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Review of the likely impact of climate change on agriculture in selected Arab countries Fidele Byiringiro
Climate change is expected to impact agriculture in the region in one way or another. Below is a short review of the anticipated impact of climate change on agricultural in selected Arab countries.
In Egypt, climate change is expected to lead to decreased crop yields for most crops. Wheat yields are projected to be lower by up to 9 percent by 2030 and by close to 20 percent by 2060. Despite this drop in yield levels, overall farm income is projected to be higher as a result of the anticipated higher global commodity prices, which will benefit market-oriented farmers while worsening the situation of subsistence farmers, urban poor and Egypt’s overall food security situation (Smith et al., 2013).
In Jordan, higher levels of water consumption are anticipated by 2030 as a result of population growth. However, the county is one of the most water-scarce in the world and as such expansion in irrigation is severely limited unless new sources of water (e.g., water treatment and/or water desalination) are developed. Though crop yields may slightly be bumped up by the positive effects of increased CO2 concentration due to climate change, severe water restrictions will be the major determinant of agriculture and food production especially that Jordan is already reaching the limit of its technological capacity given that modern pressurized systems are already installed across a large share of its irrigated area (Varela-Ortega et al., 2013; Verner et al., 2013).
In Lebanon, higher temperatures, lower precipitations and reduction in snow cover are anticipated, which might increase the occurrence of drought, heat and fires. These will negatively affect crop yields with some estimates putting, for example, some yield decreases to up to 80 percent notably for the most vulnerable crops such as sugar beets, cherries, grapes but also wheat. Higher temperatures may also lead to the discontinuance in the production of temperate crops, which would be displaced by those with a more tropical nature (Verner et al., 2013).
In Morocco, assessments show that climate change will substantially alter regional production patterns and induce yield shocks (mostly negatively) while driving up commodity prices. Agricultural production is projected to decrease by up to 5 percent in the worst case scenario (Ouraich & Tyner, 2012). The Oum Er Rbia River basin, which houses half of the irrigation potential of Morocco and where 60 percent of sugar beets, 40 percent of olives and 40 percent of milk are produced, is already plagued by lower-than-expected rainfall for a decade or more, which has reduced water for irrigation by half. As a result, groundwater pumping is at all time high, which has dropped the water table by more than 5 meters (World Bank, 2014).
In Saudi Arabia, climate change is expected to have a major impact on agriculture and food production largely as a result of reduced water availability. Climate change impact is expected to manifest through higher temperatures, up to 3ºC higher by 2040, greater rainfall variability and sea level rise. These are expected to dramatically impact agriculture and food production, which are already highly affected by the lowering of groundwater tables. When there are low precipitations, wells often dry up causing substantial crop yield variability (Darfaoui & Al Assiri, 2010).
In Sudan, projections point to greater variability in wheat production and yields under various climate change scenarios together with a decrease in harvested area due to the impact of higher temperatures and rising water scarcity. However, the same projections show potential increases in sorghum and millet production. Thus, the impact on overall food security for Sudan will be mixed at best (Taha, Thomas & Waithaka, 2012).
In Syria, it is projected that food prices might increase as a result of climate change, which would benefit the agricultural sector even though these high prices would hamper overall economic growth. In the long run, however, agricultural growth rate should exhibit a declining trend largely because of the combined effect of lower precipitations and higher temperatures, which will negatively affect crop yields even while discounting the impact of the on-going conflict (Al-Riffai et al, 2013).
In Yemen, climate change is a real concern. A decrease in the levels of precipitation will put rainfed agriculture in peril and worsen the already precarious food security situation. Yields are projected to vary because of climate change. Sorghum and millet yields are expected to increase while those of maize and wheat would decrease. However, the overall impact of climate change on agricultural GDP would be positive because of the anticipated higher global prices even though most farmers would likely not benefit from these higher prices as they are not market-oriented (Breisinger et al., 2011).
Smith, J., L. Deck, B. McCarl, P. Kirshen, J. Malley and M. Abdrabo (2013). Potential impacts of climate change on the Egyptian Economy. UNDP, Cairo
Varela-Ortega, C., P. Esteve, I. Blanco, G. Carmona, J. Ruiz and R. Rabah (2013). Assessment of socio-economic and climate change effects on water resources and agriculture in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries. MEDPRO Technical Report No. 28, MEDPRO, Brussels
Verner, D., D.R. Lee, M. Ashwill and R. Wilby (2013). Increasing resilience to climate change in the agricultural sector of the Middle East: The cases of Jordan and Lebanon. The World Bank, Washington, DC
Ouraich, Ismail and Wallace E. Tyner (2012). Agricultural climate change impacts on Moroccan agriculture and the whole economy including an analysis of the impacts of the “Plan Maroc Vert (PMV)” in Morocco. UNU-Wider Conference on Climate Change and Development Policy, Helsinki, 28-29 September, Helsinki.
World Bank (2013). Adaptation to climate change in the Middle East and North Africa. Website access (
Darfaoui, El Mostafa and Abdu Al Assiri (2010). Response to climate change in the Kindgom of Saudi Arabia. FAO-RNE, Cairo.
Taha, A., T.S. Thomas and M. Waithaka (2012). East African agriculture and climate change: A comprehensive analysis – Sudan. IFPRI, Washington, DC
Al-Riffai, P., C. Breisinger, O. Ecker, J. Funes, G. Nelson, R. Robertson, R. Thiele, D. Verner, M. Wiebelt and T. Zhu (2013). Economic impacts of climate change. In Economics of climate change in the Arab World: Case studies from the Syrian Arab Republic , Tunisia and the Republic of Yemen, D. Verner and C. Breisinger, Eds., A World Bank Study, Washington, DC
Breisinger, C., O. Ecker, P. Al-Riffai, R. Robertson, R. Thiele and M. Wiebelt (2011). Climate change, agricultural production and food security: Evidence from Yemen. Kiel Working Paper No. 1747, Kiel
Fidele Byiringiro is Economic Affairs Officer at UN-ESCWA, Beirut.
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