Over the years I’ve read a number of reports about food security in the GCC.
As we all know in order to feed the 54 million people who live in the six countries of the GCC we rely on food imports. Currently of the total food consumed 85 per cent is imported.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the major importers owing to the large consumer base in the nations. In 2016, both nations collectively accounted for 80pc of the region’s food imports. Total volume of net food imports in Oman, Qatar and Bahrain grew at an annualised rate of 11.5pc, 8.6pc and 7.8pc, respectively, between 2011 and 2016, faster than Saudi Arabia (5.3pc) and the UAE (3.1pc).
Going forward both Saudi and the UAE are expected to remain the largest food-consuming nations, according to Alpen Capital.
Saudi Arabia’s food consumption is forecast to reach 39 million tonnes by 2023 from 33.2m tonnes in 2018.
In addition to the large quantities of food that are imported we cannot ignore the fact that we have potential flashpoints in the supply chain that could interrupt supply of food. We are aware of the Strait of Hormuz which provides the only sea passage from the Arabian Gulf to the open ocean through one of the world’s most strategically important choke points.
On the other side of the Arabian Peninsula we have the Bab-el-Mandeb, a strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. It connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.
Like the Strait of Hormuz this is a narrow passage for large merchant ships and currently more than 60 commercial ships transit the strait every day and up to an estimated 20pc of global trade passes through the strait every year.
It is therefore great news to know that there are major breakthroughs taking place when it comes to using technology to aid growing food where people live, and this is especially important for the countries of the GCC.
In recent years I’ve been involved in new ways of farming Atlantic salmon, moving the fish from the sea to large land-based tanks that can hold up to 25,000 fish. Not only does this allow the fish to grow to maturity in a much more controlled environment but additionally allows farms to be located to where there is demand for the fish.
We are also witnessing the introduction of vertical farms where fruits and vegetables can be grown in large rotating frames. Traditional farming relies on fertile farmland to grow fruits and vegetables and this new vertical farming method removes so many existing restrictions and these new farms can be situated in places like the GCC.
Another breakthrough is the ability to produce protein in laboratories rather than relying on traditional production farming animals such as sheep, cattle and chickens. The possibility of producing healthy and tasty protein that is cheaper than traditional farming of animals is just around the corner. Again, this new way of protein production potentially allows for production to take place in the GCC.
These are exciting developments that opens up opportunities that a few years ago would have been considered as science fiction. Today this is our new reality and I am very excited about the future with Bahrain potentially becoming a food producer of scale.
Gordon is the former president and chiefexecutive of BMMI. He can be reached [email protected]