How to Feed the Middle East

Article Summary
Israeli know-how, Palestinian mediation and capital streamed by wealthy Arab countries can solve the problem of food scarcity in the region once and for all, writes Danny Rubinstein.

Population growth, loss of agricultural areas and the high cost of raw food materials, transportation and storage are the principal causes of the escalating nutritional insecurity problem.

The problem of nutritional insecurity, defined as the absence of direct daily access to food, is globally spreading, growing ever more acute in recent years. In Arab countries, the phenomenon gives rise to deep concerns. The Arab Spring events, sparked by the tragic incident where a poor Tunisian street vendor by the name of Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire [on December 17, 2010], in protest of the confiscation of his merchandise by municipal officials, have led to the appointment of professional panels and the establishment of special agencies in Arab countries in recent years, to meet the evolving threat.

Investing a Fortune in Search for Solution

The wealthy Gulf Oil States are investing huge sums of money in search of solutions. Their barren desert land is, for the most part, unfit for agriculture. The temperature in the region are extremely high, there are barely any water resources and water desalination is too costly. It has already been realized in the Gulf States that, as the global food crisis is deepening, the gates to the countries producing food are gradually closing before them.

The Gulf States are importing food not only from relatively near-by countries like Turkey and Russia, but also from far-off United States and Australia.

In the search for solutions, better ways are sought for the transportation and storage of food. To that end, large storage and refrigeration facilities are being built. However, at the same time, attempts should be made to develop domestic agriculture. According to Israeli agronomist Eldad Ben Gal, who serves as senior consultant on trade with the Arab world, wherever envoys from Arab countries interested in stepping up their food production are asking for advice on the development of domestic agriculture, they are invariably referred to the Israelis, the experts in this field. Ben Gal, who has contacts in neighboring countries, notes that Arabs are well aware that Israel is an agricultural power, as far as technology development, research, know-how and rich multi-year experience are concerned. All the countries in the region, from North Africa to Turkey and the Gulf, have their eyes set on the Israeli expertise. Alas, the political obstacle, the ban on relations and normalization with Israel, driven by deep rooted hostility that cuts across Arab society, stands in their way.

Palestinians as Mediators Between Israel and Arab Countries

This is where the Palestinians enter the picture. By virtue of their [geographic] proximity and familiarity with Israeli agriculture, they are natural partners likely to promote relations between Israel and the neighboring countries. There are already some modest beginnings of cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians in the spheres of consultation, know-how sharing and marketing of seeds, pesticides, agricultural equipment, computerized irrigation systems, greenhouses and storage materials and facilities to neighboring countries. Given the political atmosphere and circumstances, these collaborative activities are carried out under cover. Nevertheless, the future picture in this context is already clearly emerging. If and when an arrangement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians, all three economies – Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli – are assured of a promising future, where all nutritional security problems of the region will be resolved once and for all. 

Found in: palestinians, israel, cooperation, arab countries, arab

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