Major Food Policy Developments in 2015
The primary regional organization, the Arab League, does not have the capacity to engage with all the security and political problems of the region. Instead, the Arab League has focused on increasing trade integration within the region, which may offer a feasible first step toward resolving the region’s seemingly intractable political issues. A longstand?ing plan to create a region-wide Arab Customs Union (ACU) in 2015 has now been put on hold, and a more limited subregional Customs Union composed of the GCC was established. Several other regional cooperative efforts were initiated in 2015. The Arab League launched the Climate Nexus Initiative in Cairo in November, which will support the development of greater regional policy coherence across the SDGs for climate change, disaster risk reduction, food and water security, and social vulnerability. The World Bank and the Arab Monetary Fund launched an initiative that, among its key objectives, aims to secure financing for small and medium enterprises as well as other links in the food and agriculture value chain (World Bank 2015a). And in a promising sign for future coordination of water distribution from the Nile, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed an agreement of principles on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam project in March 2015.
At the country level, policymaking activity has often increased in Arab countries in times of crises, such as the 2008 and 2011 global food crises and the Arab awakening. But such policy changes are often neither fiscally sustainable nor well targeted at the poor (Bordignon and Breisinger 2015). In 2015, with large territories and populations affected by extreme violence, countries are finding it even more difficult to focus on long-term sustainable development solutions. Even for the countries that have avoided getting pulled into the violence, the ongoing conflicts distract from critical development priorities, including participatory and representative government, the rule of law, and equitable development.
Egypt is among the few exceptions. The Egyptian government continued its effort to reform subsidies, including cutting environmentally and socially detrimental fuel subsidies, which created overall economic and distributional gains. Reforms were also made to the food subsidy system, including (i) boosting the dietary value of the basket of subsidized food through the addition of a greater variety of eligible foods; (ii) transfer of most users to smart cards, which allow for electronic replenishment of food assistance funds, thus increasing efficiency and reducing the risk of corruption or misuse of food assistance funds; and (iii) initiating a new food-waste reduction project (Ecker et al. 2014).
-  For more information, see O. Ecker, J.-F. Trinh Tan, and P. Al-Riffai, “Facing the Challenge: TheRecent Reform of the Egyptian Food Subsidy System,” Arab Spatial Food and Nutrition SecurityBlog, December 19, 2014, http://bit.ly/1kzNZjE