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The rise of sustainable agriculture in the Middle East

What are climate-friendly investments?

Climate-friendly or green investments can include projects and start-ups covering a wide range of innovations across different industries including energy, manufacturing and farming that aim to implement technologies and practices which reduce net GHG emissions. To meet the SDG targets by 2030, it is estimated that emerging markets need an annual investment of $2.5 trillion, with a substantial portion of this investment focused on the Middle East.

The World Bank’s roadmap for climate action

The World Bank Group’s Roadmap for Climate Action in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which runs from 2021-2025, aims to drive climate action and a green recovery in the region. The roadmap outlines four key transformation areas to build low-carbon, resilient societies:

  • Food systems, water security and resilient natural capital: A climate-smart approach to agriculture and natural resource management in MENA is instrumental to achieve food security and preserve biodiversity while ensuring peace and stability.
  • Energy transition and low carbon mobility: Decarbonizing energy and transport sectors through renewable energy sources and clean mobility solutions can create jobs and drive economic growth while preventing health and environmental risks.
  • Climate-smart cities and resilient coastal economies: Climate-informed urban planning, strengthening municipal plans to ensure the continuity of public services, and integrated coastal management will help improve the livability of cities and mitigate risks in the face of increased climate hazards.
  • Sustainable finance for climate action: Unlocking private capital, supporting national budgets and expenditures and strengthening financial institutions for green investments.

Where does agriculture fit into climate-friendly investing?

It is no surprise that food is included in the roadmap. Climate change is a fundamental threat to food systems and a significant “hunger-risk multiplier” in MENA. Nearly 55 million people were already food insecure in the region before COVID-19. This situation is particularly grave in countries affected by conflicts such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Agriculture in the region is 70% rainfed and traditional farming methods are often difficult in arid areas with little arable land and with populations facing water scarcity and a harsh climate. In a +2°C world, agricultural losses could reduce household incomes by billions. This includes losses of US$ 2 billion in Syria and Tunisia alone and up to US$ 9 billion in Yemen. Desertification endangers almost half the land area in the Mashreq, 28.6% in the Nile Valley and the Horn of Africa, 16.5% in North Africa and 9% in the Arabian Peninsula.

What does sustainable agriculture involve?

Improved technology and better agriculture management is the only way to improve crop production sustainably in the Middle East region. Hence, climate-smart agriculture in the Middle East could be one of the key mitigation measures.

  • Climate-smart agriculture is an approach to managing landscapes – cropland, livestock, forests, and fisheries – that aims to achieve three “wins”:
  • Increased productivity to improve food security and boost farmers’ incomes;
  • Improved resilience to drought, pests, disease, and other shocks linked to climate change impacts;
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydroponics and vertical farming in high-tech greenhouses, controlling heat and humidity, could become the prime provider of water-intensive and transport-sensitive crops. Local desalinating plants could help countries like Iran purify groundwater, while telemetry and artificial intelligence could enable solutions like adaptive irrigation, rainfall recuperation and, eventually, quasi- circular water consumption. Digital technologies also provide opportunities to accelerate the climate smartness of the countries and their stakeholders. In addition, while developed countries have led the innovation and adoption of digital agriculture, the potential impact in developing countries—including in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is enormous.

The need for finance to create a future of sustainable agriculture

Middle Eastern countries have played a leading role in developing green finance. For example, the UAE launched the UAE Green Agenda and the Investment Support Scheme in 2015 to drive investment in sustainable projects and initiatives. Green finance in the UAE includes significant private sector involvement, including the First Abu Dhabi Bank PJSC (FAB) and Masdar and international banks such as Standard Chartered Bank (SCB).

Despite this,  a lack of finance is still a barrier. It has been estimated that Arab countries would need a minimum of USD 230 billion annually to achieve their sustainable development goals. The finance gap in Arab countries has been estimated at over USD 100 billion, with a cumulative total of over USD 1.5 trillion through 2030. Increased finance would help green technologies and innovation across the region and the gap indicates that there are significant opportunities for investors in green technology within the region.

The countries of the Middle East are especially vulnerable to climate change, and in many cases are taking a lead in pioneering green finance and green technologies to help lower GHG emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In addition to investments in green energy given food security and water scarcity issues within the region climate-friendly agricultural investments will play a pivotal role in helping the region meet its climate and economic challenges.

Preparing for a future with more sustainable agriculture

Water scarcity and extreme temperatures render the Middle East particularly susceptible to climate change, prompting a surge in interest for climate-friendly investments in the region.

At Farrelly Mitchell, sustainable agriculture and ESG principles are integral to our core values. Our tailored consultancy services span a broad spectrum of practices designed to enhance environmental stewardship and social responsibility, from the integration of clean energy and circular principles, to improved water management and agri input strategies. Through our dedicated support, we empower clients to not only align with but also to lead in the adoption of sustainability and ESG standards, paving the way for a more resilient and sustainable future in the agriculture sector.


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