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Research Article
Open Access Peer-reviewed

Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Challenges and Prospects

Tarek Ben Hassen , Hamid El Bilali
Journal of Food Security. 2019, 7(5), 159-169. DOI: 10.12691/jfs-7-5-2
Received August 06, 2019; Revised September 10, 2019; Accepted September 15, 2019

Abstract

Food insecurity concerns are as old as humanity. Food security exists when all population, at all times, has access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. It is built on four pillars, namely food availability, food access, food utilisation, and stability. While it is widely admitted that food security increases with economic development, also rich countries in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, face specific challenges. Therefore, this review paper analyses the state, determinants and perspectives of food security in GCC region. Historically, food security was not an issue for the GCC states. In fact, GCC states are capital rich and have no foreign exchange limitation for food import. Consequently, due to their robust fiscal position resulting in high buying power, these countries, have been less vulnerable to price risk than other food importers; and able to bridge the shortfall in domestic production. As a result, in 2018, the six GCC members have been ranked as the most food secure in the Arab world and among the most food secure countries in the world. However, in the wake of the 2007–2008 global food crisis, food security became an ongoing challenge. The crisis exposed the high dependence of GCC countries on imports, limits of import-based food policies and the need to increase the local production. However, agriculture is limited by several natural conditions, such as scarce water resources and poor soils, and aquifers have been heavily exploited above the average natural recharge. Further, potentially, more critical to GCC food security is availability risk, which arises when an import-dependent country is not able to obtain food, even if it has sufficient funds to purchase it. The paper makes the case for promoting a productive and sustainable agriculture, with high resources use efficiency, to increase food security in the GCC.

1. Introduction

The great challenge for the coming decades will be the task of increasing food production to ensure food security for a world population of 7.6 billion people, and expected to be 9 million by 2050. Achieving a world without hunger and malnutrition is one of the aims of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In fact, ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all (Target 2.1) and eliminating all forms of malnutrition (Target 2.2) are prominent targets of the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the 2030 Agenda (i.e. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture). Moreover, the achievement of SDG2 depends on and contributes to the attainment of many other goals of the 2030 Agenda and sustainable development as a whole 2.

Food security concept has evolved and been expanded over recent decades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 with a change of focus from increasing food production to improving food access. Indeed, it is increasingly recognised that attaining food security is more complicated than just producing more food, as the fundamental issue concerns access to nutritious and safe food 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. The 1996 World Food Summit definition of food security is still widely used 14. It was officially reaffirmed in the 2009 Declaration of the World Summit on Food Security 15, 16, with the addition of social access to food: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life 15. Food security is built on four pillars 4, 17, 18, 19: food availability (i.e. sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis); food access (i.e. having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate and nutritious foods); food use/utilisation (i.e. appropriate food use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care); and stability in food availability, access and utilization 20.

A recent report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2 shows that the number of undernourished people has been growing and was estimated to nearly 821 million in 2017 (17 million more than in 2016), so around one out of every nine people in the world. The situation is worsening in South America and most of Africa. Conflicts and climate change are among the key drivers behind the recent uptick in global hunger. Indeed, climate change threatens to erode and reverse gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition. Moreover, food insecurity contributes to overweight and obesity and the three burdens of malnutrition (undernutrition, overweight/obesity and micronutrient deficiencies) coexist in many countries.

Food insecurity and malnutrition are still relevant issues in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region 21. In their discussion paper on “Food Security and Economic Development in the Middle East and North Africa”, Breisinger et al. 22 put that “…the region’s longstanding challenges persist; yet taking immediate action is more urgent in light of the recent, global food, fuel, and financial crisis and projected severe impacts of climate change”. While it is widely admitted that food insecurity decreases with economic development, also rich countries in the region such as the Gulf Cooperation Council – GCC – countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates - UAE) face specific challenges for achieving long-term, sustainable food security. Therefore, the present review paper analyses the state, determinants and perspectives of food security in GCC not only in a changing climate but also unstable global geopolitical context.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a group of six Arab Middle East countries bordering the Gulf, covering an area of 2,672,700 sq.km and with a total population of approximately 56.65 million and combined GDP of US$1.537trn in 2018. Enormous hydrocarbons reserves (30% of the proven oil reserves and 22.2% of the proven natural gas reserves of the world) compared with a modest national populations, have made the region one of the wealthiest in the world. Oil, natural gas revenues and petrochemical industries still form the main part of the national income and government revenues in GCC countries. GCC countries face numerous environmental challenges and will have to reconcile the many conflicting priorities from economic diversification, water scarcity, food security, desertification, environmental protection, and conservation to the impacts of climate change 23.

This paper is based mainly on secondary data from written documents, governmental reports, websites, newspapers articles, and reports from different sources such as the FAO; UNEP; United Nations System High Level Task Force on Global Food Security (UN-HLTF); IFAD; OECD, WFP; associated with a review of peer-reviewed scientific literature dealing with food production, food security and agricultural production in the GCC countries.

2. Food Security in GCC: A Critical Political Issue

Historically, food security was not an issue for the GCC states. In fact, GCC states are capital rich and have no foreign exchange limitation for food import 24. Consequently, due to their robust fiscal position resulting in high buying power, these countries, have been less vulnerable to price risk (i.e., the risk that food is available for import but the importing country may not be able to afford to purchase a sufficient amount for its residents) than other food importers; and able to bridge the shortfall in domestic production 25. As a result, in 2018, the six GCC members have been ranked as the most food secure in the Arab world and among the most food secure countries in the world in the Global Food Security Index 26 {1} (Table 1).

However, GCC countries are food secure but not food self-sufficient. It is therefore clear that food security “does not equal self-sufficiency” 22. Despite their wealth and affluence, these countries lack control over their food sources and are highly dependent on imports—thus lack food sovereignty 27.

In fact, in the wake of the 2007–2008 global food crisis, food security became an ongoing challenge. Food security assumes particular political significance in the GCC for numerous reasons 28. As highlighted by Lippman 29 “no product or commodity carries the immediacy or political sensitivity of food”. Since the GCC countries rely heavily on food imports, which make them vulnerable to price and supply shocks, the stability and the availability dimensions of food security are critical issues. Three elements contribute to food availability: domestic food production, distribution, and food import 30. Assessing food availability determines food security. This assessment is particularly important for GCC countries, which are highly dependent on food imports. Nevertheless, a country that has low self-sufficiency and is highly dependent on food imports can still be food secure as long as it is able to finance its food imports 27. The 2007–2008 global food crisis has exposed the high dependence of GCC states on imports and the lack of clear food security policies. The food crisis of 2007-2008 raised awareness of the supply and price risks associated with a dependence on the world market 31.

As a matter of fact, the 2007–2008 food price crisis had acted as a wake-up call for the GCC countries regarding their vulnerability to food price and it will continue to have an impact over the next decade. During the 2007–08 global food price crisis over 30 countries imposed export restrictions like Argentina, Russia, India, and Vietnam 28. This had an immense psychological impact. “Gulf countries now face the specter that someday they might not be able to secure enough food imports at any price even if their pockets are lined with petrodollars. This has reinforced the impression that food security is too important to be left to markets.” 32. The region as a whole lacks adequate control over, and access to, its food sources and this dependency on external supply channels has been locally articulated as a lack of food sovereignty 27. The perception of Gulf countries is that their food security is threatened 32. Further, the main consequence of the 2007–2008 global food crisis is inflation. The increase in food prices after the 2007–2008 global food crisis has put significant inflationary pressure on the GCC economies with consumer prices reaching double digits during 2008–09 33. Food price rises in the GCC thus contribute significantly to overall inflation. As a result of the food crisis, the GCC have witnessed an accelerated inflation rates for three years (2005-2007). About one third of GCC inflation during this period is imported due to high food prices 34. This inflation threats the political stability of the region. In fact, food inflation can be the source of significant social unrest, as it hits lower income groups especially hard because they have to spend a relatively high share of their disposable income on food 35. Record-high world food prices triggered protest and violent rioting in 48 countries in 2007/08 36. Riots of this sort have not been reported in the Gulf, but there has been criticism 37. In addition, access to affordable food is an important part of the social contract in the GCC countries 32. Higher prices could lead to a greater demand for a say in politics if the government should fail to mitigate the impact of food price inflation 35. For example, in a rare sign of political opposition, in 2007, a group of Saudi Arabia Muslim clerics has issued a rare warning to the ruling government that it must take action to curb rising inflation and warned that inflation could “have a negative impact on all levels, causing theft, cheating, armed robbery and resentment between rich and poor.”{2} In fact, GCC populations are not uniformly wealthy: the poorest 10 per cent or so may spend 30–50 per cent of their income on food – a rate more typical of a developing country 37. Reports indicate around 20 per cent of the population in Saudi Arabia live on less than $12,000 a year 38. Price risk constitutes a major threat to the food security of these households, especially in smaller Gulf States such as Qatar and Kuwait, where the blue collar expatriate workforce forms a majority of the population and this could develop into a serious issue 35.

