Fostering food security, resilience, and sustainable growth with IOFS

Fostering food security, resilience, and sustainable growth with IOFS
04 July 2023

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Mr. Yerlan Alimzhanuly Baidaulet, Director General of the Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS), discusses the role of IOFS in advance of the occasion of the 48th Annual General Meeting of the IsDB Group on 10-13 May 2023, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

As an entity specialized in food security, can you please highlight the specific roles of the IOFS, from how it functions to how its activities are funded?

Yerlan Alimzhanuly Baidaulet: Allow me firstly to share that the IOFS core mission is ensuring food security, sustainable agriculture and rural development within the OIC geography. In this regard as per its strategic framework, IOFS should safeguard sustainable food security in OIC Member States through their socio-economic development and systemic promotion of targeted programs related to agriculture, science, and technology, humanitarian food aid and intra- OIC food trade.

Secondly, the IOFS has 16 strategic thematic programs, which were designed to respond to challenges identified within 5 main pillars (Food Security Governance, Food Crises Response, Capacity Building, Industrial development and Resource mobilization) towards boosting cooperation between Member States, national, regional, and international organizations for the benefit of agriculture and food sectors and the welfare of people within OIC geography, and Plan of Action for the systemic development of strategic commodities (wheat, rice and cassava) that would need close cooperation with Member States through the dedicated electronic Center of Excellency for all indicated commodities.

Thirdly, programming activities of IOFS are funded basically through mandatory contributions by the Member States or through partnerships with relevant international organizations, including the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB). It should, however, be clarified that the work of IOFS Secretariat emanates from the mandates and interests Member States have provided to. Therefore joint efforts among the Member States focused on the initiatives of IOFS, as the sole OIC specialized Institution focused on the matters related to food security, could also improve their respective agricultural policies. We have been meeting several high-level delegations from different Member States and continuously requesting them to embrace IOFS Strategic Framework and IOFS Vision 2031 as their own documents and as their tools to facilitate intra- OIC cooperation in the field of agricultural development and food security.

To conclude, it is important to note that the development of sustainable agriculture sector and food systems in OIC Member States is mired by a multitude of constraints concerning agricultural resources, infrastructure, policy and international commodity markets. Member States, therefore, are urged to work closely with the IOFS towards addressing such constraints delaying their agricultural efficiency for it to be used as the basic tool for ensuring national food security in OIC geography.

At present, the membership of the IOFS is comprised of 37 countries (out of 57 OIC Member States). Are there plans to get new States on board in 2023 and beyond?

Of course, we want to increase the number of Member States that have full-fledged status with the Organization. In addition to the indicated number of Member States, in 2022 the Republic of Turkmenistan joined IOFS with the Observer status. This is why when there are solemn gatherings at the OIC, including the recently held 49th Session of Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Nouakchott, Mauritania, we call remaining OIC Member States yet not members of IOFS to seize the opportunity to sign its Statute. There is also a stand resolution of CFM calling these same countries to join the IOFS, and in my capacity as Director General of IOFS, I undertake visits to such countries with understanding of clarifying the important work the Organization is implementing and to show them how they would respectively enjoy the benefits of Membership. One of the visits, actually, paid the desired result, as when I was in Ndjamena, Republic of Chad, in May 2022, relevant local authorities embraced the Agenda of IOFS, and in July of the same year, they adhered to the Organization. We will therefore continue with this work, and we expect some countries to join this year and probably at our 6th General Assembly to be held on 02-03 October 2023 in Doha, State of Qatar. We may have new Members signing the IOFS Statute. We expect that the total IOFS country membership as the end of 2023 would exceed 40. In this regard, our country department is dealing with designing all country profiles and following up on all country visits and meetings of the Director General with high authorities of these countries.

What MoUs have IOFS recently signed in its bids to create awareness and promote the importance of food security among Member States?

The Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS) maintains a consistent collaboration with a variety of partners within the Member States, including but not limited to business and private entities, civil societies, non-governmental agencies and quasi governmental bodies. Since 2018 and till April 2023 64 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) and Action Plans have been signed with various partners, all aimed at raising awareness and promoting the significance of food security among the Member States. Recent MoUs were signed with Saudi NGO Almukarramah, D-8 Organization for Economic Development, Inter Islamic Network on Water Resources Development and Management (INWRDAM), Nagashima Holdings Co. Ltd, and Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa. Additionally, IOFS collaborates closely with OIC institutions and has signed an MoU with the Union of OIC News Agencies (UNA), which supports all programs about food security awareness among the OIC Member States.

Which of the OIC Member States have been hit hardest by food security? Are there any emergency initiatives that can be rolled out immediately – and what does long-term support look like in comparison?

The state of hunger and malnutrition within the OIC geogtaphy is better understood by different reports issued by relevant UN Agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), particularly the Hunger Hotspots Report 2021, conveying the drastic situation of food insecurity in 11 OIC Member States (Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Mozambique, Lebanon and Yemen), which is affecting around 66 million people.

