Skip to content Skip to Search
Skip navigation

Food security report delivers stark warning to import-reliant Gulf

Person, Human, Table Creative Commons
Yemen urgently needs help to avoid a food shortage catastrophe
  • War and climate crisis expected to increase hunger levels in MENA
  • More high-tech farming required to produce food using minimal water
  • GCC supermarkets well positioned to adopt local vertical farming tech

GCC governments must step up their efforts to develop agri-food technology and recycle waste, a new food security report has warned.

The Gulf is one of the world’s most import-dependent regions. The main food security challenge for the GCC is a natural or man-made crisis that could block one or more countries’ access to imports, concluded the study from Deep Knowledge Analytics.

The report pointed to the importance of regional cooperation, adding that levels of hunger and acute food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin American and South Asia were expected to increase by the end of this year.

About 50 percent of the MENA’s food is imported and although some progress in the field of agri-food technology is being made in countries such as Israel and UAE, the war-ravaged nations of Yemen and Syria have high levels of food insecurity. 

Climate change and water shortages are also affecting Algeria, Iraq and Yemen, limiting the availability of resources needed for food production and development of agriculture.

The report said 86 million people in the MENA region do not have sufficient food consumption, with nearly 22 million deemed “chronically hungry”.

Alex Cresniov, director of Deep Knowledge Analytics, told AGBI: “The climate of the region is not favourable for large-scale production of food. The food security challenge moving forward lies in the ability to diversify local food production, taking water input into account.”

 According to the report, the UAE and Kuwait have the lowest renewable water resources while Oman has the highest amount of renewable water resources per capita, thanks to fresh groundwater stored in aquifers and natural springs.

However, more than a quarter of waste in Oman comes from food waste. 

The research follows news last week that Saudi Arabia provided food support to Sudan worth $100 million, as part of an agreement with the World Bank and the World Food Programme.

In the UAE, the National Food Security Strategy 2051 aims to achieve zero hunger by ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.

Last week, DP World UAE announced the signing of two projects with multinational agricultural commodity processors, strengthening food and beverage capabilities within Jebel Ali in Dubai.

The quayside facilities aim to enhance year-round availability and production of essential grains and pulses. 

Clothing, Apparel, Person
Droughts in Sudan have caused dire food insecurity. Picture: WFP

Also in July, Emirates Flight Catering and US-based Crop One announced the opening of Bustanica, the world’s largest hydroponic farm, backed by an investment of $40 million, which aims to produce more than 1 million kilograms of leafy greens each year.

Wes Schwalje, COO at Tahseen Consulting, a MENA-focused public sector strategy and public relations firm, told AGBI: “Technology-driven transformation in the farming sector is emerging as a potential solution.

“Vertical farming, in particular, has the potential to supply large amounts of produce to the region while requiring significantly less land and water than traditional farming methods.

“This is what drove the partnership between Emirates and Crop One on the world’s largest vertical farm.

“In the GCC, major grocery chains are also in a prime position to adopt vertical farming technology by growing produce in facilities close to stores or installing miniature facilities on store premises.”

Deep Knowledge Analytics’ Cresniov said: “The role of technology in achieving global food security is more important than ever.

“AI and real-time monitoring will be helpful to tackle food security issues by enabling companies to develop food management solutions to optimise manufacturing processes and supply chain operations.” 

The global food system has been destabilised by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and levels of hunger and acute food insecurity are expected to increase further by the end of 2022.

​Beyond the conflict’s borders, farmers around the globe are struggling to afford rising prices on fertilisers, which in turn may lead to harvest declines, the report said.

Global food prices started to rise in mid-2020 when businesses shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, straining supply chains. 

The Deep Knowledge Analytics Food Security Index considers access to food, crisis risks and the resilience of the economy, using these issues to rank 171 countries. 

The UAE was the top-ranked Arab country in the food security index, placing 26th globally. Qatar was 29th, Bahrain 30th, Oman 41st, Saudi Arabia 44th and Kuwait 47th.

The high-income countries of North America and Europe led the index. 

The US took the No 1 spot – and the report concluded that developed, food-secure countries would not face hunger, but the deficit of certain food products and high inflation would be felt. 

Sub-Saharan and MENA countries dominate the bottom quarter of the index, with Somalia scoring the lowest.

Several countries have not demonstrated the capacity to build food security. Northern Nigeria, Yemen, Burkina Faso and Niger are affected by national policies and by conflicts.

Consecutive seasons of drought have hit Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia.

The report said 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA region are considered high risk and deteriorating.

Latest articles

Groupshot, Person, People

Aramco invests $6bn to bolster local supply chain

Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, has signed 40 corporate procurement agreements worth $6 billion to boost its localisation programme. The agreements cover supply of a range of products comprising strategic commodities, such as instrumentation, and electrical and drilling equipment. The move will strengthen Aramco’s domestic supply chain ecosystem, providing suppliers with long-term demand […]

Sabic said better conditions in its agriculture and automotive businesses are supporting its margins

Sabic reports loss of $747m as product prices tumble

Petrochemicals major Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) reported a net loss of SAR2.8 billion ($747 million) in 2023, as average product sales fell by a fifth. The losses were also driven by the discontinuation of operations at Hadeed, its steel manufacturing subsidiary, which resulted in a loss of around SAR4 billion. In September 2023, Sabic […]

Masdar starts work on two UK battery storage projects

Masdar Arlington Energy, a subsidiary of UAE’s Masdar, has started construction on two battery energy storage system (BESS) projects in the UK. The Royle Barn Road plant in Rochdale and Welkin Road plant in Stockport will have a combined capacity of 55 MW and provide enough energy to power 25,700 homes.  Masdar acquired UK-based Arlington Energy in […]

Parkin controls more than 90 percent of Dubai's paid parking provision

Dubai parking operator IPO will fund EV expansion plans

Parkin, the Dubai government’s parking management company, plans to channel proceeds from its initial public offering into technological upgrades, including expansion of its electric vehicle services.  The company will release nearly 25 percent of its shares on the Dubai Financial Market next month.  The offering begins on March 5, with a price range to be […]