* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.27 February 2014, Rome - The worsening of the food security situation in the Near East is not only caused by the structural constraints the region faces in producing enough food and an increasing dependence on food imports but by conflict, the flow of refugees and migration, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today.Opening the two-day ministerial segment of FAO's Regional Conference for the Near East, Graziano da Silva underscored that these issues are not contained by national borders."They affect the region as a whole and have repercussions far beyond as well," he said."We know that there is an intrinsic link between peace and food security, and between hunger and conflict."We have seen how dispute for food and over resources such as land and water have triggered conflict."Peace is fundamental to food security and food security is fundamental for keeping peace."MDG hunger targetThe MDG target is still within reach at the global scale and in the Near East and North Africa, but a final push in the last 672 days before the deadline is needed, the Director-General told the conference.Algeria, Djibouti, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco and Turkmenistan are among countries that have already met the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to reduce by half the proportion of hungry people between 1990 and 2015.In addition, Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates already had undernourishment levels below 5 percent in 1990, the baseline for the MDGs. FAO Regional InitiativesThe FAO chief called on countries to support the implementation of three regional initiatives for the Near East and North Africa that FAO has launched in response to priorities identified by Member States: the Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity, the Regional Initiative on Building Resilience to Enhance Food Security and Nutrition, and the Regional Initiative on Small-scale Agriculture and Inclusive Rural Development.Noting that 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming, he encouraged countries to increase support to family farmers in the region by ensuring access to adequate technologies, financial services, markets, and natural resources such as land and water.He also encouraged countries to participate in discussions on the Committee on World Food Security's proposed Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments, which will help to ensure investments contribute to the development of family farmers.Funding ‘major constraint'During the period 2012-2013, $100 million were mobilized to support FAO's work at national level, in particular in countries affected by conflict and emergencies, the Director-General reported."However, funding still remains a major constraint to scaling up FAO's work at country level in the region," he said, calling on higher-income countries in the region to step up their support.Graziano da Silva said he hoped other countries would follow the good example of regional cooperation set by the Government of Iraq, whose contribution will help kick-start a Regional Solidarity Trust Fund.A region-wide strategy and funding to support food security in Yemen is of particular importance, he said.