GDP gathered in Beijing for the first Belt and
Road Initiative (BRI) summit. This gathering of Asian, European, and African
leaders symbolized the launch of the largest coordinated infrastructure
investment plan in human history. Collectively, the assembled governments
pledged to spend trillions of dollars in the coming decade to connect the
world’s largest population centers in a constellation of commerce and cultural
exchange—a new Silk Road era.
The Belt and Road Initiative is the
most significant diplomatic project of the twenty-first century, the equivalent
of the mid-twentieth-century founding of the United Nations and World Bank plus
the Marshall Plan all rolled into one. The crucial difference: BRI was
conceived in Asia and launched in Asia and will be led by Asians. This is the
story of one entire side of the planet—the Asian side—and its impact on the
Asians once again see themselves as
the center of the world—and its future. The Asian economic zone—from the
Arabian Peninsula and Turkey in the west to Japan and New Zealand in the east,
and from Russia in the north to Australia in the south—now represents 50
percent of global GDP and two-thirds of global economic growth. Of the
estimated $30 trillion in middle-class consumption growth estimated between
2015 and 2030, only $1 trillion is expected to come from today’s Western
economies. Most of the rest will come from Asia.
Asia produces and exports, as well as
imports and consumes, more goods than any other region, and Asians trade and
invest more with one another than they do with Europe or North America. Asia
has several of the world’s largest economies, most of the world’s foreign
exchange reserves, many of the largest banks and industrial and technology
companies, and most of the world’s biggest armies. Asia also accounts for 60
percent of the world’s population. It has ten times as many people as Europe
and twelve times as many people as North America. As the world population
climbs toward a plateau of around 10 billion people, Asia will forever be home
to more people than the rest of the world combined. They are now speaking.
Prepare to see the world from the Asian point of view.
To see the world from the Asian point
of view requires overcoming decades of accumulated—and willfully
cultivated—ignorance about Asia. To this day, Asian perspectives are often
inflected through Western prisms; they can only color to an unshakable
conventional Western narrative, but nothing more. Yet the presumption that
today’s Western trends are global quickly falls on its face. The “global
financial crisis” was not global: Asian growth rates continued to surge, and
almost all the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Asia. In 2018, the
world’s highest growth rates were reported in India, China, Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Uzbekistan. Though economic stimulus arrangements and ultralow
interest rates have been discontinued in the United States and Europe, they
continue in Asia. Similarly, Western populist politics from Brexit to Trump
haven’t infected Asia, where pragmatic governments are focused on inclusive
growth and social cohesion. Americans and Europeans see walls going up, but
across Asia they are coming down.
Rather than being backward-looking,
navel-gazing, and pessimistic, billions of Asians are forward-looking,
outward-oriented, and optimistic.
These blind spots are a symptom of a
related oversight often found in foreign analyses of Asia, namely that they are
actually about the United States. There is a presumption that Asia (and frankly
every other region as well) is strategically inert and incapable of making
decisions or itself; all it is waiting for is the US leadership to tell them
what to do. But from the Asian view, the past two decades have been
characterized by President George W. Bush’s incompetence, President Barack
Obama’s half-heartedness, and President Donald Trump’s unpredictability.
The United States’ laundry list of perceived
threats—from ISIS and Iran to North Korea and China—have their locus in Asia,
but the United States has developed no comprehensive strategy for addressing
them. In Washington it is fashionable to promote an “Indo-Pacific” maritime
strategy as an antidote to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, failing to see how
in reality Asia’s terrestrial and maritime zones cannot be so neatly separated
from each other. For all their differences, Asians have realized that their
shared geography is a far more permanent reality than the United States’
unreliable promises. The lesson: the United States is a Pacific power with a
potent presence in maritime Asia, but it is not an Asian power.
The most consequential misunderstanding
permeating Western thought about Asia is being overly China-centric. Much as
geopolitical forecasters have been looking for “number one,” many have fallen
into the trap of positing a simplistic “G2” of the United States and China
competing to lead the world. But neither the world as a whole nor Asia as a
region is headed toward a Chinesetianxia, or harmonious global system guided by
Chinese Confucian principles. Though China presently wields more power than its
neighbors, its population is plateauing and is expected to peak by 2030. Of
Asia’s nearly 5 billion people, 3.5 billion are not Chinese.
