Climate crisis - a NENA region policy paper

Climate crisis - a NENA region policy paper

FAO NENA Member States are Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen; and five non-borrowing countries: Kuwait, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The NENA region is unique in many ways:

  1. Several countries (Gaza and the West Bank, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia) are active conflict zones or have been a theatre of conflict for many years.
  2. A few countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, and Kuwait) have huge petroleum reserves. Some of the world's biggest oil producers and exporters are in the NENA region.
  3. The majority of the countries in the region are poor.

NENA lies in the arid part of the world. Vast parts of the region are deserts. Ecologically, NENA will fall in the dry zone. It is a zone characterized by low water availability and frequent drought.

Most poor people of the world live on the land, dependent for their survival on animal farming and agriculture. Agricultural farming practices in the region are traditional. It is a food deficit region.

Food and nutrition are essential inputs for a society. Food and nutrition security becomes a priority. It is also an objective that policymakers worldwide strive to achieve. In a food deficit region, how countries can secure food and nutrition security is a question this research seeks to answer. 

GDP and per capita income



GDP In US$ Million

Population in Million

Per Capita Income in U.S. $

Food Production Cereals Million Tons (2018)

Food Imports (US$000) 2016

















91196 tonnes




















Source: World Bank;; FAO, UN ITC Trademap Database

The FAO collected and published the NENA countries' undernourishment and food insecurity data. The 2015-2017 average for undernourishment stood at 11 percent. Severe food security in the population was estimated at 11.3 percent. The comparative figures for the developing countries are estimated at 12.8 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively. The situation in the least developed countries of the world is still worse. The undernourishment data was 24.2 percent. (

The top five African food importers account for 50 percent of total imports into the region. The biggest importers are Egypt (15 percent), Algeria (12 percent), South Africa (9 percent), Morocco (7 percent), and Nigeria (7 percent). (

Wheat,  rice, and corn are the common staple foods in the NENA region. The ancient wheat durum is used to produce local bread. Egypt, Morocco, and other countries export olives, citrus fruits, potatoes, and vegetables. The region is also deficient in oilseeds and oils which are imported.

As is seen in other parts of the world, poverty in the NENA region is concentrated in rural areas. The situation is further exasperated by gender inequity.

Agronomy overview:

The NENA countries are stretched all along the Mediterranean sea. As we move inland in the African continent, we get into the depths of the Sahara desert, and beyond lies the tropical region.

The NENA countries

The geography, latitude, climate, soil, and groundwater directly impact a region's ability to produce its food.

With the help of a series of maps, we will map each of the geographic parameters that impact the food-producing capability of the region.

Map 1

 The NENA countries map

 The NENA countries

Map 2

Climate Map of Africa
Source JRC Africa Soil Atlas- Climate map

The NENA region is largely arid. Some areas adjoining the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic Ocean and represented in brown have warm temperate climates with warm, dry summers.

Map 3

The growing periods in Africa

Source JRC Africa Soil Atlas- Length of the growing period map

Much of the region has a very short growing period, from 0.60 days, represented by yellow. There is a sliver of sub-humid land along the sea coast. It is this part of these countries that produce most of the food. The period suitable for cultivation here is fairly long. It ranges from  180 to 270 days. The region is colored green in  Map 3.

Map 4

Soil Moisture Map of Africa

 Source JRC Africa Soil Atlas- Soil moisture map

Most of the NENA countries have low soil moisture. It is an arid land. Cultivation is only possible with irrigation. The territory has extended periods during which the soil moisture is very low.

The land along the coast is agronomically speaking better. It is represented in purple. Most cultivation in the region is dryland supported by irrigation. These soils can be wet in winter but are dry in summer.

Map 5

 Ground water map of Africa

Source JRC Africa Soil Atlas- Groundwater map

The groundwater situation in the NENA region is quite interesting. The areas of the Sahara desert, represented by brown color, have groundwater located below 250 meters below ground level (mbgl). Extensive reserves of groundwater are available here. However, the exploitation of this groundwater has serious technical and environmental concerns. The yellow areas indicate groundwater between 100 and 250 meters. At the same time, the regions adjoining the sea have groundwater that can be easily harvested. The water is available at depths from 7 meters to 100 meters.

Map 6

Surface Water Map of Africa

 Source JRC Africa Soil Atlas-Surface water map

Even though Egypt has the Nile river, which is among the largest rivers in the world, the region faces a shortage of surface water. Much of the surface water is used for drinking.

