Fragile and limited natural resources, a rapid population increase and demand for food on the rise. On its own the Near East region, which stretches from Morocco to the Arabian peninsula and Iran, will not be able to feed its people: too much waste and food loss straight after its harvesting which reduce the available food sources enormously but also the problem of climate change, desertification, urbanisation, intensive farming and drought. What is needed is a series of strategies which consent an improvement in technical knowledge, a better handling of food product sales and commercialisation and public policies which can reduce these losses. This in summary is the framework around which the 31st FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Regional Conference for the Near East will be structured. The conference opens today in FAO's headquarters in Rome and will end May 18.
According to the Organization, there are many problems afflicting this vast region which data from 2010 reports to have today 380 million inhabitants. It is in constant increase and FAO predicts a rise to 445 million by 2020, soaring to a record 502 million in 2030. The population increases also as the unemployment both in rural and urban areas. The unemployed are especially the younger population (between 15 and 24) who in 2005 represented about 27% of men and 33% of women in the region. In the same year, youth unemployment was at 26% making the Near East the worst region in the world for youth labour.
Population and unemployment increase also help to contribute to the increase in food insecurity and food shortages in the region. In 2010 the number of inhabitants who were suffering from under-nourishment was attested by FAO to be 37 million people.
This is a 17 million increase compared to what had been registered at the World Food Summit of 1996, but there is also a drop of 5 million compared to 2009. The reduction is also in farmable land, now around 55.5 million hectares. Today official reports say that this available land constitutes only a quarter of the actual farmable land. This productive inefficiency deriving from a reduction of farmable land has brought the Near East region to increase its food imports, much more than any other developing area in the world. For example, the United Arab Emirates have increased their import by 100 times, Yemen 20 times, whereas Egypt has remained the largest importer of food products in the region and in the world for the whole period 1960-2005. Reducing the waste of food sources, FAO claims, is mandatory should this region want to succeed in fighting food shortage.
According to the Organization every year about 15% to 30% of food sources are lost: fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat and fish. There are 5 methods of intervention considered a priority for the Near East. For the 2010-2019 period, the objective is to stimulate agricultural production and rural development in order to increase food and nutritional security; manage the natural resources in a long-term way; react against climate change and elaborate strategies for adaptation, prepare also for future food shortage and agricultural emergencies.