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Promoting Sustainable Agriculture to End Hunger in the Arab Region

By FATMA ELZAHRAA YASSIN and HODA EL NAHLAWY

Hunger and malnutrition have reached critical levels in some of the Arab region as access to basic foods has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.  

In the Arab region, recent studies have revealed that 53.9 million people experienced severe food insecurity in 2021. This represents a staggering 55 percent increase since 2010. Moreover, the problem of moderate or severe food insecurity has also been on the rise, affecting an estimated 154.3 million people in 2021. This figure marks an increase of 11.6 million people from the previous year. 

These alarming numbers emphasize the urgent need for countries in the Arab region to collaborate with international partners to combat hunger and achieve Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. While several countries are not on track to achieve the SDGs, yet there are still numerous inspiring initiatives in the region that instill hope and pave the way towards positive change.  

What is Goal 2 of the SDGs? 

Goal 2 aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030 and ensure that all people – especially children – have access to sufficient and nutritious food throughout the year. This includes promoting sustainable agricultural practices: Supporting smallholder farmers, equal access to land, technology and markets. International cooperation is also needed to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity. 

Which countries in the Arab region are working to achieve this goal?   

Jordan

A 35-year-old Palestinian refugee, “Syam”, founder of “Senera” (Arabic word for hook), a green business, aims to provide opportunities for women and young entrepreneurs who lack access to job opportunities and agricultural land, especially in marginalized communities. “Senera” offers solutions for hydroponic cultivation on rooftops and in greenhouses, using hydroponic technology for irrigation and small agricultural systems for houses, reducing water consumption by an average of 70%. Senera also provides technical consulting in the field of agriculture. 

The story of “Senera” began when Mohammad met Abu Abdallah in the Gaza camp, who was growing hydroponic plants on his own rooftop. They both recognized the value of their efforts to solve this problem and began very early to develop approaches to building hydroponic household systems that produce food on unused land in more than one house in the Gaza camp. 

Syam received capacity building training as part of the SDG Climate Facility project "Scaling-up Water Innovation for Climate Security in Northern Jordan”," implemented by UNDP Jordan and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The aim is to develop entrepreneurial projects for water security and empower innovative SMEs in the water sector to create an enabling local environment in the local market and contribute to the development of innovative solutions for water security. 

Syria

During the war in Syria, Abdallah and his family were forcibly displaced from their home and land to another area. They suffered from war and hunger and had no income. Abdallah received a grant that enabled him to grow corn. He produced about four tons of corn. 

UNDP Syria works to improve food security and improve living conditions in targeted communities. The UNDP Value Chain Support Programme, financed through the Funding Window, helped Abdallah and about 150 farmers in Deir ez-Zour harvest about 600 tons of corn in 2022. 

Assistance is also being provided through the “ Wheat Support and Water Scarcity Challenge” project, funded by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in partnership with the Directorate of Agriculture and the Tal ad-Daman Council/Syrian Bakeries Establishment, to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in eight target villages (Tal ad-Daman, Mazraat Tal ad-Daman, al-Batraanah, al-Hardanah, al-Munbatah, Arjal, Awynat Kabirah, Jifr Mansour, and Ghurayrifa). 

This project was implemented in Aleppo to support 50 returning farmers (16 women, eight of them widows) living in different villages of Tal ad-Daman district by providing drip irrigation networks along with water pumps. They were assisted in installing the drip irrigation systems, but also received additional training on irrigation nets and composting to maximize benefits and become self-sufficient. 

UNDP Syria is supporting farmers by rehabilitating five agricultural water wells in the rural region of Deir ez-Zour as part of the project supported by Funding Window. Raneem, 20 years old from Deir ez-Zour, who left her home because of the war and moved to another area, left her land and everything she owned behind to benefit from this project. Raneem and fifty-four farmers were able to reclaim their land and replant it after the salinization of the water receded. 

UNDP Syria introduced regenerative agriculture to vulnerable smallholder farmers in Aleppo, Lattakia, Tartus, Damascus, rural Damascus, Qunaitra, and Sweida. Regenerative agriculture mimics the processes in natural ecosystems, which ultimately increases soil fertility and promotes efficient and sustainable water use. Yasser and 170 farmers have benefited greatly from this initiative by attending trainings to gain knowledge on sustainable and climate-smart farming methods, with a focus on improving soil fertility and effectively managing water resources.

Yemen 

Eight years of conflict in Yemen have devastated the economy and driven millions of people into food insecurity. Two-thirds of the population relies on humanitarian aid, and about 90 percent of food is imported. Many people are at risk of price hikes, exacerbated by rising inflation and ongoing supply chain disruptions. 

UNDP Yemen is working with national and international partners to end hunger sustainably. A new Yemen-focused partnership between UNDP and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) highlights the importance of including rural women in improving food security in Yemen. Through the Emergency Social Protection Enhancement and COVID-19 Response Project (ESPECRP), we are working diligently with the national partner Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS) on the entire dairy value chain. From teaching dairy farmers on how to increase their milk production to supporting collection centers that help women sell their milk at a better price, these interventions are increasing incomes, alleviating poverty, improving women’s livelihoods, and increasing food security in Yemen. 

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