Jan 2, 2021
Food Security In The GCC: Addressing The Need For Economic Diversification
Written By: Weaam Al-Attaya
GCC countries implement strategic partnerships to drive their domestic and regional food production to address local deficiencies.
The oil rich GCC countries have been very dependent on oil revenue, and thus have been heavily importing food and produce. The GCC region known to suffer from scarcity in water has adopted solutions such as desalination to increase its water sources especially when it comes to agriculture. According to a report by Bond Alpen Capital, countries such as Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates import anywhere between 80 to 90 per cent of their food. This leaves the countries completely vulnerable to increases in food prices globally, and the occurrence of political and economic turmoil.
There is a high food import dependency ratio for all GCC countries –Oman and Yemen are at approximately 50 per cent; Gulf countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates reach up to 70 percent. There is increasing pressure on water resources in the GCC region, despite water desalination efforts; these are currently not sufficient to address the growing demand aggravated by population growth and urban expansion. GCC countries utilize approximately up to 500 per cent of their total freshwater resources. According to Aquastat; demand is expected to exceed sustainable water supplies by 40% in 2050, and precipitations over the region are expected to decline by 2050 due to climate change.
According to the report ‘Scarcity and Abundance: UAE Food and Water Security’ published in November 2014, for every liter of water that flows back into the country’s groundwater reserves from infrequent rainfall, 25 liters is withdrawn.
In this, the Middle East national security and food security have always gone hand in hand. The GCC has been quite actively pursuing agricultural partnerships with other countries in the MENA region, such as Jordan, Morocco and Sudan. GCC countries have made large agricultural investments in North Africa, namely in the Nile valley due to the high fertility of the land. The GCC region however is highly aware that a political crisis could rapidly turn into a major food security emergency.
The GCC is a significant trading partner in the agri-food sector with the EU. The EU currently exports various types of food to the GCC region, it also provides animal feed and feed products for farmed animals.
Some GCC countries, such as the UAE are implementing strategies to help them achieve their sustainability goals. These strategies aim to provide more independence when it comes to food production and supply. In addition to increasing their capability to practice sustainable agriculture. They are also focusing on producing volumes of high-quality food as per international best practices. The strategies involve VAT exemption for farmers, programs for rearing local livestock and animals, and best practices that produce high-quality food products.
The strategies that the United Arab Emirates is implementing, aim to promote sustainability in the food production and agriculture industry, reaffirm the importance of environmental health, facilitate the transition in to a green economy, ensure the sustainability of natural resources, encourage and enhancing food varieties, alleviate the effects of climate change, strengthen the enforcement of environmental legislation, foster an ecosystem of innovation, and improve administrative services.
Agri-food imports from the EU to the GCC have reached $7.5 billion in 2016, of which the UAE’s share stands at $3 billion. This means that the UAE is amongst 10 top export destinations outside the EU for agri-food.
The key proposed solutions are for GCC governments to increase investment in local and regional farms to maximize the outputs of small and medium scale agriculture and food enterprises and farms. It is believed that most investments have been targeted towards large scale farms, however small and medium scale enterprises and farms could contribute positively to satisfying the local demand for food.