By Andy Sambidge
Food security to top agenda at conference next month as figures suggest up to 90% reliance on imported goods
The GCC's regional food import bill will rise to over $53 billion by 2020 as its soaring population has resulted in imported products accounting for up to 90 percent of all food supplies, it has been announced.
Food security and the associated costs of importing food into the region will top the agenda at SIAL Middle East, which returns to Abu Dhabi on November 24-26.
The event takes place as recent figures by the Economist Intelligence Unit forecast GCC food import demand to hit $53.1 billion by 2020, up from $25.8 billion just a decade ago.
It said the region will have 80-90 percent reliance on imported foodstuffs, adding the impact of price increases caused by poor harvests, political instability, supply chain interruptions and a non-agricultural landscape could have devastating long term food security consequences.
"Food security throughout the region will no doubt once again dominate show floor discussion, as regional demand for food imports rises due to an expanding population expected to reach 50 million by 2020, a booming tourism industry, increasing per capita income and limited water resources," said Mohammed Jalal Al Rayssi, director of Communication and Community Service Division at Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) and chairman of the SIAL Middle East organizing committee.
The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2014 Global Food Security Index, which ranks countries based on food affordability, availability, nutritional quality and safety, placed Kuwait in 28th place, followed by the UAE in 30th spot and Saudi Arabia 32nd.
"While the region's own food production capacity is naturally stymied by a lack of arable land, there is much being done to address long term food security from significant government investment into farming projects from Eastern Europe to Africa, as well as domestic initiatives, which while incurring substantial costs, are nonetheless adding much-needed supply at source," added Al Rayssi.
The Abu Dhabi farming industry is reportedly set to produce up to 38,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables in the winter months while Qatar is similarly looking into sustainable agricultural development.
However, the high cost of large-scale domestic agriculture initiatives has proved extremely challenging with Saudi Arabia, for example, calling time on its experimental wheat production programme with plans to revert to an import model by 2016.
According to Alpen Capital's 2013 GCC Food Industry Report, the GCC region will consume 49.1 million tonnes of food annually by the end of 2017 with the UAE currently the largest per capita consumer at 1,486kg per year. This tops neighbouring Oman at 1,095kg per capita per annum, with Saudi Arabia at 872kg, Qatar with 852kg, Kuwait at 634kg and Bahrain 453kg.