The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), on 03 June 2020, held, over the Internet, its eighth regional dialogue session titled “Economy of Life, Social Economy and Food Security in the Arab World”. The session focused on the need to explore new-old concepts that have re-emerged during the Covid-19 crisis, concepts that had started to stir the interest of experts and researchers working to combat poverty, including in the field of economy of life social economics and food security in the Arab world.
“This session will draw attention to the fact that addressing, at various levels, issues related to social protection is important to ensuring] that our Arab societies do not lag behind when it comes to addressing the projected economic challenges created by the current crisis economic and livelihood challenges.” said H.E. Senator Dr. Sawsan Majali, who cooperates with ARDD in moderating this dialogue series, as she welcomed guest speaker Prof. Abdullah al-Sayed Weld Abah, Mauritanian thinker, who teaches Philosophy at the University of Nouakchott, ARDD Board of Trustees member, Ms. Razan Zuayter, The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature General Coordinator and President of the Arab Network for Food Sovereignty and HE Dr. Yusuf Mansur, economist and former Minister of State for Economic Affairs in Jordan.
In the Arab World, Weld Abah emphasized that “the Corona crisis has urged us to search for new alternatives for development and brought human-centered approaches to the forefront.” He also said that the crisis came amid renewed demands for reform in several countries, such as Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria, adding that it is feared that the social unrest resulting from the crisis will lead to the collapse of societies and states. Prof. Weld Abah stressed the world at large, Arab countries included,] were not prepared to face the current health crisis, and that the concept of economy of life, which revolves around the basic needs of communities, whether in terms of agriculture or animal wealth, distance learning, etc., is the model currently presented; it constitutes less than 30% of the total size of economy In the Arab World, which opens the way for more job opportunities and new development paths. Speaking of Mauritania, which suffers from poverty despite the availability of resources, Weld Abah stressed that the tribal society’s solidarity and values protected the country during the crisis and helped mitigate the impact of the lockdown that has been going on for several months.
Zuayter said that the Corona crisis exposed “weaknesses in our Arab countries, especially with regard to producing food locally, not importing it”. She added that agriculture, in its various forms, has become a necessity, as has food production, which must be promoted in marginalized areas, and that helping small farmers obtain production inputs such as water and seeds is one of the aspects of social assistance, whose goal is to eliminate farmers ’debts and taxes, following the example of the major countries that protect their farmers to secure food security, all these measures seek to enhance agricultural output and social economy, which is the economy that seeks to benefit the people first”. She also stressed the need for a political will to protect and develop the agricultural sector.
Mansur also defined social economy as that which is based on “combining economics with social principles to place human beings before wealth. He further stated that social economy is based on institutions similar to those in civil society, with the necessity of being and that is should be a choice made by countries’ own volition and based on democratic governance. He] warned against considering GDP as the criterion for human happiness and security, stressing, rather, the importance of “humane” market economy, of cooperative institutions that provide health insurance with of social security, whose significance was made amply clear during the time of the Coronavirus.
In Jordan, said Mansur, agriculture is labor-intensive, rather than capital intensive, and the sector faces bureaucratic problems, in terms of produce cultivation, sales and export mechanisms. This sector contributes 3% of the total economic output, and migrant day laborers represent the majority of workers, which led to a lack of social and health insurance, especially among the group of female agricultural workers from among Syrian refugees. Mansur added that 1.3 million people work in the informal sector, but it was difficult to reach them during the crisis, especially because they are not registered on the social lists.
Regarding food security, Mansur pointed out that domestic wheat production is not enough to cover more than 8 days of Jordan’s need; a country that used to export wheat 50 years ago, reached this situation because of the high cost of energy that go into the water-generation process, which is the highest in the world, of the high land prices, of weak financing, and of policy, which imposes a tax on farms.
By way of recommendations, at state level, the speakers stressed the importance of restructuring the agricultural policy as a whole and of developing the agricultural sector, ensuring that the government support is not merely financial but also helps with capacity building. They also stressed the need to activate the political will to provide for social protection systems and food security. They also called for building an Arab economic and solidarity system that addresses the real needs of the population, while integrating into larger regional joint economic systems as a key solution to future crises in general and to achieving food security. In addition to investing in technological, productive and solidarity sectors, and promote social and economy of life.