Dec 30, 2009

Sudan: The Bread Basket.

Sudan is an Arab country with a population of nearly 43 million people. It is estimated as among the poorest countries in the Arab world, with "GNI" of $1,130 per person per year. Sudan's agricultural land has been estimated at 200 million Feddan (one Feddan equals 4,200 square meters). Only 40 million Feddan are under traditional methods of cultivation. Also, Sudan relies on the import of foods (, Dec. 1, 2009). Agricultural experts claim that all of the 200 million Feddan can be cultivated. The soil is rich, water from the Nile and rainfall are adequate, and the climate is more than warm enough for agricultural cultivation. These are important natural ingredients needed for agricultural cultivation. Sudan lacks the know how of modern agricultural cultivation. The lack of availability of financial resources for investments in the agricultural sector of the economy as well as needed financial help to build the infrastructure (roads, bridges and railroads)hinder agricultural development.

During the past few decades, Sudan was known as the potential future Bread Basket of the Arab world. Due to internal political conflicts and governmental corruption in the Arab world, no serious discussion took place regarding Arab investments in the agricultural sector of Sudan. 34 years ago, FAO of the U.N. ranked Sudan, Canada, and Australia as the future Bread Basket of the world (The Economist, May 23, 2009).

During the past few years (2007-2009), food insecurity and world market price turmoil impacted the agricultural sectors worldwide, and created fears in countries that rely on food imports.

Some of the major factors which directly and indirectly created the turmoil and panic are attributed to the followings: the doubling of oil prices in 2008, which was caused by Wall Street gamblers, especially those who were in the commodity sector of the market. Wall Street manipulation created speculation that some agricultural products could be diverted to the production of biofuel, and this will create food shortage. Other factors which contributed to increasing food prices are the decline in agricultural productivity due to global warming and weather changes in certain regions such as the Middle East and Africa.Furthermore, there is less rain and longer drought durations.

Sudan was the best alternative for most Arab states to buy, lease and/or invest in the agricultural sector. The oil-producing Arab countries began to invest in Sudan. A Sudanese official says his country will set aside roughly one-fifth of the cultivated land of Sudan for Arab governments. Sudan, is the "Bread Basket of the Arab world".

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a deal for 400,000 hectares, Egypt has secured a similar deal to grow wheat. Qatar's government set up a joint venture to invest in Sudan, and Kuwait signed a "giant" strategic partnership with Sudan for the same purpose (The Economist, May 23, 2009).

The Arab states are not the only governments who moved to invest in Sudan, but also other foreign states are moving into Sudan for the same purpose: food security.

Arab Countries Outsourcing Foreign Farm Land.

In a previous post it was noted that the Arab world is not food self-sufficient and relied on food imports at a cost of $20 billion during 2008. More than 100 million people in the Arab states do not get enough food to eat. The problem will get even worse in light of continuous population growth, which is expected to reach 650 million during the next 25-30 years. The global weather changes have already created serious environmental problems in the region.

In 2006, the gulf Arab states began to look for farmland beyond the boundaries of their states to buy or lease for the purpose of agricultural cultivation. This is outsourcing farm production that is basically in several African and Asian countries, and that needs the flow of cash. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Kuwait and recently Egypt have already bought or leased farm lands in Ethiopia, Malawi, Sudan, Turkey and Cambodia. Saudi Arabia has already signed an agreement with Ethiopia to lease farmland at a cost of $100 million for the cultivation of wheat, barley, and rice. This year (2009), Saudia Arabia has received part of the first crop of rice, wheat, and barley. What the gulf oil-producing state did is part of an international land grab policy that includes other countries such as China, India, and South Korea. These countries have targeted Ethiopia, Sudan, Turkey, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The International Food Policy Research Institute in the United States (IFPRI) noted that between 15 million and 20 million hectares of farm land in poor countries have been subject to transactions or talks involving foreigners since 2006. This is equal to one-fifth of the farmland of the European Union. These deals are worth $20 billion-$30 billion. The "IFPRI" reported that between 2006-2009, China has obtained 2.8 million hectares, South Korea has obtained nearly 800,000 hectares, the UAE around 100,000 hectares, Saudi Arabia around 500,000 hectares, Qatar around 475,000 hectares, Libya around 100,000 hectares. Land acquisition by investors targeting Australia, Brazil, Ukraine and Vietnam are in process (The Economist, May 23,2009).

