The Political Economy of Food Security in North Africa
The recent global food price shock, combined with the political upheaval in North Africa, 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 countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
The paper clearly highlights that 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.
Although there is some evidence that the region is becoming more concerned with food sovereignty, as reflected in increased interest in domestic food production and land acquisition overseas, food imports will continue to play a significant role in food security for the region, with Morocco being the only country for which cereal imports are predicted to decline over the next 20 years. Hence, 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, labour-intensive and inclusive growth trajectory is needed for the region and issues of food security cannot be divorced from this broader development agenda. In this respect there is a danger that the recent global food price crisis will trigger a reaction whereby domestic food production and the agricultural sector alone is seen as the panacea for food security. Already countries in the MENA region are starting to respond to the global food crisis by setting up inter-ministerial food security committees supported by technical units; however, these units tend to be located in the Ministry of Agriculture with the committees chaired by the Minster for Agriculture (as is the case in Jordan and Yemen). An effective institutional structure needs to place food security at the heart of the development process, with the unit or secretariat located at the highest level of government, such as in the Prime Minister’s or President’s Office. Such a holistic, multi-agency approach to food security represents the way forward for the new governments of the North African region, and this cannot be divorced from the more general and pressing need for a new type of inclusive socio-economic development strategy.