Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

OIC Economies

How are OIC countries bolstering food security?

Food security remains a key priority for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries.

As in other developing economies, agricultural activities are vital to OIC economies in terms of offering employment and sustaining local food requirements. 

The agriculture sector across the OIC bloc accounts for 10.4% of its GDP, topping the world average of 4.3%, according to the Agriculture and Food Security in OIC Member Countries 2023 report launched last year. 

The agriculture sector employs 216 million people across OIC member states, representing 32% of the bloc’s total employment. Despite its prominent role, constraints and challenges continue to persist, including regional conflicts that have disrupted agricultural production; volatility of global food prices, and the looming specter of climate change. 

These challenges have stymied the overall journey toward food security.

Conor Clifford Murphy, partner at DinarStandard, said: "Food insecurity persists due to the Covid-19 pandemic, rising food prices associated with the Russia-Ukraine war, conflicts, insecurities, and other factors."

Effects of food insecurity

Food insecurity refers to a situation where individuals or communities have limited or uncertain access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. It can manifest in various forms, ranging from chronic hunger and undernourishment to acute food crises and famine.

Undernourishment remains a significant issue in OIC countries, with approximately 203 million people deemed undernourished in 2020 alone. 

This can be attributed to the ongoing crises faced by several OIC members classified as low-income food-deficit countries requiring external food assistance.

Eight of the top ten countries in the Economist's Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2022 come from high-income Europe, led by Finland, Ireland, and Norway. None of the OIC countries made it to the top ten. 

The GFSI is an assessment that measures food security through affordability, availability, quality and safety, and sustainability and adaptation. 

Countries like Syria, Yemen, and Sudan face significant challenges in food security, ranking low in the index. Ongoing conflicts, instability, and disruptions to agricultural production have severely impacted food availability and access in such countries.

"Six of the bottom ten scoring nations in 2022 come from Sub-Saharan Africa. The Middle East and North Africa, along with Latin America, are home to the three worst performing nations," the GFSI report read. 

Meanwhile, the UAE led the OIC bloc in the index, ranking 23rd, followed by Qatar (30), Kazakhstan (32), Oman (35), Bahrain (38) and Malaysia/Saudi Arabia (41).

"The contrasting food security situations among the top and bottom OIC countries underscore the importance of targeted interventions, investments in sustainable agriculture, and international cooperation to address food insecurity and ensure a stable food supply for all populations," Afzal Hussain, chairman of Al-Mukarramah told Salaam Gateway.

Al-Mukarramah is a strategic implementation partner to the Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS), which serves as a platform for enhancing food security and agricultural cooperation among OIC member states.

To address these challenges, OIC countries are considering sustainable agricultural systems, adaptation measures to climate change, and equitable access to food, helping achieve long-term food security.

Agricultural innovation, particularly in technology, has emerged as a cornerstone in addressing food security challenges.

"Despite major reduction in food insecurity and hunger over the past 50 years, the world now faces new challenges to global food supply whose vulnerabilities have been exposed by major climate change inducing weather conditions and global pandemic. Due to the multifaceted complexity of these interlinking threats, agri-tech investments are at the highest level ever to find innovative solutions such as the application of calculated measures of agricultural inputs for yield optimization and use of drones and automated tractors to increase productivity," added Murphy. 

Key initiatives

The UAE has prioritized investments to modernize its agricultural sector, leveraging advanced technologies like hydroponics and vertical farming to boost food production.

With plans to increase the contribution of food and agriculture to its economy by $10 billion and create 20,000 jobs over the next five years, the nation is laser-focused on beefing its food security.

The UAE published its national strategy for food security in 2018, with the aim to lead the Global Food Security Index by 2051.

Initiatives like the Agtech loans program introduced by the Emirates Development Bank underscore the country's dedication to innovation and growth in the agricultural sector. 

Last year, Qatar achieved almost 100% self-sufficiency in vital food supplies aligning with its strategic policy outlined in the early 2000s. The country initiated its National Food Security Strategy 2018-2023 to enhance local food production, diversify trade routes, establish strategic reserves, and improve food distribution systems. 

By the end of last year, Qatar had achieved substantial improvements in self-sufficiency rates, reaching 46% for five essential vegetables, 100% for fresh poultry, 70% for dates, and 75% for fish. 

The Gulf country announced a new food security strategy in 2024, continuing to focus on sustainability, technological advancements, and agricultural innovations.

Another OIC country prioritizing food security is Kazakhstan. The country plays a vital role in supplying wheat and wheat flour to OIC member states, making it a significant contributor to regional food security.

Globally, it ranks among the top 10 largest suppliers of wheat and flour, exporting approximately nine million tonnes annually. Kazakhstan also played an integral part in establishing the IOFS.

Saudi Arabia also increased local food production by investing in agricultural technologies, desalination projects, and greenhouse farming. In September 2023, the kingdom announced that it had achieved complete self-sufficiency in dates, fresh dairy products, and table eggs, with production exceeding local demand.

It also announced significant progress in producing other food items, such as potatoes, poultry, tomatoes, red meat, carrots, fish, and onions. 

The government has introduced several investment and loan initiatives. In June 2023, the Agricultural Development Fund announced the approval of approximately $400 million in funding to support small farm production of vegetables, fish, and poultry. 

In 2023, the Halal Products Development Company, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), established a joint venture with Brazilian food processor BRF to enhance the halal meat industry in the region. Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company, another PIF subsidiary, obtained a 10.7% stake in BRF, too. 

Meanwhile, Malaysia ranks 41st on the GFSI. The country has championed sustainable agriculture practices such as agroecology and organic farming to enhance food production, while stringent food safety regulations and quality standards ensure the safety and integrity of the food supply chain.

The government launched the National Agrofood Policy 2.0 for the years 2021–2030 to create a sustainable, competitive, and high-tech agro-food sector. It allocated three billion Malaysian ringgitts as part of the policy.  

What lies ahead?

The GFSI report suggests that through concerted initiatives, public, private, and non-governmental entities are best placed to address many of the core drivers of food insecurity, ultimately strengthening a sustainable food system and improving its capacity to withstand shocks.

“In essence, the journey towards food security and economic resilience is not without challenges, but with strategic partnerships, innovative solutions, and a steadfast commitment to empowering communities, OIC countries can overcome adversity and chart a course towards a more equitable and sustainable future,” said Hussain.