There are a number of factors which are fueling the land grab trends. These are: population growth, the shortage of food, the increase in food prices, the potential use of agricultural products as a biofuel source due to fossil fuel price increase and the decline of progress in discovering new sources.

The Arab World Is Not Food Self-Sufficient.

In a previous post, a reference was made that only 1/3 of land in the Arab world is suitable for agricultural cultivation, and that the rest is barren desert. Even that portion under cultivation depends on rainfall. It is also interesting to notice that the global warming and weather changes have already impacted the Middle East and the African continent more than other regions. The Arab world is experiencing less rain and longer drought durations. In addition, most of the Arab states have been classified at the water poverty level. The Arab world as a whole is not food self-sufficient. According to the Arab Agricultural Development Organization, Arab states imported over 75 million tons of food during 2008. The total cost of imported food was $20 billion (, Nov. 17, 2009).

Despite the costly importation of food, "FAO-UN" noted that there are more than 40 million people in the Arab world who do not get enough food to eat on a daily basis. In addition to this, more than 100 million people are living below the poverty index level (, Nov. 17, 2009). The degree of poverty varies from state to state in the Arab world. The poverty scale is reflected when we compare the "GNI" per capita, which varies from $38,420 per person per capita in Kuwait, versus $840 per person per capita in Mauritania (World Bank, 2008). The "GNI" per capita of most states with large population sizes tends to be below $2,500 per person per year. Those with higher "GNI" income per capita are the oil producing states in the gulf area with smaller populations.

There are several reasons that kept agricultural productivity low in the Arab world. These are as follows:
1)The absence of long range strategy for agricultural development. The ex-Egyptian agricultural minister Ahmad al-Laithi stated in a public lecture that there is no agricultural planning strategy for the Egyptian agricultural sector (almasry-alyoum, Nov. 26, 2009). Several oil-producing states recently began to look to buy or lease lands in foreign countries to cultivate and ship the produce to their own states (more on this in the next post).
2) No significant fund has been diverted for agricultural scientific research to enhance and increase agricultural productivity. The use of modern technology in cultivation hardly exists, especially in agricultural irrigation, since the availability of water is decreasing. Farmers in general are still following the traditional way of cultivation.

The increasing gap between the rich and poor people, corruption of governments, and foreign interference are among the factors that hinder agricultural development in the Arab world.

Dec 28, 2009

Population Growth in the Arab World

The United Nations sent a warning to the Arab League members telling them that they are unprepared for the effects of population growth and climate change and urged the 22 country group to take action during its meeting (New York Times, Dec. 2, 2009).

The United Nations warning should be a reminder to the top political leadership in the Arab world, who may not be aware that tens of millions of people in their countries do not have enough food to eat on a daily basis. Egypt, the most populated Arab country, started organizing groups for family planning and birth control in the 1930s, when the total population was less than one-fourth its present size of 83 million people. The Arab world population is estimated at 335 million as of 2008. The most critical part is that 60% of the population is under the age of 25 years. Furthermore, the present average number of live births per woman is 3.6 babies, compared to 2.6 babies at the global level. From a demographic point of view, based on the present birth rate, the Arab world will double its population during the next 25 to 30 years to reach at least 650 million people (The National Newspaper, Dec.2, 2009).

What are the consequences of population growth at the present and in the future on these societies, in regard to economic development, employment, housing, transportation, health care, education and food production? In addition to the negative aspects of population growth, there is also the destructive impact of global warming and weather changes on the region. There is less rainfall, more droughts with longer duration and more desertification, less food productivity, and above all, the decreasing availability of fresh water resources in the Arab world. All of these problems should be dealt with, and the sooner, the better.

Dec 21, 2009

Ecological and Environmental Characteristics of the Arab world.

