How the specter of food insecurity can be banished from the Arab region

“Everybody is concerned about the transformation of food systems,” Jean-Marc Faures, program leader at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa (NENA), told.

“We are all part of this global food system that has done marvels in terms of feeding a growing global population. But it has a lot of shortcomings that need to be addressed if we want to achieve the sustainable development goals.”

The NENA region has a finite supply of arable land and freshwater, which limits its capacity to produce its own food and forces governments to rely heavily on imports. The way food is produced must improve through bold innovations along the entire chain — from the quality of products, seeds and animal breeds, to the resistance of staple crops to drought.

“So, we need crops that can withstand a long period of time without rain, or crops and animals that can handle increasing heat waves. These climate-change issues need a response, and a lot of it will need to come from technologies.”

Agricultural technologies, also known as agritech, made major strides during the 20th century, including the dawn of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and mechanization. In the latter half of the century, further leaps were made in genetic modification, drip irrigation, hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics, to name but a few.

Then, in the early decades of the new millennium, digital technologies began to make their farming debut, in everything from data collection and computation for improving crop efficiency to robotics and driverless tractors. With the right investment and training, tomorrow’s farmers could be making regular use of artificial intelligence, remote sensing, geographic information software, virtual reality, drone technology, application programming interface (API) technology, and a host of precision tools for measuring rainfall, controlling pests and analyzing soil nutrients.

Chief among the issues that will be addressed at the UN Food Systems Summit is humanity’s equitable access to safe and nutritious food. With crisis and conflict blighting many corners of the NENA region, food insecurity has become widespread. “It is unacceptable,” Faures said. “We need to continue fighting hunger in all possible ways.”

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