International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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Water Scarcity and Food Trade in
the Middle Eastern and North African Countries

Hong Yang

Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology, Switzerland



This study applies the ‘virtual water’ concept to examine food trade patterns in relation to water endowments in the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The examination shows a high import dependence of these countries for water intensive crops of cereal, vegetable oil and sugar. The export dependence of fruits and vegetables is generally low and tends to decline. Multi-variable regression results suggest that intensification of water scarcity in a country has been an important force driving up its food import during the last two decades. It also finds that the level of food import of a country is strongly influenced by its GDP per capita and other factors specific to the country conditions. However, the effect of GDP per capita on changes in food import during the period observed is rather modest. The projection on food import results in an increase of 59 percent, 56 percent and 20 percent, respectively, for cereal, vegetable oil and sugar in the MENA region by 2030 in association with the decline in per capita water resources availability, holding other factors constant. The EU is the most important food trade partner of MENA, except for cereal, where North America has a large share. While the EU’s promotion of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership is conducive to strengthening the food trade between the two sides, the increasingly stringent water, environmental and food-safety regulations in the EU may impede the expansion of such trade.