Transforming food systems in the Arab region is crucial to ending hunger and malnutrition in the region.

A United Nations study indicates that hunger in the Arab region continues to rise, threatening the region’s efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Zero Hunger goal.

The latest edition of the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa estimates that more than 51 million people in the region are suffering from hunger.

According to the report, the “triple burden of malnutrition” consisting of undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies (often linked to poor diets) continue to increase at an alarming speed in the Arab region, particularly among school-age children and adults.

The report highlights that 22.5 percent of children under 5 years of age were stunted, 9.2 percent wasted and 9.9 percent were overweight. The Arab region also ranked second for adult obesity in the world in 2019, with 27 percent of the adult population obese.

Vulnerable food systems is a serious concern in the Arab region

“Conflicts and protracted crises continue to be the main drivers behind the degrading hunger situation, but the region’s food systems as a whole are failing to deliver the affordable, diverse, safe and nutritious food to all is exacerbating the situation,” said Abdulhakim El Waer, FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa while commenting on the latest report.

“Population growth and migration, increasing dependency on food imports, water scarcity and the threat of climate change are also putting a heavy toll on the region’s food systems and increase its vulnerability,” Elwaer added.

Healthy diets for ending hunger and malnutrition

This year, the report focuses its attention on the resilience of the food systems. Resilience is critical to improve food security and nutrition situation in the region, and to ensure that the region’s food systems are able to resist and recover from shocks and stresses, like the COVID-19 pandemic. It also includes an in depth analysis of current dietary patterns, and the costs of diets for individuals, society, and the planet.

“COVID-19 undermined the already fragile food systems in the Arab region. It is time for urgent action to transform our socio-economic policies, food system strategies and modes of economic and technological governance, to achieve their sustainability and inclusiveness, and ensure food accessibility and healthy diets for all,” Ms. Rola Dashti,  ESCWA Executive Secretary said.

According to the report, growing urbanization, liberalization of markets and demographic, social, economic, and political changes have been contributing to a progressive shift in the way population of the Arab region eat.

“Volatile exchange rates and high prices affect many countries in the region, it is now all the more important to help the most vulnerable to grow their food, generate incomes and become more resilient in the face of these multiple shocks. The past years have shown us how economic collapse and conflict threaten to keep even bread out of peoples’ hands,” says Corinne Fleischer, U.N. World Food Programme Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Peoples’ ability to put food on the table is key to the stability of societies. Hunger and uncertainty about the next meal breeds conflict and political instability.”

New consumption patterns include shifting away from healthy diets, the traditional, seasonal and more diverse diets rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They are greatly influencing the nature, scope and magnitude of nutrition problems in the region as well as the burden of diseases and risk factors associated with them.

“Despite the importance of dietary diversity for both the physical and cognitive development of children, diverse and nutritious foods are currently not accessible to all. Conflicts and political instability have contributed to inequities in access to healthy diets within and between countries of the region,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Many countries in the region still show high levels of stunting or overweight in children.  This underlines the need for food systems that protect, promote and support diets, services and practices that prevent child malnutrition in all its forms,” he added.

Enhancing the resilience and transforming the region’s food system for a better future of food

Sustainable, resilient food systems are fundamental to ensuring that people in the region and future generations eat healthy food, the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition for the Near East and North Africa highlights.

The report calls on countries to transform their food systems to increase their capacity in delivering healthy diets for all, while ensuring that food production and consumption contribute to environmental sustainability.


Notes to Editors:

About the report

The Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition for the Near East and North Africa sheds the light on the progress towards the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims at ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition in the region. It also provides projections of the number of undernourished people in the region by 2030 under a continuation of trends.

The annual report jointly produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Rome – Hunger and famine will persist and there will be unequal recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic unless more women in rural and urban areas hold leadership positions with increased decision-making power, say the heads of the three United Nations’ food agencies ahead of their joint International Women’s Day event on March 8.

The event, co-organized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), will focus global attention on the vital role that empowered female farmers, entrepreneurs and leaders need to play so that women can contribute on equal terms to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and in creating an environment to eliminate poverty, enhance productivity and improve food security and nutrition.

“The world is home to more than 1.1 billion girls under the age of 18, who have the potential of becoming the largest generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers ever seen for the better future. Yet, women and girls continue to face persistent structural constraints that prevent them from fully developing their potential and hinder their efforts of improving their lives as well as their households and communities,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “Women and girls can play a crucial role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular in transforming our agri-food systems. We all need to work together to spark the necessary changes to empower women and girls, particularly those in rural areas,” he added.

“It is essential that women are not only in more leadership positions, but that they are consulted and listened to, and integrated in all spheres and stages of pandemic response and recovery,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD. “Investing in rural women’s leadership and involving them more in creating our post-COVID-19 future is critical to ensure their perspectives and needs are adequately considered, so that we can build back better food systems where there is equal access to nutritious food and decent livelihoods.”