The Arab world stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west, through North Africa to the Arab gulf and Iran in the east, Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea in the north, the African Sub Sahara, and southern Sudan in the south. The Arab world covers an area equal to 5.3 million sq. miles, which is comparable to the 3.6 sq. mile size of the United States. Nearly 70% of Arab land is barren desert and it has been classified as one of the driest regions in the world. The 20-25% of land that is under cultivation is dependent on rainfall. In addition to this, 5-8% of the land depends on irrigation from the Nile, Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, all of which start outside the boundaries of the Arab world.
The Arab world in particular, and the Middle East in general, have been impacted by the global increase in temperatures. There has been a decrease in rainfall and an expansion of desertification. The recent international conference held in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009), which focused on the impact global warming has on the planet, ended without an official treaty limiting carbon emissions. These have a devastating effect on the global environment. The Copenhagen conference fell short of the key goal, which was to draft a treaty. The tragic effects of global weather warming have impacted the developing nations in Africa and the Middle East in particular. The damage has been caused by the advanced and industrial Western world and the recently industrialized countries of China and India.
The International Bank issued a report (2007) in which it noted the 48 countries that will be affected the most from the global environmental changes. Egypt was listed among others that are experiencing the negative impact of the global weather changes. Furthermore, the Arab countries are experiencing less rain and more frequent droughts with longer durations, in addition to more agricultural land being overtaken by the increase in desertification.

The State of Knowledge in the Arab World

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP)and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation initiated a research project to investigate the 'State of Knowledge' in the Arab world. The result of the research was published in the United Arab Emirates. It stated that the 'state of knowledge' in the Arab world is lagging behind, and recommended that Arab governments should seriously address such problem.

Arab governments have been spending 5% of their GPD, and 20% of their general budgets on education during the past 40 years. More than 1/3 of their adult population cannot read and write. This equal to 60 million people classified as illiterate (The Middle East, December 2009).

It is of interest to compare the literacy rates in relation to gross enrolment (2007) in primary and upper stages of basic education between the Arab world and other regions. In the Arab world it was only 81%, while in North America and Western Europe it was 103%, 95% in Central Asia, and 102 in Latin America and the Caribbean region.

The UN report stated that insufficient funding in certain areas of education are needed, such as in the area of scientific research, where only 0.3% of the GPD of Arab countries is being allocated for such research. This will be equal to $10 per capita by comparison to $33 per capita in Malaysia and $1,304 per capita in Finland.

Since their independence, in the late 40s-50s, Arab governments have been preoccupied with foreign wars, and internal civil conflicts. Tens of billions of dollars were allocated for military hardware instead of spending some of it on education and human development.Furthermore, the absence of democratic institutions and transparency, which are two important ingredients for the development and nourishment of a 'state of knowledge,' were lacking.

Dec 19, 2009

Problems and Challenges Facing the Arab World

There are serious problems and challenges facing the Arab world today.They require immediate attention:

1. Global weather change and its impact on the Middle East and North African regions, such as the decreasing rainfall and the problem of desertification.

2. Population growth and its negative impact on economic development. The population is expected to double, 345 million people to over 600 million, the next 25 to 30 years.

3. Insufficient food production in all Arab states. They all rely on food import to meet their basic needs.

4. Shortage of fresh water which caused the Middle East to be among the driest regions in the world. More than 2/3 of Arab countries are classified as water poverty stricken.

5.Official unemployment rate in the Arab world is 15%, which is a very conservative estimate. Some studies notes that at least 100 million new jobs need to be created in the next 25 years for the young generation that will be entering the labor market.

6. Poverty and the high rate of illiteracy which are of major human and economic concerns. More than 40% of the Arab world population are living below the poverty index level , which is 2 dollars per day, per person. Poverty is definitely associated with the high rate of illiteracy. It has been estimated that at least 1/3 of the adult population in the Arab world cannot read or write. This is translated into more than 60 million people.

I will further discuss and analyze the above problems and challenges facing the Arab world. Keep checking my posts for further information.

