Leading international water expert Tony Allan spoke about “Food-Water Security in the Middle East” as a Visiting Scholar of the University Research Board to the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS).
Addressing a crowd of more than 60 students, faculty, staff, experts in related fields and external guests, Professor Allan shed light on water and food security challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and analyzed the current and future status and role of water in the region.
Professor Allan offered insight on means for the management of food-water (the water used to produce food) so that the MENA region can transition into a water secure future. According to him, governments are under political pressure to provide affordable food or risk upheaval, hence they do not properly value the water that goes into food production. Affordable food is in fact underpriced food that fails to account for the true environmental costs and leads to over-exploitation of water resources.
Allan noted that MENA countries import what he termed “virtual water” when they import food from the global markets they heavily rely on. “The long-term and continuing decline in real agricultural prices has benefitted these countries in their position as net food importers.” In relying on the environmental resources of the exporting countries, MENA countries have been able to reduce the use of their own environmental resources (primarily water).
Allan cautioned that MENA countries must continue to diversify their economies in order to maintain the flow of virtual water and import enough food for a growing population. He urged governments to implement policies that support farmers to manage water responsibly and encourage them to act as both producers of food and stewards of water resources. “You need to care about farmers, because they are keeping us safe and well in terms of water security. The only way for this safety is by ensuring that farmers take steps to manage water,” he said.
Speaking globally, Professor Allan highlighted the role of the agri-food sector in achieving water security in the 21st century. Because food-water accounts for more than 90% of all water resources, he said that farmers are central to the sustainable use of water resources in the MENA region and around the world.
“Professor Allan’s lecture touched upon important sustainability-related issues,” Dean of the FAFS, Dr. Nahla Hwalla, told us. “This links directly to our strategy on food security in terms of both production and consumption as water is an important component of the production and consumption of food.”
The audience engaged in a discussion that followed. Also during his visit to AUB, Professor Allan spoke with students of the Master of Science in Food Security program, met with faculty experts in food and water security, and visited the AUB farm in the Beqa’a Valley.
"Dr. Allan is one of the most acclaimed international water scientists,” Martin Keulertz, Visiting Assistant Professor in FAFS’ Food Security Program, told us. “Despite his technical background, he has dared to think outside the box by connecting the water question to wider political and economic concerns. We at the AUB Food Security Program feel very privileged to have this distinguished speaker present his talk which serves our mission on how to achieve food and nutrition security, as well as environmental and human health in a growing region”.
Professor Allan heads the London Water Research Group at King’s College London (KCL) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. He has received numerous awards including the Stockholm Water Prize, the International Environmentalist Award of the Fondazione Bardini e Peyron, and the Prince Albert of Monaco Water Prize.
"All solutions for the water crisis are to be found outside the water sector,” Professor Allan told us. “The quicker humanity understands this, the better we will be able to provide solutions for managing water and food. I feel very privileged to speak at the most important academic institution in the MENA region, which has had a profound impact on regional agricultural development.”
More information on the Food Security Program at the American University of Beirut is available online at http://www.aub.edu.lb/fafs/FoodSecurity/Pages/Index.aspx.