The Saudi Minister of Agriculture Fahd Balghunaim has announced that the kingdom’s strategic wheat storage covers now consumption for six months and stands at two million sacks of flour.
Ultimately the kingdom aims at 12 months.
It is surprising that they store flour and not wheat itself. The Ford Foundation started the planning for an expansion of the Saudi wheat program in the 1960s and one of its arguments was that flour is not good for storage. Instead Saudi Arabia should expand wheat production and domestic milling capacities to enable strategic storage the argument went.
Why is the storage now in flour, which does not seem to be the optimal solution? Is there not enough milling capacity? (This would be surprising given past wheat self-sufficiency in Saudi Arabia).
Some time ago Abdul Rahman Al Sultan quipped in an op-ed in ‘ Al-Ru’ya al-Iqtisadiyya that listening to GCC politicians he would have the feeling he was living in “Bangladesh or Chad”. After all there was enough food and Gulf countries had the money to buy it on world markets albeit possibly at a higher price he argued.
There seem to be indeed more pressing food security issues in the Gulf than the hypothetical war or crises situations that politicians plan for when debating food security.
These problems stem from an abundance of calories, not lack thereof. The Gulf countries have one of the highest obesity and diabetes rates per capita in the world (around a third and 13 percent respectively) as Alpen Capital pointed out in a report in 2011.
Weight loss surgeries are on the rise. “Because of my weight, I could not sit in the car of my dreams. Now I feel my Lamborghini is approaching,” said one patient in the UAE after undergoing bariatric operation.
There is clearly a need to improve diets in the Gulf by awareness campaigns and taxing unhealthy fast food.
Sweetened beverages and fast food have also been blamed for calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies, beside lacking exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin D deficiency is gender specific. It reaches 70 percent among Saudi women and 40 percent among Saudi male as an article in Nature recently found out.
Beside increased exposure to sunlight it could be treated by increased consumption of dairy products and drinks instead of sweetened beverages. More fish and dairy consumption would also tackle the calcium deficiency and the increased occurrence of osteoporosis.
The food security challenge in the Gulf often has unexpected angles and solutions to it might be found on a less geo-strategic plane than is often assumed.
Kenana Sugar Company wants to launch a $200 mn IPO in Hong Kong.
Sudanese regard the company as a shinning example, while the Kuwaiti and Saudi shareholders (31% and 11%) are less happy about their investment that dates back to the 1970s when the Gulf countries wanted to develop Sudan as an Arab bread-basket.
Why Hong Kong? Getting access to Chinese capital, even though China has recently backed out of an agro project in the country as Sudan could not deliver the oil collateral for loans anymore?
Sudan has a sugar plan in place that wants to increase sugar production in the country tenfold by 2020, but Gulf countries have shown no interest so far to increase their investment beyond Kenana.