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Middle East Food Insecurity: A Regional Challenge In Need of Regional Solutions

This article, excerpted from Hdeel Abdelhady’s 2013 publication, Islamic Finance as a Mechanism for Bolstering Food Security in the Middle East: Food Security Waqf.

The Middle East is particularly susceptible to food insecurity. While the region does not face any foreseeable near-term threat of famine or widespread malnutrition, the Middle East presently lacks the means to produce adequate food supplies due to water scarcity, insufficient arable land and man-made hurdles such as land and crop misallocations, inadequate investment in agriculture, poor stock management, and sub-optimal distribution networks. “High food prices and international market volatility mean domestic agriculture has taken on strategic importance in all the food producing countries in the region.”

Other than the related issue of access to water, no single issue is more essential to the creation and long-term maintenance of regional stability and progress than is food security.

At the national level, Middle Eastern countries have attempted to address food insecurity risks through food subsidies, export bans, price ceilings, and other policy measures. Others, particularly Gulf Cooperation Council (“GCC”) states, have sought to bolster food security by acquiring farmland overseas. Acquisitions of overseas farmland and land-use rights by Arab countries and other parties have not been without controversy. The acquisition of agricultural land to produce food exclusively for the benefit of acquirer countries is legally and politically risky. It is not difficult to envision scenarios in which yields generated on overseas land would be wholly or partially expropriated, subjected to export bans, or otherwise intercepted, particularly in events of local or global food shortage and political or social unrest.

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