In the future, growing population, rising income levels and change in consumption habits result in continuing growth in consumption levels in the GCC countries. Per capita consumption in the region is low compared to that in developed economies and is expected to increase at a relatively higher rate 33. In 2018, the total population of the GCC region was 56.65 million from 41.7 million in 2010 and 25.8 million in 2005 and is likely to increase further in future. Meanwhile, GCC food import demand is forecast to hit $53.1 billion by 2020, up from US$28.4 billion in 2011 (Table 2) 39.

3. Food Production in GCC: Limiting Natural Factors

Historically, food production was limited and based mostly on fishing, Bedouin animal husbandry, date farming and small-scale vegetable production. Since the GCC are located in one of the world’s most arid regions, where the climate is classified as a hot desert climate (BWh) under the Köppen climate classification 40, domestic food production has been constrained by unfavorable agro-ecological conditions, such as scarce water resources, high temperatures and poor soils.

Actually, only 19.5% of the total land area of the GCC region, is agricultural land{3} (cropland and pastures), while only 1% is arable (cropland) (Table 3) 41, which is much lower than the global average of 10.6%{4} and lower than some countries: 16.6% in the USA, 24.9 % in the United Kingdom, 12.7% in China and 52.6% in India. Furthermore, with progressive salinization and desertification processes in the entire GCC region, the amount of arable land is projected to decrease even further 42.

In addition, the majority of soils in the GCC countries are fragile, sandy, poorly developed; and low in organic matter and water retention capacity 43, 44, 45 (Box 1), and over 95 per cent of land on the Arabian peninsula is subject to some form of desertification 28.

However, the main issue regarding agriculture in the GCC is water. Food and water are inextricably linked 46. Water security is often framed as a component or subset of food security 47, 48, 49. Due to the hot climate, coupled with low rainfall and high evaporation rates{5} (greater than 3,000 mm/year), water is an extremely scarce resource in the GCC. Further, surface water is almost nonexistent 40. The GCC region is the poorest region in the world in water resources, in absolute and per capita terms, mainly caused by the region’s arid climate and the high population growth 50. With regards to rainfall, in 2014, all of the GCC countries were listed among the 15 countries receiving the least amount of rainfall globally 21. In fact, the GCC have one of the lowest per capita freshwater availability in the world{6}, estimated in 2017, at 82.55 m3 compared to a world average of about 6,500 m3. All the GCC countries are considered in absolute water scarcity situation, defined as less than 500 m3 per capita per annum of renewable water resources (Table 4){7}.

As a result, this lack of freshwater is an obvious constraint to development of conventional agriculture in this region 51 and GCC states do not have a comparative advantage in field crop production. High maximum temperatures limit yields for many crops, while rainfall is well below that required for rain-fed cereal production 28 (e.g. wheat requires around 600–650 mm per year in hot climates) 52.

In the future, in the GCC, the climate change through rise in temperature, decline in rainfall and increase in evapotranspiration will further affect agriculture and food production in an already exceedingly dry area 24. Climate change projections expect the entire region to become hotter and drier in the future, with a reduction of precipitation 53 (Table 5). The analysis cautions that the dual drivers of climate change and population growth will combine to put further stress on scarce water resources and affect food security 42. For example, climate change is expected to reduce frequencies of winter low temperatures, which affect production of certain traditional fruit trees in ancient cropping systems, mostly in the high-mountain region in Oman 54.

4. Food Production in GCC: Unsuccessful Past Experiences

Since the 1970 and following the US threat of a food embargo against OPEC countries in response to the first oil price shock 28, GCC states adopted several policies to increase the local food production to realize the highest possible level of self-sufficiency. Despite some success to increase food production, especially in the case of Saudi Arabia, those policies result on serious environmental damages (Box 2). Due to low rainfall, attempts to increase local production was based on irrigation and have resulted in heavy depletion of the non-renewable water resources. Since the 1970, GCC governments provided generous subsidies to ensure future food supplies 39, resulting in expansion of food production. Artificially cheap water has enabled the development of water-intensive crops (E.g. wheat in Saudi Arabia) in a region that has no natural advantage in producing these crops 55, 56, 57.

Further, agriculture is based mostly on open field irrigation methods with a low water use efficiency (WUE){8} resulting in high losses from evaporation. The average efficiency ratio in the GCC is 54.80% compared to 76.46% in Egypt and 71.69% in Tunisia (Table 6).

Immense pressure has been exerted on the scarce water resources, including non-renewable fossil groundwater, as reflected in the high rates of water withdrawals for agriculture, averaging about 630 percent of total renewable water resources in GCC countries, reaching about 2,460 percent in Kuwait 50. In average, in the GCC, 85% of water is used for agriculture. According to FAO 58, countries are in a critical condition if they use more than 40 percent of their renewable water resources for agriculture and could be defined as water-stressed if they extract more than 20 percent of these resources. Based on this definition GCC countries could be defined as water-stressed, because their current abstraction rates from their renewable water resources for agriculture greatly overshoot the defined limits (Table 7).

