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Sat 7 Nov 2009 06:15 PM

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Saudi to phase out water intensive crops - minister

Crops to be phased out include wheat and soya beans - Saudi water & electricity minister.

Saudi to phase out water intensive crops - minister
CROP NEEDS: The Kingdom needs around 2.6 million tonnes of wheat annually. (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Saudi Arabia plans to phase out production of all water intensive crops that have depleted the desert kingdom's scarce water supplies, Saudi's water and electricity minister said on Saturday.

"We have a plan to phase out all the production of water intensive crops in order to preserve water," Abdullah bin Abdul Rahman Al Husayen told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Dubai.

The crops include wheat, soya beans and animal fodder, he said, declining to comment on when the crops will be phased out. "It would be best to grow these kinds of crops outside Saudi Arabia."

Agriculture accounts for 66 percent of human water consumption worldwide, according to the World Water Council. And in Saudi Arabia where the resource is already scarce, the government is towards more conservation in the agriculture sector.

The kingdom needs around 2.6 million tonnes of wheat annually, and the government said last year it would rely entirely on wheat imports by 2016.

"Imports and growing water intensive crops outside Saudi is a more feasible option for us," said Husayen.

Like other wealthy Gulf states Saudi Arabia has been buying foreign farmland in Asia and Africa to secure food supplies after inflation had nearly doubled the price of food last year.

So far foreign investors have acquired some 15-20 million hectares of farmland in poorer countries since 2006, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. (Reuters)

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