As our work is based on the official mandates, we are now focused on implementing the Afghanistan Food Security Program (AFSP), based on the special resolutions of the 17th Extraordinary Session of OIC CFM, (Islamabad, Pakistan) as of December 2021. This is because, since the events that have unfolded in Afghanistan in August 2021 and culminated with the change of Government on 15th of the same month, international humanitarian agencies have been taking action to avoid the widespread famine continuously now affecting Afghans. It is understood from several reports that job losses and soaring prices as well a big proportion of drug addicted (as per UNAMA statement, 6 million, including kids and women), are creating a new class of hungry in Afghanistan. 22.8 million of Afghans – or more than half of the population – are not consuming enough food. The country has been on the brink of economic collapse, with the local currency at an all-time low, and food prices being on the rise. Acute malnutrition has been above emergency thresholds in 27 out of 34 provinces.

As for African countries, the 49th OIC CFM adopted the resolution on the IOFS Africa Food Security Initiative (AFSI) right after productive Year of Africa in 2022. In this context, we are in consultations with Member States and relevant Institutions to mobilize the necessary cofunding to implement the designed programmes and projects. For instance, we intend to develop the national food security reserves for Mauritania and other countries in the Sahel to ensure that they have food stockpiles in times of crisis. We have initiated there high-level consultations which the IOFS Team undertook in Nouakchott to exchange views with the local authorities on how to proceed. We expect to do the same with other Sahelian countries once the pilot project in Mauritania is successfully implemented.

Another case is an Integrated Water Plan in Niger with support of eminent technical partners as INWRDAM (Jordan), CEDARE (Egypt), and KGS (Kazakhstan Aerospace Authority)

Given the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on supply chain in general, and the respective disruptions to wheat and barley exports globally in particular, are there any other macro-economic factors driving food security challenges in the OIC Member States? And how can further such challenges be mitigated by the IOFS?

My initial thought is that the Russia-Ukraine issue has, somehow, unmasked the current situation and level of food insecurity within many of OIC Member States. As such, while being unfortunate, it could also be an opportunity for all of us active in the field of food security and agricultural development within the OIC geography to rethink the way forward and how to scale-up joint efforts to mitigate the consequences from the crises we are witnessing.

You may be aware that there are other factors contributing negatively to food security aside the armed conflict. Those are, for instance, increasing population and level of urbanization, poverty, degradation of resources, high movement of refugees, and climate change, and the nefarious Covid-19 pandemic.

If we look closely to the issue of climate change, we come to the understanding that it is especially noticeable in the most of Muslim majority countries, having an historical tendency of an agriculture production to be unfortunately vulnerable to the weather. This situation is worsening by the population growth and other factors mentioned above, posing a real challenge for the food security for a major part of our Member States.

In this regard, the IOFS is working towards fostering climate-smart agriculture and agriinnovations for food production by implementing its Program “Climate Impact/ Resource Management” under IOFS Strategic Vision 2031. We at the IOFS therefore encourage programs related to climate change and the rational management of resources to reduce poverty and hunger in the OIC Member States based on three clear goals:

  1. Combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought with the particular focus on i) Irrigation environmentally friendly technology and ii) Sky management and clouds to cope with drought.
  2. Agriculture & Natural Resources by i) Preservation of Agricultural Ecosystems and ii) Valorising natural resources.
  3. Reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions in agriculture without compromising food security by cultivation practices to reduce carbon dioxide, Methane and Nitrous oxide in the soil, while encouraging organic farming and smart agriculture, as well as livestock and feed additives.

Basically, the Key Objectives of IOFS in the nexus climate change vs food security is to address problems posed by desertification, deforestation, soil erosion and salinity.

The second challenge is also related to technological gap that affecting most of the Member States, particularly in the field of basic agriculture. To this extent, the IOFS is, at present, developing the Vertical Farming Industry project aiming at using the most advanced technologies in this field and decrease of cost production of all 6 different components (like aluminum profiles, fertilizers, plastics etc.), which all are available in the IOFS hosting country, so the OIC Member States would easily afford and enjoy such a technological advancement.

The other issue influencing food security within the OIC geography is trade between regions and across borders, which may help adjust to changing conditions affecting food production as a result of climate change, well-functioning regional value chain across agro-food sectors also opens up opportunities for producers in developing economies (as most of the OIC Member States) to contribute to economic development in their local communities.

Also, the IOFS has developed a simple, understandable, and robust Index to measure the level of food security in member countries. The IOFS Food Security Index (FSI) is a critical tool in understanding the level of access, availability, and utilization of food resources among member countries. The FSI model is an essential instrument for monitoring and evaluating food security programs and policies and ensuring effective implementation. And therefore, IOFS pays special attention to conducting relevant studies to assist and promote the sufficient improvement of food security, statistics specially upon its unique Food Balance Database.

It is therefore very important for OIC Member States to scale up their intra-OIC cooperation in this particular field, as well, and the IOFS, as always, is ready to support the Member States by providing the platform for business exchanges, particularly, through its Subsidiary entity, Islamic Food Processing Association (IFPA) which recently relocated to Dubai (UAE) as a global business hub.