Maghreb farmers discuss food security through regional co-operation

Date: 19/05/2008
Maghreb farmers and union representatives came together in Tunis from May 14th-16th for a conference on grain production and food security. At the meeting, participants recommended forming a fund to finance local scientific research and promoting agricultural development by pooling resources and trading expertise.

One recommendation generated at the meeting is for a database at the Maghreb Farmers' Union that would include an inventory of fertile regions, production, trade exchanges and details about crops registered in the national records. The database would serve as a reference on agricultural development for the entire Maghreb region.

The participants encouraged states to allocate funds for a budget for the Maghreb Farmers Union as of 2009. The union also used the occasion of the conference to open its headquarters in Tunis.

Maghreb Farmers' Union chief Mabrouk Nahri called for the creation of joint programmes to achieve food security. He said the union will also work to combat desertification through the management of water resources.

"Resisting desertification is a key challenge," said Habib ben Yahia, also of the Maghreb Farmers' Union. "More than 80% of Maghreb lands are desert or about to be. This calls for further co-ordination among Maghreb states."

Mohammed Alioui, Secretary-General of the Algerian Farmers' Union, stressed the importance of a common regional policy enabling farmers to enhance production and lift barriers to regional trade in accordance with past agreements.

According to studies presented during the seminar, the average estimated grain consumption of an Arab is 325 kg annually, 158 kg of which is wheat – one of the highest rates worldwide. Studies also show a considerable "food gap" in most Arab states, where imported grain constitutes nearly 50% of imported food.

The UN FAO anticipated a 50% rise in the cost of grain imports in the world’s poorest countries over the period 2007-2008.

A report issued by FAO entitled, "Horizons of Crops and Status of Food" showed that prices are expected to climb by 74% in low-income African countries suffering food shortages.

Mohammed Habib Haddad, Tunisian Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, expressed his hope that the seminar would serve as a launching point for a unified Maghreb position at the ministerial conference on climate change and food security to be held in Rome on June 3rd-5th.

Maghreb states have already endorsed several procedures to control the rise in basic food prices and provide assistance to farmers.

Celebrating National Agricultural and Fisheries Day on May 12th, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali announced a host of decisions aimed at controlling the cost of production, boosting productivity and extending areas of cultivating grain and animal feed.

Estimates indicate that the new programmes will require the allocation of as much as $1.7 billion.