Investing in a better future: Near East, North Africa, Europe and Central Asia

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Investing in a better future: Near East, North Africa, Europe and Central Asia

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
© IFAD/Roger Anis 

The Near East, North Africa, Europe and Central Asia (NEN) region stretches across three continents—from the steppes of Central Asia, across the Middle East, to the Balkan shores of the Mediterranean and beyond, to where Africa meets the Atlantic.

We caught up with NEN's Regional Director, Dina Saleh, to find out how rural people in the region are coping with the realities of conflict and climate change and to understand why the right investments now can make all the difference later.

What are the main challenges in your region?

Rural people in NEN are facing a myriad of challenges, but I will focus on four: inflation, climate change, natural disasters and youth unemployment.

Global political instability in recent years has resulted in rising food prices. Inflation means everyday essentials are out of reach for many. In conflict-torn Sudan the inflation rate is 71.6 per cent, even in Türkiye, a middle-income country, inflation has exceeded 50 per cent. The result? Across NEN, one in five people are malnourished and nearly a quarter billion are affected by food insecurity.

Climate change is exacerbating an already complex situation, making it even more difficult to produce food. Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), countries are at the limit of their freshwater resources, which are vital to grow food. In Europe and Central Asia (ECA), land is degraded by rising temperatures, dryness, and unsustainable agricultural and irrigation practices.

Natural disasters, like flooding in Libya and the earthquakes in Türkiye and Morocco, are setting survivors back by years, while conflict and fragility in countries like Sudan, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen mean many cannot access food and basic services.  

Nearly a third of young people in MENA are not in employment, education or training, while figures in ECA are also high—and growing—owing to severe economic challenges. When unemployment is high, so too are the risks of conflict and economic migration. 

What difference has IFAD made in your region?  

A new pasture law in Kyrgyzstan is helping rural communities thrive. © APIU/IFAD


Countries in the NEN region played a crucial role in founding IFAD back in 1977, with donors like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait investing US$100 million and US$50 million respectively in the first replenishment alone.

Today, we’re investing US$942 million in 20 countries across the region. In Kyrgyzstan, we supported the development of a pasture law, which gave rural communities the power to manage rangelands. By conserving the environment and breeding fewer but better animals, Kyrgyzstan has found a way to incorporate livestock into its emissions reduction strategy. 

As the climate shifts, heatwaves, drought and seawater incursions are making it harder to cultivate Egypt’s fertile Nile delta. But the IFAD-funded SAIL project is introducing new technologies, like aquaponics and sustainable irrigation methods so farmers can keep feeding the country.

These examples show how far-reaching our impact can be. But hearing the difference IFAD’s work can make in a single person’s life can be just as rewarding.

One of them is Insaf Refai. She is a single mother who fled the war in Syria with her four children in 2012. Thanks to her talent and dedication, and to the IFAD-funded FARMS project, she now runs a flourishing sewing atelier in Jordan. “I felt that I should stand up and be strong for my children. I got up and coped with our new life,” she says. 

The voices of countless rural people like Insaf resonate in my mind. Across NEN, IFAD is repaying the trust placed in us by countries of the region 50 years ago and doing the hard work of transforming rural futures, even in the most challenging circumstances. 

What are the region’s untapped opportunities that could be leveraged with more investment? 

Investing in healthier diets and reducing food imports can benefit entire communities. © IFAD/Imam Ibrahim Albumey


We are determined to optimize what we do. By strategically linking programmes, like the Nexus on Water Food and Energy in Egypt which aims to give six million people access to finance, technology and good agricultural practices, we can increase the effectiveness and sustainability of our investments. This means working across the sectors that rural people depend on and creating opportunities for the young.

In Egypt, we are tapping into traditional irrigation methods to deliver modern water management technologies and increase successful harvests amid erratic weather conditions. Investing in new dams and placing them in better locations means Bedouin communities in northern Egypt can now withstand the effects of climate change, including drought and flooding, and become more resilient.

Additionally, long-term investments in sustainable food choices, including dietary diversification, are essential for food security and stronger food systems. In Sudan, our Integrated Agriculture and Marketing Development Project supported rural communities to create sustainable and nutritious vegetable gardens, allowing for healthier diets and reducing reliance on food imports.

What is your message for people who are deciding how much to contribute to IFAD?

We know that investments in rural people work—and we know the impacts can be long-lasting. But the NEN region also knows all too well how fragile gains and progress can be. Crises will become all too familiar unless decision makers urgently invest in resilience.