FAO: Covid-19 Destroys Food Sovereignty in Middle East and North Africa

Food sovereignty in the Middle East countries and North Africa has been destroyed by the Covid-19 pandemic. FAO says at least 132 million people have suffered from chronic hunger since the start of the pandemic.

Pandemic causes food crisis
Illustration. Children in Syria eat simple meals to survive. (Reuters/Rame Alsayed)

ACTNews, JAKARTA – Based on a new report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the Middle East and North Africa region has been hit hard by the global pandemic.

FAO says that at least 132 million people have been plunged into chronic hunger since the start of the pandemic. Areas where progress has stalled, or gone into reverse, include agricultural systems and small-scale food production, which have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s economic toll, the report says.

“These are alarming figures for the MENA region because, for some years, the numbers were almost steady and we had seen a decrease in this absolute number. But COVID-19 stopped that and now it’s on the rise, so these figures are serious,” said Ahmad Mukhtar, the FAO’s senior economist for the Near East and North Africa.

Mukhtar also said that the pandemic has increased the number of undernourished people. It is also worsened by the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East countries.

“In the Arab region, hunger was already on the rise before COVID-19, primarily because of climate change and conflicts. The pandemic increased the number of undernourished people. However, if we look at the past two decades, our region has almost doubled in the number of undernourished people, reaching 69 million last year, which is a 91 percent increase,” Mukhtar said.

Hayatullah Ahmadzai, a postdoctoral fellow at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai, said that lockdowns, a fall in international trade, disruption to food manufacturing, and an overall economic downturn are likely to have a substantial and lasting impact on food supply chains. Disruption to food systems has resulted in reduced access to food, widening the gap between food security and zero hunger goals. 

Several Middle Eastern countries were vulnerable to food insecurity due to harsh environments and limited natural resources for sustainable crop production even before the pandemic.

“The Middle East region is one of the most vulnerable to a food crisis as a result of COVID-19, as well as other reasons, such as increased climate-change effects and economic unrest due to political instability,” he said.[]