Dec 16, 2009

School Dropout

In previous posts I have noted that, in general, the educational systems at both the upper and lower levels are poor and way behind other countries worldwide. The educational institutions are graduating students who are not prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
Recently, the Egyptian Minister of Education, Dr. Yusri Aljamal, stated that there are more than 300,000 students who dropped out of schools in Egypt. He noted that this trend has to stop, because it reflects negatively on the Egyptian society, and that these students have to be brought back to school. Some of these students are without shelter, and must be from poverty stricken homes. They are referred to as "Awlad il-Shawara", which means "street boys". The Minister of Education should be commended for focusing on the problem of school dropouts, which has been going on for many years and is also reflected in the high illiteracy rate in Egypt which exceeds one third of the total adult population. It is unfortunate that the illiteracy rate in the Arab world in general is still high. It varies from 10% to 40% of the adult population.
There are several factors related to students dropping out from schools. First, poverty, which prevails on a large scale in many countries in the Arab world, pressures families to let their children leave school to search for a job. Second, schools are too crowded, and the educational environment does not encourage students to stay in school. Third, there are shortages of trained school teachers where they are needed. Fourth, schools lack professionally trained counselors to help students with their problems when needed. Fifth, the location of public schools, especially in rural areas where distance becomes discouraging factor commuting to school. Sixth, in rural areas, many illiterate parents discourage their daughters from attending schools for obvious reasons. These are at least some factors that influence and discourage students from continuing their education. Nevertheless, those who drop out of schools will pay a high price, and will become a burden on their societies.

Evaluation of Arab Educational Development

Recently, the Arab Association of Intellectual Thinking, "Alfikr al Arabi", in Kuwait, issued its second report. It focused on the development of education and the use of the internet as a mode of communication in the Arab world. The assocation used a scale from 1 to 7 to assess the level of progress in a selected few educational areas in various Arab countries.

1)The Use of the Internet

Egypt scored 4.68 out of 7 in the use of the Internet to conduct its commercial and trades activities, and ranked number one in the Arab world, follwed by the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qattar. However, Egypt ranked 36 on the world scale.

2) The Use of the Internet in Schools, Goverment, and Private Offices

The United Arab Emirates scored 6.05 on the scale and ranked number one in the Arab world and 5th worldwide. Egypt scored 5.18 on the scale and ranked 32 worldwide. Morocco scoared 4.14, the lowest among the participating Arab states and ranked 111 worldwide.

3)Innovation and Creativity in Relation to the Population Size

Kuwait ranked number one in the Arab world and 37 worldwide. Egypt ranked 5th in the Arab world and 71 worldwide.

4) Freedom of the Press

Kuwait ranked number one in the Arab world and 59 worldwide.

5) Educational Development in Terms of Excellence and Creativity

Saudi Arabia ranked number one in the Arab world and 7th worldwide. Egypt ranked number 7 in the Arab world and 85 worldwide.

6) Allocation of Financial Resources to Educational Development

Saudi Arabia ranked number one in the Arab world and 8th worldwide. Egypt ranked 4the in the Arab world and 59 worldwide.

7) The Quality of Education

Qatter ranked number one in the Arab World and 16 worldwide. Egypt ranked 13 in the Arab world and 126 worldwide.

8) Financial Support for Educational Institutions and the Degree of Independence of Universities

Governments of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Morocco allocate less than $800 per student per year. Lebanon and Tunisia allocate $1800 per student per year. Saudia Arabia allocates $8,000 per student per year. What Israel and France spend exceeds $19,000 per student per year, and the U.S. spends over $22,000 per student per year.

Based on what the reports reflect, the Arab world is still way behind many countries around the world, especially in the area of educational development, the use of high technology and the availability of enough financial resources, which are needed at all levels of educational development. Furthermore, the absence of democracy and freedom of the press, and the lack of independence for higher academic institutions are all barriers to progress and creativity in the Arab world. The lack of money for research hinders progress and educational development. To illustrate this point, Arab goverments allocate less than $0.3% of their GDP for scientific research, which translates into the equivalent of $10 per capita. Compare to $33 per capita in Malaysia and $1,304 in Finland.