Bridging the water deficit:

It is a region with a severe water deficit. Renewable water resources per capita are the lowest in the world. FAO data shows that the region is using all the available renewable water. The water is consumed primarily for irrigation. The area has adopted modern agronomic practices to increase agricultural productivity. Still, the region faces food deficits, with demand far outstripping supply.

 Source: FAO - Global Water Resources

 Global Water Resources
Source: FAO

According to UNICEF, nine out of ten children in the Middle East and North Africa live in high-water stress regions. It seriously affects health, nutrition, cognitive development, and future livelihoods. It is the most water-scarce region in the world. Nearly 66 million people in the region lack basic sanitation. Wastewater treatment which could probably be a means to reduce water deficit is not being treated and recycled.

Pathways to improved food security:

The NENA region countries are taking steps to import as much food to bridge the food deficit as their balance sheets permit. Direct food supply to the most vulnerable sections is one of the interventions deployed to alleviate distress.

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

NENA countries need to act urgently to improve food security. Health outcomes for the people of the region are linked to food security. The region's food balance projections indicate that dependence on imports will increase by almost 64 percent over the next twenty years.

Some suggestions to offset future vulnerability to price shocks shared in U.N. agency reports include:

  1. Strengthen safety nets, and provide people with better access to family planning services
  2. Promote education
  3. Enhance domestic production and improved livelihoods through increased investments and better outcomes from research and development.
  4. Improve supply chain efficiency
  5. Use financial instruments to hedge risk.

The oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia and others use part of their wealth to import food and ensure better health outcomes for their population. The poorer NENA countries do not generate adequate financial surpluses to import food. These countries have implemented recommendations made by international experts.

Projections indicate that the food deficits will only widen in the future. The agronomic, soil, and water conservation recommendations will unlikely dramatically increase food production. The region uses nearly all the available water for agricultural production.

The specter of global warming and climate change is ringing alarm bells. The world could move to a situation where food surplus-generating countries may not have enough surpluses for export. The situation calls for innovation, and adopting disruptive solutions will help the region produce more food.

Lessons from other countries:


Agriculture is the largest source of livelihood for most people in this large country, with a population of 1.3 billion people. Seventy percent of rural households are dependent on agriculture. Most of these (82 percent) are poor, with very small under five-acre holdings. In the initial years after independence in 1947, the country faced regular famines, huge food distress, massive imports, and hugely stressed national balance sheets.

In 2017-18 the country estimated food production was 275 million tons. India is the largest producer comprising twenty-five percent of global production. The annual milk production was 165 million tons (2017-18). It is the largest producer of milk globally, the second largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, and grounds, and the second-largest fruit and vegetable producer. 10.9 percent of the world's fruit production occurs in the country, and 8.6 percent of vegetables are produced there.

Despite these achievements, the country still accounts for a quarter of the world's hungry people. It is home to over 190 million undernourished people. Its poverty incidence is pegged at 30 percent. As per the Global Nutrition Report (2016), India ranks 114th out of 132 countries.

India's spectacular advancements in agricultural production have been achieved by resorting to resource-intensive, cereal-centric, regionally biased production strategies. Fast-growing, high-yielding cereal crops that required a lot of fertilizers and intensive irrigation were deployed. This strategy's key features were subsidies for inputs like free electricity, cheap seed and fertilizer, and support prices at which the state could purchase cereals. These strategies have resulted in the accumulation of vast stocks of wheat and rice in government godowns and excessive groundwater pumping, causing massive depletion.

The problem of nutritional deficiency and poverty continues to endure. Poverty reduction has occurred, but the pace of decline is not comparable to the growth in food availability.


Agriculture contributes 26 percent of the country's GDP, with another 27 percent of GDP indirectly through linkages with other sectors. (FAO). The sector employs forty percent of the total population and more than seventy percent of the country's rural people. Sixty-five percent of the export earnings of the country come from agriculture. Thirty-six and a half percent of people are food insecure, and thirty-five percent of children under five are chronically malnourished.

The country relies more on imports of fishery products (23.3 percent) and vegetable items. (16.7 percent). (Statistica). In 2018, the food production index for Kenya was 109.5, rising from 23.8 in 1969. The index covers food crops that are considered edible and contain nutrients. Coffee and tea are excluded. The rising population threatens the food security scenario in Kenya.

FAO's vision is "a Kenya free from hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture help improve the living standards of all, especially the poorest, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner."