“Women and girls make up half of our global community and it’s time this was reflected in leadership positions at every level,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme. “We know from our work around the world that when women and girls have better access to information, resources and economic opportunities, and are free to make their own decisions, hunger rates fall and nutrition improves not only for themselves but also their families, communities and countries.”

Women’s leadership is particularly important in rural areas of developing countries, where the voices of the 1.7 billion women and girls who live there are often overlooked. 60 percent of women in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture – yet they have less access to resources and services than men, including land, finance, training, inputs and equipment. In addition to their agricultural work, women are overburdened with domestic chores and caring for their families – roles that have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, women are more negatively affected by the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including losing livelihoods and experiencing decreases in their personal incomes.

Ensuring that women have a greater voice is not only a matter of gender equality. Women leaders can advocate for women to have better access to and control over assets and productive inputs, thus boosting their productivity and incomes, leading to food security and increasing their employment opportunities and real wages.

Research shows that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields by 20 to 30 percent and total agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent, lifting 100 to 150 million people out of hunger.

FAO works to strengthen rural women’s engagement and leadership in agri-food systems. FAO also engages with farmers’ organizations to ensure that rural women’s voices are heard and promotes gender-transformative approaches to challenge unfair socio-cultural norms in rural communities. Moreover, FAO supports governments to adopt policies and strategies addressing the needs and aspirations of rural women and girls, enabling them to participate in decision-making and assume leadership positions. This also implies enhancing women’s leadership skills and self-confidence and raising gender awareness within national and local institutions. Within the Organization, FAO has established a Women’s Committee providing an inclusive, safe space that reflects the diverse and energetic nature of FAO’s female workforce. The Organization also created incentives for career prospects for female staff and for achieving gender parity at all levels and across all job categories.

Since 2009, IFAD has implemented a ‘household methodologies’ approach to reinforce the equal role and decision-making capacity of women within households, groups and communities. Evidence from Uganda, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and other countries has shown that women who take part in the program take up leadership roles in their organizations and communities, and have a greater voice in decision-making in their households. This has led to greater agricultural productivity.

Food security and gender inequality are closely linked with disadvantages beginning at a young age. In many countries boys and girls have very different childhoods. Boys eat first, are given more food than their sisters, do less housework and marry later. For girls, marriage and not school work can dominate their childhoods. The U.N. World Food Programme’s work in achieving gender equality begins at school where support or implementation of School Feeding programs in more than 70 countries contributes to increased school attendance of girls. This provides them greater access to education, reduces the risk of child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence, and increases future livelihood and leadership opportunities for girls.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Our goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. With over 194 member states, FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide. We believe that everyone can play a part in ending hunger.

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided $23.2 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached an estimated 518 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency based in Rome – the United Nations food and agriculture hub.

The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA and @wfp_media

ROME – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) joined the African Union (AU) and countries across Africa to celebrate the Africa Day of School Feeding on March 1, 2020, taking the occasion to underscore that investments in human capital through school health and nutrition programs can garner huge pay-offs that extend far beyond the schoolyard.

“Investing in the next generation is an investment in our common future. We see how school feeding programs are changing the lives of millions of people across Africa and the world – especially girls – and unlocking their potential,” said David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director.

Across Africa, more and more countries have made school feeding a national priority, and over 30 million children now benefit from school feeding programs across the continent. Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Zimbabwe all feed over one million children, while South Africa and Nigeria each feed more than nine million children every day of the school year. In West Africa alone, governments are investing $500 million a year on school feeding.

School meals ensure that children are healthy and well-nourished, enabling them to attend school, learn, thrive and fulfill their potential as adults. And preliminary results of a Harvard University analysis show that globally, every dollar spent on a school meals program can bring returns of as much as $20.

On top of benefiting schoolchildren, home-grown school feeding programs also boost rural and local economies, as small-scale farmers find new markets for their produce. And community members, often women, earn an income by preparing meals for children. The benefits extend beyond local economies, as countries that make human capital investments – including through school feeding programs – can reap long-term economic benefits.

But sadly, today, 73 million school children around the world go to school hungry, most of whom – 61 million – are in Africa.

This year marks the launch of WFP’s new and ambitious school feeding strategy that builds on six decades of experience and focuses on the 73 million children who currently receive no school health or nutrition support. WFP has also recently teamed up with UNICEF on a joint initiative focusing on six African countries in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, where the two agencies will provide a comprehensive package of health and nutrition services in schools. Alongside nutritious meals, schoolchildren will also receive critical nutrition and health interventions such as vaccines, deworming, and water, sanitation and hygiene services. WFP will also continue to support the AU’s School Feeding Cluster in advancing WFP’s home-grown approach to school feeding programs on the continent.


Watch WFP’s Africa Day of School Feeding video here, and a new DEVEX video on how school meals can fight malnutrition. A selection of photos of WFP’s school feeding programs can be viewed here.

The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies, building prosperity and supporting a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA and @wfp_Africa

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