Agri-tech ‘vital for GCC food security’

TECHNOLOGY driven agriculture could help the GCC overcome its food security challenges, highlighted a study.

In addition, the emerging investment opportunities in “agri-tech” across the region will help the nations come up with sustainable solutions to its food crisis, said the Oxford Business Group (OBG).

Regional challenges exacerbated by the pandemic and war has all the more heightened the need for the region to invest in domestic production capacity and agri-tech solutions, said the study titled “Agri-tech and Food Security in the GCC”.

Agri-tech is the use of technology and technological innovation to improve the efficiency and output of agricultural processes. In other words, it is the application of technology to improve all elements of the farming and growing processes.

Done in partnership with the Arab Organisation for Agricultural Development (AOAD), the Covid-19 Response Report (CRR) highlights strategies for agricultural innovation and food production which the region could tap into.

“When looking to emerging markets, GCC countries are considered among the most food secure in the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2021, compiled by Economist Impact,” said the report.

“However, the region lacks direct control over the majority of its food supply and remains dependent on imports.

“GCC members imported about 85 per cent of their food prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Indeed, almost all rice consumed in the region was imported, as well as around 93pc of cereals, 62pc of meat and 56pc of vegetables.

“When international supply chains are severely disrupted – as was the case during the pandemic – this reliance on imports leaves countries vulnerable to shortages.

“What is more, climatic conditions create significant food security challenges for the Gulf, which is characterised by water scarcity and a lack of arable land.”

GFSI 2021 ranks Bahrain 44 out of 113 nations with an overall score of 68.1 (out of 100), after Saudi Arabia (43, 68.5), Oman (40, 70), the UAE (35, 71), Kuwait (30, 72.2) and Qatar (24, 73.6).

The report noted that the GCC countries have adopted several strategies of late to increase domestic agricultural production, a common component being water management, with all GCC members developing their capacity for desalination.

It highlighted that the world’s largest reserve of desalinated water opened in the UAE in 2018 – the man-made aquifer buried under the Liwa Desert which holds about 26 billion litres of water and can supply residents with around 100 million litres of water per day.

“Kuwait and Saudi Arabia reuse about 50pc of their wastewater, while Bahrain and Qatar reuse 10pc to 15pc,” it said.

“When it comes to boosting agricultural output in the harsh climatic conditions of the Gulf, alternative crop varieties are being adopted.”

Meanwhile, the report also cautioned investors into agri-tech in the GCC to be “mindful” of the inherent risks.

“With climate change worsening an already difficult environment for agriculture and the food industry contributing around 30pc of global carbon emissions, it is vital that new solutions not only mitigate existing climate challenges, but help to ameliorate them.”

Studies cite that by 2050, global demand for food will be 56pc higher than it was in 2010, and the world will need to feed an estimated 2bn more people.

“As global food systems come under pressure, GCC countries are increasingly aware of the need to develop local production capacity to enhance food security and meet the evolving dietary needs of their relatively young populations,” added the study.

The report includes several case studies reflecting the growth stories and development plans of key regional stakeholders in the agriculture sector and food production industry.




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