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

The new East Africa cloud service will give customers access to secure, high-speed cloud and AI services across the region

G42 and Microsoft to invest $1bn in Kenya data centre

Abu Dhabi-based artificial intelligence (AI) company G42 has partnered with US tech giant Microsoft to invest $1 billion in a green data centre in Kenya. The data centre, which will be built by G42 and its partners, will provide access to Azure – a computing platform developed by Microsoft – through a new East Africa cloud region. […]

Turkish Airlines flew 18.5 million passengers from January to March 2024, up 8.4 percent annually

Turkish Airlines revenue rises 10% to nearly $5bn

Revenue at Turkey’s national carrier Turkish Airlines rose 10 percent year on year in the first quarter of 2024 to $4.8 billion, driven by growing passenger numbers. Turkish Airlines flew 18.5 million passengers from January to March, up 8.4 percent annually, it said in its latest investor presentation. Passenger revenue climbed 5 percent year on year […]

The Adnoc Drilling head office. Adnoc will not be able to sell any more of its stake for at least six months

Adnoc Drilling successfully floats further stake

Abu Dhabi state oil company Adnoc has successfully placed a further 5.5 percent of listed subsidiary Adnoc Drilling, increasing the company’s free float to 16.5 percent. The sale of an additional 880 million shares through a book-building process will boost trading of Adnoc Drilling’s stock on Abu Dhabi’s bourse. Adnoc restricted the share sale to […]

John Kirby, the White House national security communications adviser, said Saudi Arabia and the US were 'closer than we’ve ever been' to a deal

Saudi Arabia ‘close’ to US defence pact and arms deal

Saudi Arabia could be close to a security pact with the United States that would enable the kingdom to buy arms, potentially including the sought-after F-35 fighter jet, and obtain some form of US defence guarantee, White House officials said this week.  John Kirby, the president’s national security spokesperson, said on May 20 that the […]