Earlier this year the Organization of Islamic Cooperation launched its Food Security Institution, helping to coordinate agricultural policies between its member states, and thus, address the world’s food shortage problem.
Supporting water resource management technologies to boost agricultural production, the institution will also provide expertise in rural development and irrigation to OIC
members, as well as assess and monitor the food security situation in OIC member states in order to recommend appropriate emergency and humanitarian assistance, including the creation of food reserves.
This crucial establishment comes at a time when every country in the Arab world – including the wealthy Gulf states – faces a potential crisis amidst the rising cost of food. Even though agriculture contributes 27% of the GDP of OIC member countries, employing 37.4% of the region’s labor force, most of them still import approximately 60-80% of their foodstuffs. Meanwhile, the cost of the Arab world’s food imports is expected to reach $115 billion by 2020, based on an estimated population growth rate of 3.5% over the next decade.
On top of this, many countries are now left particularly vulnerable due to the ongoing global phenomenon of desertification, the lack of (and conflict over) water resources, rising energy costs (that hike the prices of food) and a history of misguided agricultural policy.
While the creation of the OIC’s new institution for food security will look to bring its member countries together in tackling the causes of this chronic food shortage (a headquarters is being set up in Kazakhstan and a permanent food reserve will also be located in Djibouti), with more than 20 OIC states currently ranking among the globe’s top producers of agricultural commodities such as wheat, rice and maize – the answer to the problem surely lies within the region’s own capabilities.
One such country with vast agricultural potential is Sudan. Once the largest country in Africa (before the secession of the South), it sits at the vitally geostrategic crossroads between sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and has one of the continent’s widest and richest variety of resources — human and natural, economic and social — within its borders.
“Without any exaggeration, if there is a single country that is able to feed all Arab countries, it will be Sudan,” says Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Ahmed Karti.
“We have 200 million acres of arable land, the majority of which is yet to be properly utilized. We equally have abundant water resources. Beside the River Nile and its five tributaries, Sudan has an average annual rainfall of 400 billion cubic meters, and total renewable ground water of 4 billion cubic meters. “In addition, we have widely diverse weather which allows the cultivation of different crops, coupled by a long experience in modern commercial and irrigated agriculture which we’ve known since the 19th century.”
Considering this, it is certainly no wonder that the OIC have identified Sudan as a key country in the promotion of food security. Indeed, back in 2010 Sudan held an OIC ministerial conference on promoting food security and agricultural development which then adopted the executive framework that has led to the recent creation of the Food Security Institution.
|“Without any exaggeration, if there is a single country that is able to feed all Arab countries, it will be Sudan” |
Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Ahmed Karti
So too has the OIC recognized the vitally strategic location of the country by making it a pivotal part of the plans for a megaproject that could change the face of Africa. While proposals are still ongoing, the Port Sudan–Dakar railway line will be one of the biggest ever development projects undertaken on the African continent when it is finally implemented.
The Port Sudan–Dakar railway project would be a quantum leap in the area of land transportation and trade exchange on the continent and thus act as an effective mechanism to increase intra-OIC cooperation in the agriculture sector. Through the Port of Sudan, the project will be capable of giving four landlocked African countries access to the sea and providing them with a 10,100km long rail artery, connecting seven countries in total, all the way from Sudan’s Red Sea coast in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
Combine Sudan’s evident potential in becoming an essential transportation and trade hub in linking the rest of Africa to the Middle East and beyond, with its obvious agricultural attributes and natural water resources, and you can see why Sudan is being tipped as an answer to the Arab world’s, the Muslim world’s, and indeed much of developing world’s food security.
However, in achieving this, the country must overcome a certain few obstacles. While the World Bank asserts the possibility of Sudan one day becoming an “economic powerhouse”, its tremendous potential has largely been unrealized due to years of conflict with the South of Sudan. Some of the country’s promise was attained in the light of oil discovery in the 1990s – fuelling unprecedented growth and massive public investment. The secession of South Sudan in 2011, following a referendum for self determination by its people in accordance with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, however, meant that Sudan had to sacrifice three quarters of the country’s oil wealth that was produced in the South.
Despite this, Sudan became the first government in the world to recognize the new country, with President Al-Bashir taking part in the celebration of the birth of South Sudan state and extending to it a hand of genuine cooperation and assistance.
Following mediation by a panel of former African leaders headed by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, a series of agreements was signed by the two countries in September 2012 to resolve the outstanding business left over from the secession. Of special significance are agreements on economic cooperation and free movement, residence, business and ownership by each country’s citizens in the other. Commenting on these agreements, the International Monetary Fund reported earlier this year that there is now a clear “window of opportunity for bold policy reforms to address the post-secession challenges and bring about a much-needed turnaround”.
While there are still few pending issues, the two leaders most recently met in Khartoum on September 3rd 2013 and vowed to open a new chapter in the relations between the two countries based on the understanding that the countries need each other’s cooperation in order to prosper.
“One of the defining characteristics of today’s world is the great interdependence between neighboring countries, especially in terms of peace, stability and socio-economic welfare,” declares Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Ahmed Karti. “In fact, regional peace and stability is indivisible. Hence, good relations with neighbors have become an imperative of national security, and this is crystal clear in our case. “We are working hard to improve and widen our relations with South Sudan, which are of a special nature given our common history, the very long border and social and cultural ties, as well as the post secession issues. “Strategically speaking, we have no option other than having good relations and close cooperation.”
And so with an increasingly more positive atmosphere prevailing in the relationship between the two states, Sudan is now ready to pick up the pieces of its economy and reap the huge benefits that eventual peace will bring with it. While the heavy loss of oil has had serious effects, importantly for the issue of food security, this has now put pressure on the Sudanese government to intensify their focus on the agriculture sector.
Having now identified the agriculture and livestock industry as the country’s key priority – playing a vital role not only in food security, but employment opportunities, poverty alleviation and social development – Sudan is now massively boosting its public spending on the sector. Already the cornerstone of Sudan’s economy, agriculture employs over 80% of the work force and accounts for nearly 40% of the gross domestic product, and yet, there remain masses upon masses of uncultivated and fertile land that is ready to be taken advantage of and used to help ensure food security around the globe. With this in mind, with the help of the OIC, the Government is now taking measures to stabilize itself and pursue a new investment policy that aims to remove all obstacles faced by foreign investors, creating a suitable atmosphere for attracting more capital and thus finally giving the county the genuine capacity to one day feed the world’s hungry.