The report documented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have shown that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which include Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, are facing a lot of food security challenges (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010). Food production in these countries is challenged by poor soils and water scarcity. Climatic trends, as indicated by United Nations Development Programme - Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS) (2010), also show that global warming will worsen this situation (United Nations Development Programme-Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS), 2009).
As a result, these capital-rich nations have opted to various options to achieve food security. Oxford Business Group focuses a report that Saudi Arabia has developed a new strategic plan to manage its food security. These strategies include total shift, from overreliance on domestic production to increasing its imports and expanding its agricultural investment in other nations (Oxford Business Group, 2011). According to Fuch’s observation, Qatar, on the other hand, is intensifying both local production and external agricultural production.
In a report by United Nations Development Programme-Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS), most GCC countries have engaged in food security measures at different levels. Increased imports have been the main strategy in the past years; however, with increasing population, ecological footprint in consumption and wars in major importing zones, these countries are exploring other food security avenues (United Nations Development Programme-Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS, 2009). Commonly, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have developed a strategy of expanding outside agricultural investments through the lease of farm lands and entering into partnership with host countries, as per the report document by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2008).
Saudi Arabia today is shifting its food production from domestic wheat production to expanding its imports and securing agricultural investments overseas. In the past, Saudi Arabia wheat production could meet its consumption demands; however, climatic changes and population increase have increased food insecurity in the country. In 2008, Saudi Arabia government applied a new strategy of facing out local production and expanding its imports and overseas investments. The government plans to wipe out local production by 2012 through a 12.5% reduction annually. The policy was rolled out as a water security measure to the country (Oxford Business Group, 2011).
Fahad Balghunaim, Saudi Agriculture minister, believes wheat production, water intensity and current way of meeting Saudi population’s needs is not cost effective as compared to seeking other options. He says in an interview, “The country’s limited water supply means that local production cannot be increased substantially to meet demand” (Oxford Business Group, 2011, p.1). Saudi Government has increased its import capacity over 2 million tonnes. The country is also expanding its storage facility and opening its ports to facilitate importation. The country goal is to set a stock pile of 50% of its domestic demand. The long term goal is to increase its import to 3 million tonnes. Currently Saudi spends 3% of its GDP in domestic agriculture. The sector employs only 15% of the active population. Due to its population increase, its food security needs is at 8% compounded annually (CAGR of 8%).
Apart from imports, Saudi Government and its private sector are engaged in leasing and buying farmlands. It has been a common trend in the GCC region (United Nations Development Programme - Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS), 2009). Abdullah Zainal Alireza, the Saudi Commerce and Industry minister, reported that the country has chosen 27 villages for agricultural investment and has already sent technical teams to some of the selected areas (Oxford Business Group, 2011).
87 per cent of Saudi Arabia population is made up of Saudi Arabs. There are numerous immigrant ethnic communities from Arabic territories such as Lebanese, Egypt, Omani and Palestine. Non-Arab population include Asians (9.6%), Africans (1.6%), Persians (0.7%), Americans (0.2%) and Europeans (0.3%). This diverse group makes Saudi Arabia to diversify its food production to meet every group’s needs.
Most of Saudi investment strategies include seeking lands with less political instability, socio economic stability infrastructural development and good relationship with Saudi Arabia. Once one of its ministers said, “Under this initiative, bilateral government-to-government deals can be struck which allow more fluid access for Saudi firms in target markets” (Kate, 2012, p.1). In 2008, Ethiopian government leased over 10,000 hectares to Saudi Star Agricultural Development. Additionally, talks are underway to acquire further 290,000 hectares with the Ethiopian government. His primary target production areas are barley, maize and wheat. Saudi Arabia has acquired over 2,000,000 hectares in Sudan. Sudan was taken due to its close proximity with Saudi Arabia and ability to sustain various crops both vegetables and grains. Other investment grounds for Saudi government include Philippines, Poland, Egypt, Ukraine, Turkey, Vietnam and Kazakhstan.
On the other hand, in managing its food security, Qatar’s strategy is geared towards increasing both domestic and overseas production (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2008). Qatar is gradually increasing its food investments overseas in different countries such as Brazil, Kenya, Turkey, Ukraine and Argentina through its Hassad Food funds (Fuchs, 2012).
Qatar plans to invest heavily in its local production. The goal is to reclaim most of the arid lands and increase food production through intensified technological application. Through the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP), the country aims at increasing the number of current 1400 farms to 3000 farms. While making a report, Fahad Bin Mohammed al-Attiya, the QNFSP chairman, said, “We anticipate that domestic food production, if new technologies are applied and the efficiency system enforced, can easily reach 60 per cent of our market needs” (Fuchs, 2012, p.1).
Currently Qatar imports 90 per cent of its food needs. The total population is 1.75 million with most of them foreign workers. The population is composed of about 35% Asian/Indian, 40% Arabic and 25% Westerners. As a result, Qatar has no much food insecurity problems in the GCC. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar has almost homogeneous community with similar eating patterns. Qatar’s compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) in food consumption is 9 %, which is 1% higher than Saudi Arabia. Like most countries of GCC, Qatar has scarce water for agricultural production, experiences very high temperatures and has poor saline soil (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2008). Local production will involve a lot of costs as compared to importation and leasing of farmland abroad. With its current importation program, Qatar does not face a food crisis like many GCC nations do. Expansion of farmlands abroad will enhance its food security in a more cost effective way as compared to intensifying local agriculture.
Close comparison of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s food security strategy shows that Saudi Arabia has more secure and cost effective strategy as compared to Qatar. Feasibility studies show that Qatar’s new strategy is cost intensive and unnecessary due to its small population. Leasing of farmlands abroad and importations are the most secure means for Qatar as compared to local production. Saudi Government’s strategy of focusing on importation has both consideration of global climatic change and cost effectiveness in production. The cost of reclaiming land in Qatar is quite high despite its capital strength. Consequently, climatic changes might not positively contribute to its agricultural goals.