Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are reeling under a massive farming gap of more than $23 billion as a result of investment shortages that have largely depressed the local agricultural sector, according to official data.
From around 12 percent in 2001, the farming sector contribution to the GDP in the GCC tumbled to eight percent in 2012, data released at the symposium last week on “Enhancing Food Security in the GCC Countries” held in Manama.
The decline allied with a steady growth in the GCC’s population to sharply widen the food gap, the difference between farm imports and exports.
The gap soared to nearly $23.5 billion in 2012 from around $9 billion in 2011, an increase of more than 100 percent, the report showed.
In a recent study, the Khartoum-based Arab Organization for Agricultural Development blamed lack of irrigation water, poor inter-Arab investment and other social, economic and political factors for the long-standing problem.
“Lack of water needed for the agricultural sector to ensure the food needs of the people constitutes the main challenge facing the farming sector.
This shows the strong relationship between the Arab food security and water security as they have become two sides of one coin,” it said.
“This means it is extremely difficult for Arab countries to largely expand their production without tackling the water problem.”
“GCC countries now import nearly 90 percent of their total farm needs…there should be measures to tackle this serious problem,” said Khalil Khanji, chairman of the Saudi-based Federation of GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
“We hope the GCC states will pursue their plans to lessen reliance on food imports, including pumping investment in other countries which have a large farming potential.”
Official data showed GCC members and the other Arab countries have reeled under a massive cumulative farm import bill of more than $300 billion between 1990 and 2011.
The Arab food gap affected most types of farm products, mainly cereal, rice, sugar, wheat, cooking oil, chicken, meat and dairy products.
Officials have repeatedly voiced concern about the agricultural gap and growing Arab reliance on food imports, mainly from the United States and other Western countries. Some officials considered such reliance as a risk to their security.
According to the Arab League, most members are suffering from slackening farm exports and rapid growth in the population, leading to a steady increase in their imports of food products. The shortage persisted despite an expansion in the cultivated areas in some Arab nations as a result of reforms aimed at increasing crop.
From around 67 million hectares in 2000, the combined Arab cultivated area widened by nearly 4.3 percent to 70 million hectares in 2002 and continued to expand to reach around 75 million hectares in 2010.
But it remained far below the area of the existing arable land of around 197 million hectares, which itself accounts for less than 15 percent of the Arab world’s total area of 1.4 billion hectares, the figures showed
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