THOUSANDS of organic traders and organic farming experts from around the world took part in the Kingdom of Jordan’s first Natural and Organic Products Exhibition and Conference in Amman in May, 2012. The four-day conference, under the patronage of the Kingdom of Jordan’s royal family, showcased the growing organic agricultural industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The event addressed various issues of the organic agricultural industry including pest management, nutrient management, biological control, weed management, certification, Codex Alimentarius, marketing, finance and microfinance, organisation, international co-operation, challenges of shifting to organic production, climate change, and case studies (vegetable farming under greenhouses, strawberries, palm trees and olives).

Organic farming experts from around the world, particularly from the Middle East and Africa, presented a series of information sessions. The event brought together the industrial, institutional and major regional economic stakeholders and attracted high-quality trade buyers from all over the world.

The successful exhibition facilitated and accelerated exchanges of knowledge and partnerships, provided a networking platform for potential traders and customers, and identified new commercial and sustainable technological developments.

IFOAM president Andre Leu was one of the many keynote speakers at the exhibition and said he was impressed with the energy and direction of the organic agricultural industry in the MENA region. “The Kingdom of Jordan is a monarchy and the royal family is right behind organic agricultural development and the organisation of regional networks in the MENA region,” Mr Leu said.

“The Jordanian Government provides a raft of financial incentives to increase trade in the organic industry. This event greatly increased knowledge concerning a regional approach to organic farming and natural production as well as providing a close look into current and emerging trends for organic agriculture and natural products across the global market.”

Other expert speakers included Saudi Arabia’s Dr Khalid N. Alredhaiman, professor at the University of Qassim’s Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine College and an advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, Saudi Arabia; Mary Bahdousheh, Jordan’s Minister of Agriculture Consultant for Plant Wealth; Dr Wael Almatni, the Head of Pest Management, Department of Biological Control, Directorate of Plant Protection and an adviser for pheromones, bumblebees and natural enemies, Damascus, Syria; Dr Emad Hussain Al Turaihi, from Doha-Qatar’s Agricultural Affairs Department, Ministry of Environment; and Dr Saskia van Ruth from the Netherlands’ Head Research Cluster Authenticity and Nutrients and program manager for Product Composition Research RIKILT, Wageningen University and Research Center.

In contrast to its global IFOAM counterparts, the MENA region has a unique set of challenges when developing an organic agricultural industry. With scarce water and limited arable land, the region has become accustomed to dealing with environmental stress since its early civilisations.

However the environmental challenges in modern times have accelerated, posing risks for the standards of living of future generations and raising the costs of mitigating negative environmental impacts. Despite  significant and steady awareness and improvements over the past decade, the region is threatened by declining per capita water resources, loss of arable land, pollution-related health problems, deteriorating coastal zones and vulnerable marine resources.

The region’s ongoing food crisis has translated into significant increases in food price inflation in the region and at times civil unrest. The crisis has raised concerns about the desire to improve food security and even to explore the possibility of ‘Arab’ self-sufficiency by securing large areas of potentially productive land in non-MENA countries such as Sudan.

How to address food security and ensure reliable and consistent national food supplies are issues of critical importance to governments in the region. More than 50 per cent of the food consumed in the region is imported, making it the largest food-importing region in the world.

High rates of population growth combined with severely constrained water and land resources suggest that this dependence on imports will not significantly change in the near future. Some 43 per cent of the MENA region’s population is rural, but poverty is generally higher in rural areas than urban areas.

MENA region governments recognise that the rural sector is a reservoir of labour and a producer of food for the urban sector and are working towards developing natural and organic farming incentives and education programs to build sustainable economies in the region.

Acres Australia Archives – Issue #100