What’s caused Saudi Arabia, the once-leading producer of wheat in the world, to halt their booming industry?
The answer is simple: water resources.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was able to produce about 2 million tonnes of wheat in 2008, for example. However, the nation’s previous Minister for Agriculture Waleed Al-Kuraiji announced back in 2008 that wheat production would start to decrease by 12.5% each year, eventually stopping completely in 2016. This is to combat the disastrous effect that the production has had on the nation’s limited water supply.
Now that the year is upon us, the world can expect Saudi Arabia to import and rely on increasingly staggering amounts of wheat. Last year, the kingdom imported about 3 million tonnes, placing it sixth on the list of highest importing countries in the world.
Ex-Agricultural Minister Al-Kuraiji claimed that “the Kingdom has been undergoing a strategic move for the past seven years to conserve water, therefore we head to international markets to import products that are water consuming, on top of which is wheat.”
At present, Abdulrahman bin Abdulmuhsen Al Fadhly is the Minister for Agriculture in Saudi Arabia, and the changes for 2016 could help the nation’s economy greatly. In the kingdom’s booming wheat years, the government realised it was paying water subsidies to farmers that amounted to much more than the costs involved in importing wheat.
For a country that’s covered in mostly desert, Saudi Arabia is a surprisingly strong contender in the global agricultural market. However, this decision, which will show its full impact in the coming 12 months, will provide a large opportunity for other countries’ wheat producers.
Wheat is the most widely-grown grain in the world, and this can cause issues for farmers when the product is produced so extensively.
In the USA, for example, the country’s Wheat Association is urging regulations to be put in place to protect the world’s market. Over 700 million tonnes of the grain are produced globally each year, and restrictions put in place by the Global Wheat Food Security Initiative would provide ‘genuine food security to world’s wheat importers’, according to Alan Treacy of the US Wheat Association.
It’s yet unknown what Saudi Arabia’s decisions will mean for European wheat producers, and for those in the rest of the world, but there is positivity among Australian producers in particular that they will be able to fill the gap left by Saudi wheat’s disappearance.Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons