Blog Action Day: Jordan Food Security Conversation

This year’s Blog Action Day is dedicated to the issue of food. The most unsexy of issues. Seriously. War will always triumph over famine in media coverage and listeners’ attention. That’s just the way the world seems to work. Unless you personally (that’s right, you reading this right now) personally have a growling stomach and no avenue or mechanism of support to resolve that problem, be it right now, today, or in the next week, month and year – then you probably don’t care. If an earthquake happens tomorrow, killing hundreds or thousands, and generating an unnatural level of destruction, then the people of the world will generously move to lend their support, and even then, such movement is never nearly enough. But when famine breaks out somewhere, when a country is no longer able to feed its own people, there’s very little interest generated unless it is fueled by celebrities.

And this is all despite the facts. The kind of facts the paint a picture of a dire reality. I’ve always thought that people are always generally less interested in what’s happening “somewhere else”. As long as you have food on your table, what do you care for others that don’t in a foreign country? Maybe, for this issue to be taken seriously, a local context needs to be applied. But even then, the results are not always possible.

When it comes to the Arab world, Somalia tops the list. In fact, Somalia probably tops the list anywhere. Four million people are in crisis with 750,000 people at risk of death in the coming four months. For my generation, I believe we came in to this world with Somalia dominating the famine issue. I don’t recall a year when Somalia wasn’t suffering from a lack of food.

But closer to home, I was quite shocked (perhaps not so much) of a recent report that the volume of wheat the Kingdom produces is enough to last the country 17 days. Not weeks or months or years. Days.

To any Jordanian who knows the importance of bread to the daily diet knows the kind of catastrophe this spells. Anyone who lives here and has experienced the impact of major instability in the region can have locally, knows the extent to which this descent is disastrous. The Kingdom produces only 5% of its wheat needs, everything else is imported.

Agriculture in the country contributes some 3% of the GDP and has declined over the past 20 years. This doesn’t need economic analysis as much as it requires a person to drive through arable farmland where families used to produce enough food to not only sustain themselves but to earn a living, and see it vacant. The recipe for disaster consists of a wide variety of ingredients: less and less water, increasing desertification, increasing population growth, increasing migration (Iraq refugees for example), economic policies favoring imported goods, political policies encouraging comfortable government jobs over agriculture, and a general discerning attitude towards the agricultural sector. And on and on and on. Even Jordan’s Sudan landleasing deal from back in the 1990’s has experienced failure after the latter country began taking back its land based on Jordan’s inability to deliver its side of the bargain.

And in the meantime, we continue to suffer from price shocks, reflected in the rising price of food in the Kingdom, and the rising debt the government garners from subsidizing some staple goods.

The problems are plentiful, but what is needed is a conversation about the solutions. What is needed are ways of making this issue one that plays a dominant role in how we think as citizens. The divide between rich and poor is growing, and as it does, their respective bubbles become increasingly hardened. These bubbles need to be broken and pertinent national issues that govern our survival, specifically food and water, need to become exactly that, national. On everyone’s mind. This is the only feasible first step.

So the natural question to ask is: how do we get there? How do we make this a national issue; a national conversation?


  • Growing up in the 1980s, Somalia and Sudan were the countries most known for having massive famines and it’s so depressing that still the case right now.

    There is no shortage of food, there’s just poor distribution of it, and very bad policies that allow for these famines to occur.

    Nationally speaking, before findings way to produce more food we have to stop wasting it, and it’s going to be very difficult to change thhe way Jordanians waste food because we have to change the culture, and you know how hard this is. Just see how much food gets wasted by everyone. Go to any wedding and look at the massive amounts or rice and meat that gets thrown in trash. Now try convincing a rich person running for elections or who’s going to get his eldest son married not to throw dozens of sidirs of mansaf around? just try

    I don’t know if they’re still doing the “wajba 7atta el-ishbaa3” during Ramadan in pizza or chicken places, but it suits Jordanians very welll, eat until you die? We love it. I tried it many times, and I won’t recommend it to my worst enemy

  • We have to stop this knee jerk defence of the agricultural industry as if it was a national imperative. The agricultural industry in Jordan is a disaster to the land and the country, seeping 65% of the water but contributing only 3% to national GDP. If we stopped subidizing all the farmers, who have connections with the Government and get free stuff all the time, and stopped this insanity of growing water-intensive tomatoes and then exporting it for cheap, we would actually have enough water for drinking and industry, and we could grow drought-resistant pines around the country to beautify it. You know that we are losing millions on our tomatoes that get exported because we subdize each tomato with water and electricty subdies. Its retarded insanity! We can just buy tomatoes from Syria or Lebanon for cheap. We could use the money we burn in subdizing the water and electricty of farms and educate farmers how to be productive in industry or IT; something that would actually be worthwhile to export, and then we can buy food from overseas with the returns. In a globalized world where money is everything, why is it imperative to have an agircultural industry when we can buy our food from overseas? And if you are worried about price shocks, then the Government can step in to stabilize prices.

    The best thing that the Government of Jordan can do is to come out and say the following; Our country is not an agircultural country, and we will spend money on retraining our farmer to become productive in other ways. Afterall, isn’t that how America became the greatest economy in the world, and they actually do have water.

  • @Hareega: I agree with you regarding wastage, which has always been a problem in other fields as well, such as water. However, evidently, we do seem to be suffering from our own shortage of goods, for a wide variety of reason (that include wastage and poor distribution). the kind of crises this can create can be overwhelming. case in point, one can easily look at what happens when war breaks out nearby – people race to stock up on food and having been witness to such an event several times over the past 20 years, I’ve seen that chaos a quick shortage can create. this is also a country where riots broke out over the price of subsidized bread mind you.

    @bubbly: i guess that’s one argument. i think the agricultural sector in any country is essential, especially if trade policies can collapse and cut off the ability for a country to be self-sustainable. this is like saying, we don’t really need to invest in development as long as we get foreign aid paying for a decent portion of our national budget and government salaries than we’re good.

    I agree with you that there are major pitfalls in the sector, including the use of fresh water, or even the planting of unsustainable and/or non-competitive crops – but all this indicates the need to reform policies, not abolish the sector.

    Agriculture and farming in general is one of America’s biggest industries (if not the biggest, unless im mistaken).

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