Back in 2008, the government of Saudi Arabia made a decision to move away from food independence as a national policy. Instead of trying to grow sufficient food within the Kingdom to feed its population, it would engage in international trade and, where possible, purchase lands in other countries on which to grow food stuffs. This step was taken in order to conserve the rarest of Saudi Arabia’s resources: water.
While government support of wheat farming is scheduled to stop in 2016, there is now a pushback from economists. Arab News reports that economists say the country can grow sufficient wheat, but it needs to do a better job in regulating water use. The government will continue to support the growing of berseem, a clover crop raised for animal fodder, the economists point out, even though it uses far more water than wheat. Saudi society wastes enormous amounts of water as well. A rationalization of water use would permit Saudis to raise their own wheat, they argue.
There’s no doubt that water is both scarce and wasted. Better use can be made of existing water supplies — as well as the expensive desalinated water. Great care has to be taken in drawing water from the country’s existing aquifers, however, as they have been greatly depleted over the past 30 years. Choices can be made, of course. The government can decide which crops (and which populations that raise them) get the benefit of existing water resources. But that’s a political as well as economic issue. There are still many Saudi herders; they likely number far more than the growers of wheat. Too, the Saudi experiment in buying foreign lands to raise crops has barely begun. It might be premature to put the brakes on the effort.
JEDDAH: The decision to stop wheat cultivation completely by 2016 and import the country’s requirements will create a dependence on imported food and threaten the food security of the Kingdom, top economists warned on Saturday.
Economists have asked the government to reassess its decision to limit the production of wheat and look at water rationing and the use of irrigation systems in order to continue wheat production.
Economist, Habib Allah Al-Turkustani, said the importation of wheat is expected to increase annually by 5 percent and would represent a dependence on imported food. He said wheat is a strategic commodity and too important to be subject to economic considerations.