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From Analysis to Action: Addressing the Food, Water, Energy Nexus in Africa – Jean R. AbiNader

* Morocco is taking a leadership role in the search for practical solutions to the enormous challenges presented by the food-water-energy nexus in Africa.  The issue’s importance and potential impact on regional and international security and stability was highlighted at a conference convened by the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. * 

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Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
February 13, 2014

Over the past five years, foreign and security policy makers have become more attentive to the need to treat natural resources policies in terms of how they intersect with each other.

No topic is more important than the food-water-energy “nexus” that was addressed by a conference at the Atlantic Council on February 12. Working from a draft paper, the discussion was divided into three sections: “Core Nexus Principles,” “The Nexus in Practice I: Transatlantic Perspectives,” and “The Nexus in Practice II: the Case of Africa.”

In Morocco, though environmental conditions may not be as dire as in other African countries, there are challenges in addressing this “nexus” in both the short and long term. For example, in any given year, the production of food depends on adequate rainfall and its management.

Annual rainfall has a significant impact on the GDP, which causes swings in agricultural production from 9 percent during periods of low rainfall to upwards of 17 percent in a good year, and the agricultural sector is the largest employer in the country. Reducing the impact of these swings requires more efficient use of land, fertilizer, recycled water, farming and irrigation techniques, and similar factors – all of which require inputs of energy, whether solar, wind, or fuel-sourced, not to mention sunshine!

Morocco is fortunate that most of its environmental factors are largely internal, as no rivers originate in any of its neighbors. However, as an energy importer of more than 95% of its needs, the country cannot avoid the potential for a short-term financial catastrophe if a “perfect storm” occurs that lifts energy and imported food prices way beyond the country’s capacity to manage them.

It is the same for Morocco’s neighbors in Africa, whether energy rich or not, as the water-food-energy nexus demands dedicated attention in the next decade and beyond to manage supply. This is especially significant in the face of the growing demands of young and urban populations who have legitimate demands for services and want the government to meet these needs without mortgaging their futures.

How to Move Ahead

Over the next month, I will report on the key issues raised during the conference and examine policy implications for Morocco and Africa, where most forecasts project significant growth in the coming decade.

Expanding economies and rising numbers of consumers are generating increased demands on the food-water-energy nexus that cannot be overlooked. “One recent estimate predicted global demand to rise as much as 35 percent for food, 40 percent for water, and 50 percent for energy by  2030…The global demand for food might rise by as much as 70 percent or even more by 2050” according to the draft paper “Addressing the Food, Water, and Energy Nexus.”

Treating food, energy, and water resources as interconnected elements avoids policies and practices that might lead to misdirected investments, lagging economic sectors, and poor development choices.

“The potential losses from ignoring interdependencies might be catastrophic, ranging from greater volatility in food and energy markets to absolute scarcities of water and food.”

It is in the face of these challenges, Morocco, with its growing leadership role in human development projects in Africa, is taking a key role in this solution-centered policy discussion on the nexus that is at the heart of the conference.  As the Stockholm Environment Institute paper on the same theme notes, “Focusing on the nexus interdependence encourages policymakers, business and community leaders, and producers to think systematically about ecosystems, build coherent policies using multi-stakeholder structures, focus on improving resource productivity, treat waste as a resource, and internalize externalities.”

Drawing on global experts from the US, Africa, and Europe, the conference emphasizes that “despite the justified concerns about threats arising from scarcities, there exist ample opportunities to embrace forms of multilateral cooperation in order to avoid resource-related conflicts…For countries in Europe, the Americas, and Africa, therefore, the key challenge is to construct systems that build the political and technical capacity to understand, monitor, and address possible nexus-related problems before they begin to decay national and/or transnational stability.”

The search for practical solutions that address these food-water-energy requirements to avoid shocks to local, national, and international security and stability will be addressed in future blogs.

Jean R. AbiNader is Executive Director of the Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center.

Co-published with Fair Observer (www.fairobserver.com).

 

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