Minerva Initiative

Civil unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has periodically affected oil and gas exports from the region, helping to drive global surges in fuel prices, and in turn food prices. If future food price spikes last too long, they could exacerbate social unrest in MENA that leads to regional conflict and widespread malnutrition/starvation.

The Duke GVC Center has been addressing this complex topic as part of its work with the Minerva Initiative and the Army Research Office (ARO) since 2012. The Minerva Initiative is a Department of Defense-sponsored, university-based social science research initiative launched in 2008 by Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time. The Initiative seeks to build deeper understanding of the social, cultural and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world.

Challenge: The Duke GVC Center research team’s goal was to identify the energy-exporting countries in the region whose grain imports are at most risk to insecurity. Through a number of projects and analyses, the team is identifying specific risks to the supply chains and suggesting prioritized defensive and/or proactive strategies to deal with problems arising from food shortages in MENA. The approach should provide a framework for conducting similar security analyses involving trade in commodities elsewhere in the world.

Approach & Outcomes: The interdependencies between global trade and local access to wheat and wheat products can be best understood through the GVC lens. Duke researchers used the GVC framework to first understand the industrial organization of the global wheat industry and then how the chain operates in Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The five key findings from the report are as follows:

  1. Five major firms dominate the global wheat industry in these markets.
  2. The MENA region uses a variety of approaches to achieve food security.
  3. Several issues, such as environmental distress and water shortages, cut across country cases.
  4. Institutional legacies are very strong in all five countries studied in this report.
  5. The countries are diversifying their supply base.

As a follow-up, Duke GVC Center researchers have published research briefs that examine the wheat value chains in Syria and Morocco. They also studied the increasing role the Black Sea region (Russia and Ukraine) has on food trade into the MENA region.Impact Summary

“The Duke GVC Center does interdisciplinary work – a key strength from our perspective. They’re helping us to understand the interdependencies across different social systems (e.g., political, climate change, economics). I don’t believe there’s anyone else in the world doing this level of work in value chains.” – Lisa Troyer, Senior Research Scientist, Army Research Office, Social & Behavioral Sciences Program

More information about the Duke GVC Center’s work with the Minerva Initiative and the Army Research Office can be found at the following link.



Russian Wheat Value Chain and Global Food Security

There has obviously been much talk in the news around Russia’s power. From an economic point of view, much of Russia’s power is associated with oil and gas. Russia is also currently the top wheat exporter in the world and trade relations contribute to food security among other countries, especially import-dependent regions in the Middle East and North Africa. This has led to some public spats. The Duke CGGC team has outlined the catalysts that have the potential of disrupting Russia’s wheat value chain internally and at a global level and what Russia needs to do about this from a policy perspective.

GVC Analysis of Food Security and Food Staples for Major Energy-Exporting Nations in MENA

Subsidized food is a hallmark of food systems in MENA. Many citizens depend on government supported food for their livelihood. Consequently, volatility in global production and prices have significant implications for social unrest in the region. A Duke GVC Center research team has been investigating this topic using the GVC framework to map the role of various public and private actors at the global, regional, and country level, as well as identifying major bottlenecks to wheat flows in the region and potential policy interventions. Researcher Ghada Ahmed presented some of the findings at the MINERVA Annual Meeting.

Syria Wheat Value Chain and Food Security

Wheat has traditionally been a major driver of the Syrian economy. The country has maintained wheat self-sufficiency since 1994, though recent droughts have reduced yields significantly. Additionally, the 2013 civil war created disruptions that cut the country’s projected harvest in half, making it the worst harvest in over 30 years and posing a serious threat to the country’s immediate food security. The escalating food crisis can be intractable unless innovative solutions are developed that address current value chain challenges. This research brief discusses the wheat value chain in Syria and points of disruptions in the chain leading to acute food insecurity in the nation.

Moroccan Food Security and the Wheat Value Chain

Morocco’s high dependence on food imports exposes it to international price volatility which puts its food security at risk. This brief examines food security challenges in Morocco, policy responses, the wheat value chain, and the potential for disruptions in the chain, and suggests several policy action areas to address these challenges.

Global Value Chain Analysis of Food Security and Food Staples for Major Energy- Exporting Nations in the Middle East and North Africa: Russia Focus

Duke GVC Center researchers gave this overview of food security in the wheat industry with implications for the MENA region and Russia. This is part of an ongoing stream of research with the Minerva Initiative.

The Wheat Value Chain and Food Security in the Middle East and North Africa

Duke GVCC researcher Ghada Ahmed gave this presentation at the Seminar on Linking Food Security to Sustainable Agricultural Policies in the Mediterranean at the International Affairs Institute (IAI) Expo in Milan on June 20, 2015. This is part of a multi-year research project with the Minerva Initiative. View an interview on YouTube

Comparing Russia’s and Ukraine’s Wheat GVC

Since 2000, the Black Sea region has emerged as a major player in the wheat global value chain (GVC). In particular, Russia and Ukraine have become dominant suppliers to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) of inexpensive wheat. Private and public investment has drastically increased wheat production in the Black Sea region and has positioned Russia and Ukraine to play a vital role in improving food security in MENA. However, both Black Sea countries are encountering obstacles along the value chain that could hinder and even exacerbate food insecurity in heavily reliant countries, such as Egypt and Tunisia. This brief uses the GVC framework to dissect the differences between Russia’s and Ukraine’s wheat development strategies and possible consequences for MENA countries.

Role of Private Firms in the Egyptian Maize Value Chain

Maize impacts both caloric intake and diet quality of the Egyptian population. Such importance is mostly driven by a shift in diets. The private sector, which relies on imports to cater to its maize needs, is the lead actor of the maize value chain. This brief first analyzes the importance of maize to Egypt’s food security. In a global context where maize prices are high and volatile, this brief describes the strategies adopted by Egyptian lead firms to secure supply and meet growing demand. Such strategies range from diversification to vertical integration and upgrading.

The Wheat Value Chain and Food Security in the Middle East and North Africa

Duke GVC Center researchers Ghada Ahmed and Danny Hamrick gave this presentation at the Policy Studies Organization and Digest of Middle East Studies event entitled “2015 Middle East Dialogue: Glorious Past, Uncertain Future” in Washington, DC on February 26 2015. This is part of a multi-year research project with the Minerva Initiative.