Asia’s future is thus much more than
whatever China wants. China is historically not a colonial power. Unlike the
United States, it is deeply cautious about foreign entanglements. China wants
foreign resources and markets, not foreign colonies. Its military forays from
the South China Sea to Afghanistan to East Africa are premised on protecting
its sprawling global supply lines— but its grand strategy of building global
infrastructure is aimed at reducing its dependence on any one foreign supplier
(as are its robust alternative energy investments).
China’s launching the Belt and Road
Initiative doesn’t prove that it will rule Asia, but it does remind us that
China’s future, much like its past, is deeply embedded in Asia. BRI is widely
portrayed in the West as a Chinese hegemonic design, but its paradox is that it
is accelerating the modernization and growth of countries much as the United
States did with its European and Asian partners during the Cold War. BRI will
be instructive in showing everyone, including China, just how quickly colonial
logic has expired. By joining BRI, other Asian countries have tacitly
recognized China as a global power—but the bar for hegemony is very high. As
with US interventions, we should not be too quick to assume that China’s
ambitions will succeed unimpeded and that other powers won’t prove sufficiently
bold in asserting themselves as well. Nuclear powers India and Russia are on
high alert over any Chinese trespassing on their sovereignty and interests, as
are regional powers Japan and Australia. Despite spending $50 billion between
2000 and 2016 on infrastructure and humanitarian projects across the region,
China has purchased almost no meaningful loyalty. The phrase “China-led Asia”
is thus no more acceptable to most Asians than the notion of a “US-led West” is
China has a first-mover advantage in
such places where other Asian and Western investors have hesitated to go. But
one by one, many countries are pushing back and renegotiating Chinese projects
and debts. Here, then, is a more likely scenario: China’s forays actually
modernize and elevate these countries, helping them gain the confidence to
resist future encroachment. Furthermore, China’s moves have inspired an
infrastructural “arms race,” with India, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and others
also making major investments that will enable weaker Asian nations to better
connect to one another and counter Chinese maneuvers. Ultimately, China’s
position will be not of an Asian or global hegemon but rather of the eastern
anchor of the Asian—and Eurasian—megasystem.
The farther one looks into the
future, therefore, the more clearly Asia appears to be—as has been the norm for
most of its history—a multipolar region with numerous confident civilizations
evolving largely independent of Western policies but constructively coexisting
with one another. A reawakening of Western confidence and vitality would be
very welcome, but it would not blunt Asia’s resurrection. Asia’s rise is
structural, not cyclical. There remain pockets of haughty ignorance centered
around London and Washington that persist in the belief that Asia will come
undone as China’s economy slows or will implode under the strain of nationalist
rivalries. These opinions about Asia are irrelevant and inaccurate in equal
measure. As Asian countries emulate one another’s successes, they leverage
their growing wealth and confidence to extend their influence to all corners of
the planet. The Asianization of Asia is just the first step in the Asianization
of the world.
According to Yale Climate Connections, in a February 20, 2019, Food & Agriculture topic article, it is said that “Researchers look for ways to meet rising global food demand. The challenge: produce 50 percent more food while reducing GHG emissions by one-third.”
Feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population –
currently at 7.6 billion and expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 –
without exacerbating climate change will require the closing of three
significant gaps, according to a new report, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.”
The gaps highlighted in a recent World Resources
Institute (WRI) report involve:
supply, simply producing enough to meet rising demand;
for food production: The report estimates that if current production rates
continue with the same yields, an additional area almost twice the size of
India would be required to produce enough food; and
increased greenhouse gas emissions likely to be produced by the additional food
production needed by 2050.
Feeding a rapidly growing population in a
sustainable way is a challenge, researchers have grappled with for some time.
