North Africa and the Middle East through to the year 2050: towards a greater dependence on agricultural imports

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The North Africa and Middle East region (NAME) currently suffers from one of the highest food dependence levels in the world. On 28 October 2015, INRA presented the results of a study, commissioned by Pluriagri*, which was able to simulate the potential trajectories of the region's agri-food system between now and 2050. Based on a retrospective analysis (1961-2012), the experts (agronomists, economists, political scientists and operators in the agri-food sector) worked on the trends for this system under the effects of technical progress, greater mastery of irrigation, improvements to diet, limiting losses and waste or demographic and economic changes. One of the principal conclusions reached by the study was that mitigating global climate change would be the most effective lever to limit any increase in dependence on imports in this region.

Geopolitically complex and potentially concerned by major upheavals linked to the effects of climate change, the North Africa and Middle East region (NAME), already considered as a climatic 'hot spot', is characterised by one of the highest levels of food dependence in the world: 40% of the agricultural products consumed are currently sourced via international markets. This dependence on agricultural imports could increase during coming decades because of continuing demographic growth, changes to dietary habits and also climate change and its consequences with respect to water and land resources, inducing effects such as a persistence of low agricultural yields - a factor for rural poverty - and a risk of accentuating income inequalities between urban and rural populations.

Degree of dependence on agricultural imports of the North Africa and Middle East region

North Africa and Middle East: Share of kilocalories consumed covered by imports in 2011. © INRA

Trend projections based on a retrospective analysis for scenarios at the horizon of 2050

In this context, the study commissioned by Pluriagri and undertaken by INRA examined the different components of the region's agri-food system that are likely to increase or decrease its dependence on imports. To achieve this, the study proposed a series of simulations describing possible trending scenarios at the horizon of 2050. Based on a retrospective analysis of the agri-food system (1961-2012), the experts in the working group (agronomists, economists, political scientists and operators in the agri-food industry) defined hypothetical trending scenarios, and then focused on how these trends might be affected by technical progress, improvements to diet or limiting losses and waste.

Mitigating climate change, the most effective lever to slow any increase in dependence

The simulations showed that dependence on agricultural imports may increase, notably if the effects of climate change are accentuated. The Maghreb, Middle East and Near East would be severely affected. On condition of maintaining its access to water, the situation in Egypt would deteriorate less, because of the lower level of its current dependence. Only Turkey - because of its geography and level of development - could become a net exporter. For both governments and economies, the risks of reaching such high levels of dependence are known. Slowing any increase in this dependence thus becomes imperative.

Ambitious public policies are necessary to help agriculture in the region to adapt to the effects of climate change. However, taken separately, the three levers envisaged – even greater improvements to yields, the regulation of diets and the reduction of losses – would have a relatively weak impact. Thus one of the most effective levers to limit any increase in dependence on agricultural imports by the NAME region would be to mitigate this global change, an objective that only international agreements and vigorous climate policies would be able to achieve.

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