Israel's Expansion Policy

A recent decision made by the Israeli government to build 900 housing units in Gelo - East Jerusalem was expected by those who are familiar with Israeli-Zionist strategy. Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been following a strategy of expansion disregarding the rules of law. Ben Gurion, on the eve of the U.N. partitioning of Palestine, addressed his follwers by telling them that whatever the U.N. designates as the state of Israel should be accepted, and that it would be a stepping stone to the implementation of "Eretz Israel", greater Israel. The Israeli Zionists began to implement that ideology from day one of Israel's official creation in 1948. The tragedy of that is the majority of people living in the U.N. designated portion to become the state of Israel were Palestinians. The majority fled, however, to escape the war and other acts of terror. More than 500 Palestinian villages were demolished completely, so those who had fled their homes had nothing to go back to. Israeli action was nothing but a policy of ethnic cleansing. For more facts on this, read Professor Ilan Pappe's book, "Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine".
Israel began to annex more Palestinian land on a regular basis. On the eve of the 1967 war, Israel was in control of 76% of what used to be Palestine. This is reflective of the fact that they took, by force, 25% more land than the U.N. alloted for them. Since its occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the Israeli government began a land grab policy, annexing Palestinian land to build Jewish settlements. Nearly 300 Jewish settlements have been built where 400,000 Jewish settlers are living.
President Barack Obama has said, Israel's approval of 900 extra housing units at a settlement in East Jerusalem could lead to "dangerous situations" (BBC News, Nov.22, 2009). In the occupied West Bank, violations by Israel are a continuous process. The BBC News reported (Nov.18, 2009) that the Israeli Human Rights group B.T. Selam states that Israel Authorities have demolished more than 400 Palestinian-owned homes in East Jerusalem since 2004. U.N. officials have been warning Israel that such demolitions violate international law. Condemnation from high ranking politicians and organizations in many parts of the world is nothing but an international act of hypocrisy. Israeli politiicans have gotten used to verbal condemnation since no penalty has been imposed on Israel for its violation of international law and its aggression against the Palestinians since 1948. The U.S. government has been a paralyzing force, preventing any meaningful action to be adopted by the U.N. Security Council against Israel. This policy has been followed by the U.S. government since 1948. The U.S. government has used its veto power more than any other security council members, most of it to shield Israel from resolutions submitted by other members with the intention of putting an end to Israeli aggression against Palestinians.
The expansion of Jewish settlements continues, and what is left of the West Bank is not viable to the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians should wake up and follow the late Professor Edward Said's proposal and call for a binational state where Jews, Christians, and Muslims can live in a secular state as they have in the past, prior to the creation of Israel. The Israeli goverment relies on its military strength and is under the illusion that it can resist world pressure. Israel is the fifth military power in the world, backed all the way by the United States. Whatever Israel demands from the U.S., they receive with no questions asked. The Israeli author David Grossman writes, "We have dozens of atomic bombs, tanks and planes. We confront people possessing none of these arms. And yet, in our minds, we remain victims. This inability to perceive ourselves in relation to others is our principle weakness." (R.Cohen, NYT, Nov.16, 2009).

Israeli chief rabbi compares West Bank mosque attack to Kristallnacht.

Recently, the New York Times reported (Dec.14, 2009) that high ranking Israeli chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger visited the West Bank village of Yasuf, where the local mosque was vandalized last week by Jewish Israeli settlers.
Rabbi Metzger told village residents, “I came here to express my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people.” He drew an explicit comparison to Kristallnacht, the November 1938 attacks on Jewish synagogues and businesses in Nazi Germany. “Seventy years ago,” Rabbi Metzger said, “the Holocaust, the biggest tragedy in our history, began with the torching of synagogues during Kristallnacht.” He added, “We are still living this trauma. And in the state of Israel, we will not allow a Jew to do something like this to Muslims.”
Rabbi Metzger, I salute you for your honesty and courage to publicly condemn such an act. However, what happened in the village Yasuf was not an isolated incident. Similar acts have been taking place against the Palestinians since the creation of Israel. Many Israelis, including high ranking politicians, are Fascist and are applying similar Nazi tactics against the Palestinians. Rabbi Metzger, continue holding the true Jewish Torch, "Let there be light".

Dec 6, 2009

Dubai - An Economic crisis

Dubai is a member of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This federation, which consists of seven sheikhdoms, began in 1971 after the end of the British mandate. Its population consists of 4.6 million people ( UN estimation in 2008). Its GDP is $44.276. Nearly 80% of its population is estimated as expatriates from India, Pakistan, and the Arab world.

