I missed this Reuters piece when it came out last month. It’s an important move by the Saudi government. Most developing nations look for ‘food independence’ much the way some in the US today call for ‘energy independence’. They’re both good ideas, but extremely hard or expensive to implement. The expenses for Saudi Arabia were doubled: not only did the government have to pay high subsidies to farmers to make their to-market price competitive with imports, it also had to pump huge amounts of a resource more important than oil… water. The ending of wheat production in the Kingdom is a sign of economic maturity and recognition that the KSA is truly part of the global economy.

Saudi Arabia to end wheat growing

(Reuters) Saudi Arabia is abandoning a 30-year program to grow wheat that achieved self-sufficiency but depleted the Kingdom’s scarce water supplies. The government will start reducing purchases of wheat from local farmers by 12.5 percent per year from this year, officials from the agriculture and finance ministries said yesterday.

The Kingdom aims to rely entirely on imports by 2016. “The reason is water resources,” said one official, who did not want to be identified.

Saudi Arabia produces 2.5 million tons a year of durum and soft wheat, enough to meet domestic demand. In the 1970s, the government started a program to encourage farmers to produce wheat, guaranteeing them at the time a massive SR3,500 ($ 933.5) for every ton.

February:24:2008 - 08:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink
5 Responses to “Saudis to Quit Wheat Growing”
  1. 1
    Saudi in US Said:
    February:24:2008 - 13:40 

    It is time for this budget drain to end. It was only good for a few pictures of the green circles in the desert. Very expensive pictures to prop up nationalistic pride. We are not only paying 250% the current going price for a commodity. We are also losing the water supply which is not measured in the cost equation.

  2. 2
    M Said:
    February:25:2008 - 01:43 

    I gotta say I’m gonna miss seeing the Green Circles from plane windows whenever I’m traveling to or from Riyadh. They were pretty.

  3. 3
    Commentor Said:
    February:25:2008 - 13:05 

    You miss the “green circles”? Those “green circles” were the greatest crime the government committed against the country. It truly makes my blood boil just thinking of what they did. I remember in elementary school we were taken on a trip to the desalination department. Some government official was telling us about the different water sources in the country, and how much “underground water” we had. He told us that the underground water was never used because it was being “saved” for us and our “children and grandchildren.” Little did we know that all that water had already been sucked out as part of a big PR stunt.

  4. 4
    John Burgess Said:
    February:25:2008 - 13:38 

    I think that’s a little harsh. Not untrue, just overly harsh.

    The government, as most governments of the period, saw ‘food independence’ as a major goal. No government wishes to be left to the political decisions of others on the question of whether the population starves. At the time that the ‘prehistoric groundwater’ started to be exploited, the world economy was not quite so globalized and interlinked.

    Now, of course, the world is pretty much globalized. If one country decides not to sell or buy particular products, there are plenty of others willing to step in and replace them–at a price, but still available.

    The decision to use groundwater was not, in retrospect, a wise decision, but it wasn’t a stupid or criminal one, either.

  5. 5
    Commentor Said:
    February:25:2008 - 17:39 

    “Food independence”?!? Nonsense. This was a policy whose purpose was the enrichment of certain interests who love the idea of operating farms at the public’s expense. The other purpose of course was propaganda aimed at the dumb masses who didn’t know any better. Did the government somehow not realize that this was a desert country with precious, limited water resources that can’t sustain this type of insanity? Was the idea of importing goods uknown 30 years ago? We import everything else, so I’m sure the government could have subsidized imports to keep prices low, and we’d still have some water. People get convicted for crminal negligence for less, John.

    There’s an oft-repeated anecdote about King Faisal during the oil embargo (not sure if it’s true), where he tells Kissinger that his people were prepared to live off the desert like their ancestors did. Well, thanks to his younger brother, we can’t even do *that* if we had to.

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