“The value of food imports to the GCC countries will more than double over the next decade to satisfy a growing regional population with more money to spend as the process of urbanization continues. New research shows as food consumption increases, total GCC food imports will reach $53.1 billion by 2020, an increase of 105 percent from 2010 ($25.8). Rising at a rate of 4.6 percent annually from 2011-2015 in a region low on agricultural land and natural water sources, and forced to import 90 percent of its food products, food consumption in the GCC will reach 51.5 million tons per year during this period. Underlining huge opportunities for food and equipment manufacturers and suppliers, the latest estimates have been released by the Economist Intelligence Unit ahead of SIAL Middle East 2011, the region’s professional business platform for the food, drink and hospitality industry.”
The Saudi Ministry of Agriculture is giving away part of its land bank for housing programs. Another sign of the downsizing of an industry that hopes to focus on organic farming and water saving technologies in the future.
Like Qatar, Bahrain also sets its site on “food self-sufficiency.” The announcement of the fund does not mention the futuristic means like hydroponics and solar based desalination that the Qatar National Food Security Program is aiming at. Its focus is more on dairy farming, aquaculture and above all poultry. Of course for real self-sufficiency Bahrain does not have the water and the arable land. It will need to import the feedstock (e.g. grains, soybeans, fishmeal) for livestock and aquaculture, which will create new import dependence. That does not need to be bad. The country like the rest of the Gulf will need to rely on food trade and poultry production close to home might be more efficient than importing it from far away Brazil, which is the main provider of poultry meat to the Gulf. The case for dairy farming in the desert and on a small island with limited land reserve is less compelling. In aquaculture Bahrain like Saudi Arabia aims at carnivorous saltwater fish and shrimps, not at sweet water fish with its much more favorable conversion efficiency from plant based input factors to animal proteins. The size of the fund ($265 mn) is rather paltry compared to Bahrain’s need. While not realistic, the rhetoric of food self-sufficiency is ever present in the announcement of the project, which should also satisfy commercial aspirations. It always helps to sing from the hymn sheet of self-sufficiency to push forward the latter.