Continuing this vision, the Kenya United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) has created a transformative plan for the country. The components of this plan are:

  1. Transformative governance for an empowered nation
  2. Equitable social and human capital development for a healthy nation
  3. Inclusive and sustainable growth for a productive nation

The development program for the country is divided into four subprograms:

  1. Developing an enabling policy and investment environment
  2. Strengthening inclusive value chains
  3. Increasing resilient food and livelihood systems
  4. Improving governance of natural resources

Strategies for transforming food production:

The NENA countries are characterized by severe water deficits, rising food demand, and limited opportunities for increasing food production. These countries have stressed national balance sheets outside of the oil-producing NENA economies. It limits the ability of these countries to bridge the food deficit with imports. Most of these countries assist the poorest sections of people by providing them with food and other subsidies. Farmers are getting advice from multinational and national experts on agronomic practices. Still, the deficit of food and water is not projected to get bridged. The countries appear to have limited tradeoffs to bridge the deficit.

The option is innovative solutions. Vertical, cellular, and precision agriculture are technologies that make food production possible year-round. In NENA, where the growing season is short, experimental farms to test these technologies in the context of the region could be explored. These technologies are energy-intensive. Solar power that can be abundantly produced in the NENA region could be the power source for such experimental farms.

Another major limitation of the NENA region is the scarcity of water. Technologies that can recycle wastewater following domestic, municipal, and industrial use are now available. Power required to filter and distill water can be produced in solar plants. These technologies have been extensively applied successfully in various water deficit regions worldwide. There is a substantial body of research literature available on the subject.

The U.S. water policy includes a wide variety of uses for recycled water. Recycled water use includes reuse in urban, domestic, and agriculture. It is used for food and non-food crops, industrial and environmental purposes, impoundment, and groundwater recharging. The degree of treatment of wastewater is dependent on its end-use. Extensive treatment and disinfection are done to ensure public health and the protection of environmental quality. McNabb, D.E. (2017) Similar conclusions were reached in an Australian use case (Seshadri, B. et al., 2015)

Nontraditional water sources have become desirable to meet increasing demands in the water-stressed region. Considerable research work on the subject has been done in the Southwest U.S. The farm size, level of education, and concern over water availability influence the willingness to use recycled water. Water managers and planners will have to examine options for policymaking, considering social, cultural, public health, and economic factors. (Dery, J.L. et al., 2019)

The Thessaly region of Greece is a water deficit region. Recycled water is used for the irrigation of crops. A survey of farmers in the area revealed that 57.9 percent were willing to pay for reclaimed water if it costs half the price of fresh water. (Bakopoulou S et al., 2010)

A similar study was done in Crete to understand the willingness to use and pay for recycled water in agriculture. Irrigation of olive and tomato crops with recycled water is being done here. The study shows that the willingness to pay for recycled water exceeded 88 percent of its market price. Environmental awareness, economic facts, such as freshwater prices, and incomes influence the attitude of both farmers and consumers towards recycled water irrigated crops. Similar results were noted in surveys conducted in the Nestos catchment. (Menagki, A.N. et al., 2007; Lazaridou, D. et al., 2019; Higgins, J. et al., 2002)

Recycled water provides a viable opportunity to supplement water supplies. The conclusion was reached after studying the use of recycled water in regions of Australia, Asia, The U.S., Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The study reveals good prospects for further expansion and exploration of integrated water planning and management of recycled water reuse in water deficit regions. (Chen,Z., et al., 2013; Gerba, C.P., et al, 2017; Phogat, V., et al., 2020; Weber, E., et al., 2014)

Policy decision-making in the NENA region will have to consider farmers' and consumers' willingness to consume and pay for the use of recycled wastewater. Technology for wastewater recycling is available around the world. It is the feasibility of large-scale deployment that has to be studied.

State budgets will be unable to deploy these technologies on the required scale. The private sector must be attracted to invest in the recycling business. It will happen when economic feasibility has been shown in the initial set of state-funded farms. The WHO-FAO-UNEP has issued detailed guidelines for the use of recycled wastewater.\


The NENA countries face a serious water deficit that is unlikely to reduce. The demand-supply gap for food will also widen with the rise in population. Technology options in precision irrigation use and recycled wastewater are available. The exercise of these options will depend on the global price of food imports. Suppose the price of imported food is lower than the cost of deploying wastewater recycling on a scale. In that case, the region will continue to import food to feed its people. If the equation changes and the cost of imports becomes prohibitive, recycling options will get rapidly adopted.


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