The UAE is considered among the most liberal in the Gulf region. Nevertheless, the Emirates are run by single authoritarian rulers. The wealthiest among the seven emirates is Abu Dhabi, where 90% of its wealth is derived from the sale of oil. Dubai, however, gets only 10% of its income from the sale of oil.

The Emir of Dubai initiated a massive economic development with the intention of building a modern city state . His intention was for Dubai to become the center for business and financial institutions in the region, as well as an attraction for world tourism. Modern shopping centers were built, and many super high rise towers were erected - most of the buildings are vacant. Gulf courses and closed skiing tracts with subzero degree were build. This is done in a country where the high heat and humidity are unbearable most of the year. In addition, Dubai launched a massive land reclamation from the sea to build houses on a palm shaped artificial islands!

The economic planning for development in Dubai was not based on sound analytic and scientific rational. Tens billion of dollars were borrowed in order to embark on such poorly planned projects. Years ago, the World Bank has warned Dubai against such nonproductive economic plans, and now Dubai is facing an economic crisis. The bubble was expected to burst!

Dubai has requested to restructure the paying of its debt to international banks. This crisis had a negative impact on Wall Street, and on other financial institutions in various parts of the world. It was estimated that Dubai owes between $ 90- 160 billion to various financial institutions and investors.

The BBC (12/4/09) reported that a climate of fear prevails among property investors, and that property prices have fallen 50%. It has also been mentioned that some of Dubai banks ranking has been down graded.

In spite of its beautiful sandy beaches and winter weather, Dubai does not have antiquities of cultural importance that might attract large number of tourists from around the world. High rise towers and fancy shopping malls cannot be the sole magnate for tourism.

As a final note, I would like to add that the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohamad Bin Rashid al Maktoum, should be given credit for his attempt to modernize his state. Thirty years ago, most of the people in Dubai were illiterate and poverty stricken which is not the case anymore. Hence, there is always hope that in the future Dubai will overcome its economic crisis.

Dec 4, 2009

Education in Egypt

In a previous post (October 9), I have discussed the poor quality of education in the Arab world and its deterioration by comparison to many other countries, world wide. However, recently there has been an encouraging announcement issued through the Egyptian Ministry of Education(Al Masry Al Yom, 11/30/09). It stated that the Egyptian government will allocate 350 million Egyptian pounds to provide modern educational equipments to different secondary schools (high schools) over a certain period of time. Some of the funds will be used to train teachers to operate the new equipments, and to develop new curricula based on new technologies. An amount of 50 million pounds will be allocated for the first stage of the program.

Such a program, if successful, will launch young Egyptians into the 21st century world of technology.

The emphasis on secondary education only, is however, short sighted. The application of modern technology should be part of the educational curricula at all levels. The Egyptian government should provide more funding to support such a worthwhile project.

Al Masry Al Yom (11/16/09) reported that 85% of the Egyptian population uses cellular phones. This means that there are 53.4 million people using cellular phones. It is expected that the number will increase to 65 million people, soon!

I am of the opinion that the Egyptian government should tax cellular phone users the amount of one Egyptian pound per month. If implemented, the government will collect 50 million pounds in taxes per month, and over 600,000 million pounds per year. The money can then be used to train more teachers and equip more schools with modern technology - a big step towards enhancing the quality of education that Egypt is in dreadful need.

A constructive American Foreign Aid

In Al Masry Al Yom (10/21/09) Hasan Bakr wrote that US ambassador, Margaret Scoby, announced the US administration's decision to establish dozens of pilot schools in Cairo and Alexandria. This decision was approved by the Egyptian Ministry of Education. The schools will be fully funded through the US Aid.

Recently, the educational system in Egypt has been deteriorating . This is due to the lack of governmental funding and the rapid population growth. Hence, the US Aid for educational purpose is a well thought of project if it provides the needed tools for the enhancement of education in Egypt.

The proposed schools will be under American management, and students have to meet American admission requirements in order to be accepted.

The objective of building such schools in Egypt is to graduate each year a large number of students whose education is compatible with that of the US.

The new American aid to Egypt will have a positive impact. An impact that will be of benefit to students involved as well as to the Egyptian society in general.