There was a time when the Saudi kingdom made food a national cause in spite of unfavorable natural conditions. In the three decades between 1971 and 2000, thanks to a policy of irrigation supported by public funds, agricultural land rose from 0.4 to 1.6 million hectares, with concentration in the provinces of Hail and Qassim which are north of Riyadh, and in Jizan and Najran in the Southwest.
This policy led to success. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1995, wheat production (2.5 million tons) exceeded domestic consumption (1.8 million tons). “The kingdom was exporting wheat, but with a production cost four times higher than world market,” says Zaher al-Mounajjed, a consultant.
Things changed drastically after the food crisis of spring 2008 dealt a fatal blow. “In a context of tensions in the markets for raw materials, stocks in this period made by Iran and speculative purchases have led to a surge in prices which affected the staple food in Saudi Arabia: Rice,” says a European expert of Saudi economy.
The social consequences of this increase, despite the subsidy policy in force for basic foods, led the authorities to consider a different way to ensure food security in the most populous country of the peninsula (25 million). In January 2008, the government decided to decrease domestic production by 12.5 percent. By the end of 2015, the Kingdom will depend entirely on cereal imports.
Last year, Saudi Arabia imported 960,000 tons of rice, making it the world’s sixth biggest rice importer, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The country has also started investing in farmlands abroad, particularly Sudan, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Via Saudi Gazette