African Development Bank study: the Political Economy of Food Security in North Africa
The African Development Bank made a study about food security in North Africa. The recent global food price shock, combined with the political upheaval in North Africa, in fact, provides an opportune moment for the North African countries, along with the international community, to take stock of the food security status of the region and to reappraise food security strategies in African countries.
Specially, the study analysis underlines that in the years 2007/08 there was a serious global food price shock. «In 2007 and the first half of 2008 global food prices escalated. From March 2007 to March 2008 wheat prices around the globe roe on average 130%. Energy and commodity prices fell in the latter part of 2008 due to a weakening global economy, but food prices again hit record levels in the first half of 2011 and are predicted to remain high for the foreseeable future. This shock refocused the attention of many countries on the issue of food security, and the North Africa region, consisting of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania, was no exception. When discussing the food security of North Africa, it is important to be aware that food security can be achieved at two levels – national aggregate food security and individual food security».
But the food crises reasons are in the strategy of the last 50 years. Since the early 1970s, in fact, «there has been a steady growth of food demand in the North Africa region stimulated by rapid population growth and urbanization, changing patterns of food consumption based on rising incomes that favor higher valued foods. Ecological constraints on food production in North Africa, however, are severe, with shortages of both arable land and water. As a result of these demand and supply factors, North African countries are forced to import a large percentage of their total food requirements. Most Arab countries in the broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region now import at least 50% of the food calories they consume and the region is the largest importer of cereal in the world. The North African dependence on food imports is projected to increase in the coming two decades, with the greatest increase of all MENA countries predicted for Egypt. The recent food price shock and the projected increased reliance on food imports mean that North African governments have become acutely aware of the vulnerability caused by reliance on global food markets to meet domestic demand. These vulnerabilities were displayed in terms of the adverse socioeconomic and political impact of the global food price shocks on the North African economies. The sharp rise in the price of food imports contributed to macroeconomic problems such as rising inflation, widening trade deficits and fiscal strain as governments tried to cushion the effects of higher food prices. The failure to prevent transmission of increased global food prices to increased domestic food prices in the region also meant that local populations suffered from increasing living costs which contributed to poverty, under-nutrition and other negative social welfare effects».
So, the African Development Bank study denounce: «food security or food sovereignty in the North Africa region cannot be approached from a purely economic perspective. It also has deep political connotations – as seen by the role that food prices played in the domestic politics of the Arab Spring, as well as by the geopolitical implications of relying on a small number of international grain suppliers for a large part of the region’s food requirements».
Future approaches to food security «will need to focus on ways in which the North African countries can better position themselves to take advantage of global food markets. This needs to be combined with effective programs to boost domestic productivity of food production and agriculture more generally, mindful of the economic costs and resource allocation implications of such programs. In addition, social safety nets and social protection policy needs to be reformed to become more effective and efficient at alleviating poverty and enhancing the food security of poor and vulnerable individuals. This is because food security is intimately linked with income security».
However, «the above types of reforms alone will not be adequate to ensure full food security for all citizens in the region. A comprehensive pro-poor, labor-intensive and inclusive growth trajectory is needed for the region and issues of food security cannot be divorced from this broader development agenda».