Agriculture and economic transformation in the Middle East and North Africa: a review of the past with lessons for the future

Since the beginning of the Arab revolutions in 2010 and 2011, global attention to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has focused mainly on political transitions, instability, and the resulting refugee crisis. Often neglected, however, are the economic implications that these developments have for MENA countries, especially for those that are not directly affected by conflict. In many of these countries, foreign direct investment and tourists are staying away, exports and imports are declining, and domestic consumption is falling (IMF 2016; World Bank 2016b). In addition to the impact of armed conflict and insecurity, external factors have also buffeted the MENA region in recent years. The global economic downturn of 2008 diminished oil demand, further decreasing the price of the region’s main export and forcing the governments of oil-rich Arab countries to make significant budget cuts or increase debt levels. Oil-importing countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, are beginning to suffer from the resulting decreased demand for goods and services and decreased remittances from the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a factor that is counteracting some of the positive impact of lower fuel import bills (Khouri and Breisinger 2016).