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New Research Initiative to transform rural dryland livelihoods under threat of climate change in Middle East and North Africa.

Workers Packing Apples, Morocco
Local farmers packing apples in Morocco. Photo credit: Douglas Varchol.

A new research-for-development initiative aiming to transform rural dryland livelihoods under the threat of climate change for at least 28 million rural people living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was introduced last month at the Marrakech UN Climate Change Conference last month (COP22) by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and various partners. The results of a youth-targeted study in Morocco and the unique "systems approach" from CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems have informed the design of this new initiative, which targets youth employment and agricultural development in the MENA region.

People living in the MENA region have adapted to harsh climates for thousands of years. However, today’s unprecedented rate of climate change means that the region will become hotter and drier with more extreme droughts and flash floods testing the population’s ability to cope.

Climate change is expected to reduce agricultural output by as much as 24% and household income by 7% over next 30-40 years in the MENA region. This will add tremendous pressure on the host of challenges already faced in the region, such as poverty, high levels of unemployment - particularly among women and young people, water scarcity, land and resource degradation, mass migration, civil unrest and conflict.

            “The MENA region faces challenges that call for urgent action. An integrated systems approach that brings together agricultural research and development to create and implement practical and innovative solutions that meet people’s needs and aspirations and offer better livelihood opportunities is critical. Our initiative channels this robust approach by orienting its research and development activities to create opportunities and jobs for young people in agriculture value chains, and spur sustainable agricultural production and equitable economic growth in rural dryland communities. By empowering young people in the MENA region to thrive and succeed in this way, not only are we helping transform livelihoods; but also contributing to the wider goals of peace and stability in the region and beyond,” said Aly Abousabaa, ICARDA Director General at the opening of the COP22 side event to introduce the initiative.

The new MENA Initiative was presented by Dr. Richard Thomas, Director of CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, following a short welcome and key note speech by Ms. Margret Thalwitz, Chairperson of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees. This was followed by a lively panel discussion and questions & answers session with participation from several partners: 

  • Prof. Dr. Mohamed Aziz Darghouth, President, IRESA, Tunisia
  • Prof Dr. Mohamed Badraoui, Director General, INRA, Morocco
  • Mr. Aly Abousabaa, Director General, ICARDA
  • Dr. Khalida Bouzar, Director of the Near East, North Africa and Europe Division, IFAD
  • Mr. Alexandre Meybeck, Senior Advisor at the Agriculture Department, FAO
  • Ms. Faouzia Chakir, Director of Food Security Department, UMA
  • Dr. Didier Bazile, Regional Director for the Mediterranean and Middle East, CIRAD 

The new MENA initiative will utilize scientific agricultural research evidence to test, develop and scale up practical climate-smart solutions, whilst enabling and empowering young people – including women – with relevant knowledge, skills, opportunities and innovative technologies to implement these solutions in order to mitigate land and resource degradation in the face of climate change.

The complex problems faced in the MENA region require broad new types of partnerships, particularly with the private sector, in order to  make agriculture an attractive, sustainable and viable option for a decent and prosperous livelihood for young people, and provide real opportunities and access to land, financial resources, innovative technologies, skills training and science-based solutions for transformative impact, particularly in the face of climate change." noted Dr. Richard Thomas.

Worker, Apple Farm, Morocco
Young worker rolling up hail protection net in a farm in Morocco. Photo credit: Douglas Varchol.

The aim of the initiative is to create opportunities for new and better jobs for young people in the agriculture sector and increase rural incomes and wealth by improving sustainable agricultural production and revitalizing hubs of multi-sector economic activities in rural communities, while fostering resilience, environmental stewardship and sustainable land management in the MENA region.

The Initiative is expected to combine scientific expertise with the knowledge, skills and capacities of diverse partners, including the CGIAR, the Global Agricultural Forum, various UN agencies, farmers and farmer association, the private sector, civil society organizations, universities, national and regional agricultural research institutions across different disciplines in order to achieve impact at scale for transforming agricultural livelihoods in the region.

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