“If you just wanted to feed the world and you didn’t worry about the
environment at all, you know that’s probably not that hard because we just
basically go and chop down a lot more land, a lot more forest,” says lead
author Tim Searchinger. “But the challenge is inherently producing all that
more food plus not converting additional land – that’s where the challenge is.”
Searchinger is a Princeton University research
scholar who collaborated with an array of international researchers over the
past six years to produce the WRI report. A synthesis version was released in
December 2018, and the roughly 500-page full report is to be published this
Challenges in feeding 10 billion people by 2050
The synthesis report outlines a variety of options
and opportunities to meet the rapidly growing need for nutrition while at the
same time working to mitigate climate change. Ultimately, the authors seek to
answer the question: “How can the world adequately feed nearly 10 billion
people by the year 2050 in ways that help combat poverty, allow the world to
meet climate goals, and reduce pressures on the broader environment?”
“If you want to solve climate change, you have to
solve this question,” Searchinger says. He points to estimates that agriculture
and associated land use change could make up 70 percent of “allowable emissions
from all human sources” by 2050 if current practices continue.
“That would basically leave almost no room for any
other emissions, so it would basically make solving climate change impossible,”
he says. “So we have to figure out a way to do both and figure out a way to
produce 50 percent more food with [approximately] two-thirds fewer emissions –
so that’s the challenge.”
The report joins a growing list of documents
proposing solutions to climate change that revolve around food and agriculture.
Peter de Menocal, dean of science, professor of earth and environmental
sciences, and director of the Center for Climate and Life at Columbia
University, points to Project Drawdown as another analysis focusing on
Project Drawdown includes a ranked list of climate solutions, and three
of the top five involve food and agriculture. The third-ranked solution is to
reduce food waste, number four is a “plant-rich diet,” and fifth on the list is
“tropical forests,” which de Menocal notes is related to palm oil and other
agricultural uses. He emphasizes the need to take real actions soon.
“I think ultimately we’re in for a big surprise, a
big shock if you will, and so I think that transition can be lessened by
becoming aware of what the solutions look like and how individuals can change
their behaviors to align with the fact that we’re living on a single planet
with ever expanding numbers of people,” de Menocal said in an interview.
A menu of sustainable food futures — not a la carte
The WRI report provides a “menu for a sustainable food
future” detailing 22 approaches that could help fill the three gaps, including
ways to increase agricultural efficiency and produce more food while using less
land, fertilizer, and other resources. Along with other measures, the report
focuses on restoring certain types of land, like peatlands and forests;
reducing greenhouse gas emissions; holding steady the use of biofuels;
increasing fish stocks; and reducing the consumption of meat – particularly
ruminants like cows, sheep, and goats.
However, this “menu” isn’t an a la carte array of
pick-and-choose options. “Significant progress in all 22 menu items is
necessary to close the three gaps, requiring action by many millions of
farmers, businesses, consumers, and all governments,” the report cautions.
Getting the cooperation of all stakeholders –
essentially the entire world – is, unsurprisingly, a difficult feat.
Governmental cooperation to preserve land, rather than converting it to
agriculture, is imperative. That’s clearly a challenge for the many leaders who
are under pressure to convert forests and other types of land for agricultural
purposes to meet immediate food needs and produce foods for export.
Political leadership ‘just overwhelmingly
Changing political leadership can also speed-up or
slow-down change. According to Searchinger, Brazil had made a lot of progress
in reducing deforestation, but recent changes in leadership make the future of
such progress uncertain. “Politics is critical,” he says. “Politics is just
overwhelmingly important – this is mustering the political will,” Searchinger
says. “This is true of everything to do with climate change.”
Land use changes are critical especially in certain areas,
such as peatlands, wetland areas covering around 3 percent of the Earth and
storing massive amounts of carbon. When they are damaged, drained, or used for
agriculture, these areas contribute significantly to climate change. According to the International
Union for Conservation of Nature, damaged or drained peatlands are
“annually releasing almost 6 percent of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.”
Searchinger notes that restoring or rewetting
peatlands previously damaged, drained, or used for purposes like agriculture
can go a long way toward meeting climate change goals and restoring ecosystems.
