Assisting farmers in the Middle East, North Africa during the food crisis

Man inspecting potatoes in field (USAID Cairo)
U.S. assistance is helping farmers in the Middle East, such as Farid Zidan, of Egypt, increase crop yields and quality while reducing costs. (USAID Cairo)

The United States is supporting farmers in the Middle East and North Africa amid pressures from the global food crisis.

“The scale of the crisis is staggering,” David Wisner, the U.S. State Department’s director of global food security, told the October 4 panel discussion, “Food Security in the Middle East: Understanding Urgent Needs and U.S. Support.”

The climate crisis, conflicts around the world and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic are driving a global food crisis that has left 193 million people worldwide needing humanitarian food assistance, Wisner said.

The United States has provided $9.8 billion in international humanitarian food assistance in 2022. The aid includes $1.8 billion in emergency food aid to the Middle East and North Africa, where severe weather has reduced farmers’ yields and Russia’s war against Ukraine has cut agricultural imports to numerous countries that previously relied on wheat from Ukraine.

Livestock walking over cracked land (© Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)
Severe drought in North Africa threatens agriculture and livestock, such as these animals near a village 140 kilometers south of Casablanca, Morocco, August 8. (© Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. support for agriculture in the Middle East and North Africa includes:

  • Seeds and technical support for farmers in Lebanon and Syria.
  • Cash grants for small farmers in Morocco.
  • Loans for small businesses in Iraq and Lebanon to improve food processing, transportation and storage.

Carla Bock, a regional economist for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for the Middle East, said improving processing and food storage reduces waste, ensuring more food reaches consumers.

USAID is introducing low-cost agricultural solutions to farmers in Egypt, traditionally the world’s largest importer of wheat. Before Russia’s war against Ukraine, 75% of Egypt’s wheat supply came from Ukraine and Russia.

Man holding papers in front of group of men sitting outside (USAID Cairo)
Farmers in Aswan, Egypt, learn new techniques for increasing crop yields and quality. (USAID Cairo)

USAID projects have helped 5,000 Egyptian wheat farmers reduce product losses during a recent harvest. “Bread is life for Egyptians,” Mohamed Aboelwafa of USAID’s office in Egypt told the panel. Other USAID initiatives help Egypt’s farmers conserve water and increase profitability, including by reducing product losses during the date harvest.

Panelists also highlighted the importance of water conservation and sanitation. African nations are suffering the worst drought in decades and more than 2.2 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water, Niles Cole of the State Department’s Office of Agricultural Policy told the panel.

Under the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PDF, 427KB), which will help half a billion people manage and adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis, USAID aims to mobilize $1 billion in financing for climate-resilient water and sanitation services by 2030.

“Water is the key link in all of these crises,” Cole told the panel. “We need innovative approaches to water management to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”