Saudi 7-point plan for agriculture

An interesting article in Arab News, explains some facets of Saudi Arabia’s current agricultural policy.

The state-owned Agricultural Development Fund has launched a seven-point initiative that includes the establishment of an agricultural information center, water conservation in irrigation, the outsourcing of wheat and fodder production, marketing infrastructure for vegetables, fruits and  fish, cooperative insurance for livestock sector, especially poultry and a cattle breeding company.

Minister of Agriculture Balghunaim complains that expansion of vegetables and poultry production has lagged behind. While self-sufficiency in eggs has been achieved, the ratio for poultry is only 42 percent for vegetables 85 percent. The Syrian civil war has led to supply disruptions from a traditional supplier, but they can be sourced elsewhere, for example from Morocco in the case of tomatoes as the minister explained.

Articles on Syria’s War Economy and whether Drought has Caused the Syrian Uprising

Jeannie Sowers, John Waterbury and myself have just published an article in Footnote1 about the question whether climate change and the drought from 2006-2011 have caused the Syrian uprising. This explanation has become pretty popular in think tank circles yet it overlooks the crucial role of political economy issues.

Humans have choices. The environment is not just an external variable that transmits itself mechanically into sociopolitical outcomes. Via reaction and adaptation it is quintessentially a human category. The drought certainly did not help, but growing inequalities as a result of economic liberalization in Assad’s crony capitalism were the more important factor.

In another article for openDemocracy.net I take a look at Syria’s war economy and the state of food security in the country: What do Syrians Eat?

Without food aid and imports Syria  would face famine now. I have frankly grown rather tired of armchair strategists who are mushrooming all over the place who can only look at the conflict in terms of US strategic interests, weapons systems and the like. It’s the economy stupid and without a political solution and economic recovery the Syrian tragedy will continue, regardless who might be a military “victor”.

Alfalfa, Wheat and Water in Saudi Arabia

Courtesy of Robin Willoughby  of Chatham House in London I have come across this interesting study about the water consumption of different crops in Saudi Arabia.

It was conducted by researchers of King Saud University on a research farm of King Abdul-Aziz University in Hoda Al-Sham in the Makkah area.

Like this earlier article in Al-Eqtisadiyah that is referencing a study of King Saud University it finds that alfalfa cultivation needs about four times more water on any given piece of land than wheat.

The wheat phase-out of the government has thus led to increased water consumption if farmers switched to alfalfa. In off-the cuff estimates some farmers put the  water consumption of alfalfa even at five times higher and above in the hot summer months as I write in Oil for Food on pp. 87-88.

The increased water consumption is mainly due to all year round cultivation of alfalfa (which is essentially not uprooted, but only cut to let it grow again), while wheat is only cultivated 4 months in the winter. In addition, alfalfa plants also need about 20% more water than wheat:

The Evapotranspiration (ET) figures for wheat on p. 199 of the study and for alfalfa on p. 201 show this clearly:

Wheat: Period planted: 120 days, average ET per day: 3.87 mm, total ET over the year: 498,2 mm
Alfalfa: Period planted: 363 days, average ET per day 4.94mm, total ET over the year: 1922, 50 mm

Thus the increased water consumption of alfalfa according to this study is mainly due to all year long cultivation, but also due to an ET that is 20% higher than wheat. If Saudi Arabia really wants to save water, it will need to address alfalfa production and the continuous expansion of its dairy industry that requires it as feedstock.