Some of these opportunities are immediate, such as rewetting peatland areas
that are seldom used for agriculture. “[We have a] huge opportunity to do
something right away just by restoring water to those peatlands,” Searchinger
With food supply problems come ‘human conflict’
In addition to the 22 items listed in the report,
de Menocal notes a few additional food and agriculture-related areas relevant
to climate change and food. He points to climate-related vulnerabilities in the
food system, including food distribution; and points also to threats to the
crops themselves, including environmental shocks, such as crops being decimated
by sudden storms and heat waves.
“Those food shocks are going to become increasingly
frequent and I think that’s going to do two things,” de Menocal says. “One is
it obviously reduces the food supply, but it also introduces uncertainty in the
food supply, and both those things are not great.”
Human conflict goes hand-in-hand with food supply
issues, de Menocal cautions. “With food insecurity comes human conflict,” he
says. “This is something that’s been well documented both in the prehistorical
record but also in the recent historical record such as Syria and of course
migrations out of North Africa into Europe. When people are hungry, they
migrate, and they’ll migrate to places where there’s food, which is typically
the wealthier nations.” He cautions that this migration can also lead to
political instability, and says these types of geopolitical concerns are
monitored not only by climate modelers and researchers, but also by government
intelligence agencies seeking to anticipate and mitigate conflicts.
The need for innovation and change
While analysts work to predict future conflicts and
issues, scientists are striving to make progress in the laboratory. New technological
innovations could help alleviate some major issues, but predicting the
trajectory of scientific developments is a huge challenge since breakthroughs
looking out several decades are unpredictable.
New technology could help improve crop yields; produce
crops with resistance to pests, diseases, and climatic conditions; and even
help develop feed additives to reduce the amount of methane cows emit, among
many possibilities. But technology is a wild card dependent on countless
unknown future factors. Innovations could take the form of anything from
increasing the efficiency of current methods to developing technology far
beyond anyone’s current imagination.
That said, plant-based meat substitutes are one
area of potential innovation. Producing beef and other ruminant meat is
resource-intensive and a major source of greenhouse gases going well beyond
emissions from cows themselves.
Searchinger says a variety of meat substitutes, or
even half meat/half mushroom mixes, have great potential, especially if they
become more economical. They are already a tasty choice, he adds: “Hamburger
substitutes are getting really good.”
He is undaunted by the notion of many people having
to shift their dietary habits. Searchinger points out that most of the world
doesn’t consume much beef, and that people in the U.S. and Europe eat about
one-third less beef today than they did in the 1960s.
Eating less meat is important, de Menocal agrees,
and he encourages his students to consider trying out “Meatless Monday” as part of a campus
initiative. “It’s just introducing people to the idea that you can eat well and
still do well by the planet,” de Menocal says. “Even small changes like that
make a big difference in terms of collective behavior.” Additionally, he points
to meat subsidies as a factor that impact consumption, particularly in the U.S.
These subsidies make meat far more affordable than it is in some other parts of
the world. “As long as there’s no accounting for the accompanying environmental
risks that come with meat production, then I think the price of meat will not
reflect its true cost to society,” de Menocal says.
By thinking about what’s on their plate and what’s
in their fridge, people can take their own steps toward a sustainable food
future. Searchinger urges people to cut down on eating ruminant meat – such as
beef and lamb – and work to avoid tossing out food. “[In the U.S.] people tend
to buy a lot of food and throw it in the back of the refrigerator and
‘rediscover’ things,” he says. Planning meals and shopping more efficiently,
keeping track of food items and using them before they spoil, and being sure to
eat leftovers before they go bad are just a few steps people can take that go a
“If we don’t meet these goals, we won’t solve
climate change,” Searchinger says.
The “MENA region has to import about 57% of the calories consumed domestically, mostly wheat, grains, proteins and dairy,” all as per ZAWYA’s #MENA|10 FEBRUARY, 2019 with a call for action such as it is high time to start thinking: where does the MENA region’s food comes from?
