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 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.

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.

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 on September 15, 2016 in Washington, DC.

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.

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.

Duke researchers gave an overview of food security in the wheat industry with implications for the MENA region and Russia on September 8, 2015 in Washington, DC at the Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment (SMA) Lecture Series, Department of Defense.

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. Research Brief authors: Marie Veyrier, Ghada Ahmed, and Danny Hamrick.

Hubs and Communities: A Structural Analysis of MENA’s Wheat Network

Since the mid-2000s, many MENA countries have shifted to an import-based strategy to meet their food security needs, making the region more dependent on global food trade networks. This brief examines wheat trade trends and potential implications through a series of social network analyses. We limit our focus to wheat, a critical crop for food security in many MENA countries. Our analysis reveals that many MENA countries are importing more and they tend to form new ties with established exporters, resulting in distinct communities of export hubs and their importing partners. We also find over time a trend towards consolidation in the region, with Russia increasingly acting as a lead exporter for the entire region. We also find evidence that sub-regional differences (e.g., the degree of dependence on major export hubs) are shrinking.

Shifting Sources of Wheat Supply for MENA Countries: the Rise of the Black Sea

The Black Sea countries of Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan play an increasingly important role in supplying wheat to the global market, and to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries as well. This policy brief shows evidence of this trend in the wheat GVC and explores its implications for food security in MENA, which appear to be important.

Comparing Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s Wheat GVC

Wheat is one of the most important commodities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the region is the largest importer of wheat and other grains. While there are many challenges in terms of securing stable wheat supplies, like storage capacity and water reserves, sub-regional differences exist in the organization of the wheat industry and subsequent challenges. This brief sheds light on these differences through a comparison of Egyptian and Saudi Arabian wheat value chains. We conclude that while many issues, such as availability of currency reserves, span the region, other issues are country or sub-region specific.

Ghada, Dayne, and Gary presented “Shifting Governance Structures in the Wheat Value Chain: Implications for Food Security in MENA” at the GVCs and Trade Policies for Food and Nutrition Security workshop at Roma Tre University in Rome, Italy on September 26, 2014.

Global Value Chain Analysis and Food Security

Current food security paradigms often examine food availability in a manner that focuses exclusively on global factors or local institutional arrangements without critically examining the links between the two. The Global Value Chain (GVC) framework allows for a holistic approach to studies of food security by allowing researchers to examine commodities through production, distribution, and retailing activities. The approach demonstrates not only the importance of firms and other actors involved in commodity lifecycles, but also investigates the various governance structures that impact trade and food systems. This brief compares the GVC approach to understanding food security with more traditional approaches and identifies how GVC analysis allows researchers to identify and investigate important food security challenges facing MENA, particularly the issues of governance and international trade.