The Middle East and North Africa has long been disadvantaged by a
climate and geography unfavorable to large-scale agriculture. This in turn
affects food security in the region. Scarce water supplies and mostly dry, arid
lands will continue to cripple the region’s ability to achieve self-sufficiency
in food production.
The abundance of hydrocarbons and other minerals has mitigated some of these
concerns, and some MENA countries can afford to import large quantities of
produce and grains. Additionally, resources, manpower and capital are certainly
available but mismanagement, waste, poor planning and a lack of clear policies
have taken their toll on the region’s ability to harness meager resources and
grow its own food. Higher population densities and population growth rates have
inevitably turned the region into a net importer of agricultural commodities
for food for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, it is not only the Middle East that is experiencing population
growth, and subsequently increased demand for food and water. A US government
report estimates that the global demand for food, water and energy will
increase by 50 percent as a result of changing consumption patterns among the
expanding middle classes.
By 2030, the world’s population is expected to reach 8.3 billion, which will
put additional strain on food and water. Already, in the past eight years, the
world has consumed more food than it has produced, while global water
requirements are predicted to reach nearly 7 billion cubic meters, 40 percent
above the level of current sustainable supplies. Expected climate changes will
only exacerbate these alarming numbers. Agriculture already consumes more than
60 percent of water supplies and these requirements will increase to 65 percent
a decade from now, when nations are supposed to meet 2030 Millennium
One of these goals is the elimination of hunger, but the MENA region has
to import about 57 percent of the calories consumed domestically, mostly wheat,
grains, proteins and dairy. Given that the ready availability of affordable and
diverse foodstuffs is a crucial factor in long-term stability, MENA countries
can be forgiven for relying heavily on imports for the time being. For example,
the conflict in Yemen has reduced grain harvests there by a third, and with the
water table falling by about 2 meters a year, it is unlikely that the country
will be able to stop importing more than 80 percent of its grain any time soon.
Grain harvests are also falling in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, while populations
are still growing.
Relying on imports makes the region vulnerable to the effects of economic
downturns, population growth, climate changes and supply disruptions caused by
natural disasters. This last problem is of growing concern due to the
increasing incidence of extreme-weather events, mainly influenced by climate
Weather patterns are likely to intensify, with wet regions getting wetter while
dry, arid areas such as the Middle East and North Africa will experience
further declines in rainfall. Some forecasts suggest precipitation in Algeria,
Saudi Arabia and Iraq will decline by 4.9 percent, 10.5 percent and 13.3
percent respectively. This decline will also affect the southwest United
States, southern Europe, Central Asia and parts of southern Africa. Reduced
rainfall will in turn affect agricultural production among net exporters and
increase food imports elsewhere. If current trends persist, the Middle East is
likely to experience shortages of food and water, necessitating outside help or
a transformation of current policy, either to boost local production or
increase spending on imports.
When the effects of protracted, often violent, conflicts are taken into
account, food security becomes a very serious concern. A United Nations report
found that more than 27 percent of the population in conflict areas is
undernourished or chronically hungry. This contrasts with more stable
countries, where less than 5 percent of the population is undernourished.
Transforming an economy away from a dependence on imports of agricultural
produce and foodstuffs is not easy. Several sectors, including agriculture,
education, trade, health care, labor, transport, law, finance and even
technology, need to function in close cooperation and coordination to achieve
appreciable gains in local production.
Given the fast-growing population in the MENA region, dwindling water supplies,
extreme weather events and unpredictable markets, governments must act swiftly
and with utmost urgency to counter a looming food and water crisis.
This fast-approaching challenge, which threatens the national security
of all Arab countries, can only be faced and managed collectively, through
serious, urgent and deep cooperation. It is, in short, an existential threat
that can no longer be ignored.
Hafed Al-Ghwell is a non-resident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy
Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International
Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy
Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a
member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC
and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell
Locusts have formed plagues since prehistory. The ancient Egyptians carved them on their tombs and
the insects are mentioned in the Iliad, the Bible and the Quran. Swarms have devastated crops and been a
contributory cause of famines and
human migrations. More recently, changes in agricultural practices and better surveillance of
locations where swarms tend to originate, have meant that control measures can
be used at an early stage. The traditional means of control are based on the
use of insecticides from
the ground or the air, but other methods using biological control are
Swarming behaviour decreased in the 20th century, but despite modern surveillance and control methods, the potential for swarms to form is still present, and when suitable climatic conditions occur and vigilance lapses, plagues can still occur.
Increased vigilance, strict monitoring and early
control needed to prevent further swarms forming and spread along both sides of
the Red Sea
15 February 2019, Rome – Heavy rains and cyclones have triggered a recent
surge in Desert Locust populations, causing an outbreak to develop in Sudan and
Eritrea that is rapidly spreading along both sides of the Red Sea to Saudi
Arabia and Egypt, FAO warned today.
The UN agency called on all the affected countries
to step up vigilance and control measures to contain the destructive
infestations and protect crops from the world’s most dangerous migratory pest.
Good rains along the Red Sea coastal plains in
Eritrea and Sudan have allowed two generations of breeding since October,
leading to a substantial increase in locust populations and the formation of
highly mobile swarms. At least one swarm crossed the Red Sea to the northern
coast of Saudi Arabia in mid-January, followed by additional migrations about
one week later. Groups of mature winged adults and a few swarms also moved
north along the coast to southeast Egypt at the end of the month.
In the interior of Saudi Arabia, two generations of
breeding also occurred in the southeastern Empty Quarter region near the
Yemen-Oman border after unusually good rains from cyclones Mekunu and Luban in
May and October 2018 respectively. A few of these swarms have already reached
the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and southern Iran with a potential risk of
spreading further towards the India-Pakistan border.
Stepping up efforts
Aerial spraying operations were mounted in Sudan
and Saudi Arabia supplemented by ground control measures in both countries, as
well as in Eritrea and Egypt, treating more than 80,000 ha since December.
“The next three months will be critical to
bring the locust situation under control before the summer breeding
starts,” said Keith Cressman, FAO’s Senior Locust Forecasting Officer.
“The further spread of the current outbreak depends on two major factors –
effective control and monitoring measures in locust breeding areas of Sudan,
Eritrea and Saudi Arabia and the surrounding countries, and rainfall intensity
between March and May along both sides of the Red Sea and in the interior of
the Arabian Peninsula.”
FAO is convening a meeting next week in Jordan (17-
21 February) with affected countries to review the current situation with the
aim of intensifying survey and control operations.
Breeding will continue in February on the Red Sea
coast in Sudan and Eritrea, causing a further increase in hopper and adult
groups, hopper bands and adult swarms. As vegetation dries out, adult groups
and a few swarms are likely to move north along the Red Sea coast in Eritrea to
Sudan, and from the Red Sea coast of Sudan to the Nile Valley in northern
Sudan. There is a moderate risk that some swarms will continue crossing the Red
Sea to the coastal and interior areas of Saudi Arabia.
Major threat to crop production
Desert Locusts are short-horned grasshoppers that
can form large swarms and pose a major threat to agricultural production,
livelihoods, food security and the environment and economic development.
Adult locust swarms can fly up to 150 km a day with
the wind. Female locusts can lay 300 eggs within their lifetime while an adult
insect can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day – about two
grams every day. A very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as
about 35,000 people and the devastating impact locusts can have on crops poses
a major threat to food security, especially in already vulnerable areas.
FAO’s work on preventing locust plagues
The Desert Locust Information Service
(DLIS) at FAO Headquarters in Rome has been operating a global monitoring and
early warning system since the 1970s as part of the preventive control
strategy. More than two dozen frontline countries in Africa, the Near East and
southwest Asia contribute to this system by undertaking regular surveys in the
desert to look for green vegetation and Desert Locust.
The field teams use an innovative tool developed by
FAO called eLocust3, which is a handheld tablet for recording observations and
sending data in real time via satellite to the national locust centres and to
DLIS. This information is regularly analysed together with weather and habitat
data and satellite imagery in order to assess the current locust situation,
provide forecasts up to six weeks in advance, and issue warnings and alerts
More information about the current situation and
eLocust3 are available on Locust Watch.