Since 85% the water used in irrigation is groundwater, aquifers have been heavily exploited above the average natural recharge, thus increasing water and soil salinity. For instance, in 2016, in Qatar, the groundwater consumption rate (319 million m3/year) was higher than the recharge rate from natural renewable resources (217 million m3/year), which represents a yearly depletion rate of 102 million m3/year 59. Using groundwater resources beyond their natural replenishment rates is rapidly depleting aquifer reserves, that had taken millions of years to accumulate and degrading water quality due to seawater intrusion 60, which is a common issue in the GCC region. In many cases, overexploitation of the limited natural resources (water and land) has hazardous effects due mostly to inadequate policies and interventions 61, 62 (Box 3).

Meanwhile, agriculture water consumption is disproportionate to the value created by the sector. Despite the government support to increase local agriculture production through financial assistance and subsidies, the contribution of agriculture to total economic added-value or the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is quite negligible, around 0.8% on average (less than 1 % in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE; 1.3 % and 1.9 % in Oman and Saudi Arabia respectively) 63; e.g. in Qatar, the agricultural sector consumes 40% of total water resources and the production meets only 10% of the national food demand. In addition, the agricultural sector contribution to GDP is only 0.13% and it employs 1.3% of the labor force 64.

5. Food Security in GCC: Limits and Drawbacks of Import-based Food Policies

In order to bridge the gap between food production and food consumption, the GCC states rely heavily on food imports. These countries remain largely net importers of food, especially with respect to cereals, the main staple food commodity in the region (Table 8).

Even food products made locally rely heavily on foreign imports. In fact, in certain cases – the growing dairy industry in Saudi Arabia, for example – it is not clear that domestic production reduces a country’s dependence on food imports, since animal feed must be imported 25. GCC food security rests on international trade, leaving countries exposed to price risk (relating to volatility of import prices) and supply risk (relating to import disruption) 28. Furthermore, the future of food supply in this region is challenged by several factors.

Firstly, the impacts of climate change could significantly affect agriculture production through yield reductions 65. Climate change will also lead to an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and heat-waves, increasing the risk of yield shocks in key producer countries and concomitant price spikes 66. For example, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) projects that crop yields will fall by more than 10% for a quarter of major crops by 2030 and decline at similar rates for more than half of crops beyond 2050{9}. Willenbockel 66 estimates a potential short-term price increase of up to 33% for wheat, 140% for corn and 26% for rice in response to climate-related yield shocks in 2030. As a result, agricultural commodity prices are expected to remain volatile in the future, which could result in export restrictions and speculation 67.

Secondly, in the future, international markets are expected to remain tight and thin as production growth lags demand and stock-to-use ratios struggle to recover, leaving global supply vulnerable to destabilizing weather events such as droughts or heat-waves in key producer regions. Volatility will be further amplified by biofuel mandates, which limit exports of food commodities, create inelastic demand and depress stock-to-use ratios further 28. “Expert opinion suggests that this will continue to be the case as the factors that led to elevated costs in the first place have not been adequately dealt with. Bio-fuel production programs continue to be encouraged in major grain-producing countries; global grain reserves have not been sufficiently enhanced in the intervening years; and food supplies have not kept pace with the increasing demands arising out of higher per capita incomes and changing consumption patterns in certain parts of the developing world.” 27. Consequently, observers uniformly agree that given its heavy reliance on external food supplies, the GCC and the Middle East in general are particularly susceptible to fluctuations in both price and availability of global food stocks 27. GCC countries are highly vulnerable to fluctuations in international commodity markets and supply risks, such as the one that occurred in 2007-2008, because they are highly dependent on food imports.

In fact, potentially more critical to GCC food security is availability risk, which arises when an import-dependent country is not able to obtain food, even if it has sufficient funds to purchase it 25. “A number of Gulf countries were on the market for food at a time when prices had gone up, and some exporting countries had put up export bans, especially for rice—creating a nervousness that even if they could afford it, they couldn’t get it.” 39.

Thirdly, one particularly salient factor contributing to availability risk for the GCC is the fact that the majority of food imports passes through one of three maritime chokepoints 25, 28 (Box 4), especially for strategic commodity such as wheat. In fact, GCC states are among the most exposed to potential food security risks caused by maritime chokepoints. Import routes are particularly vulnerable to disruption or closure in the event of instability within the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region 28 (Box 5).

Furthermore, in recent years, in response to international sanctions, Iran has periodically threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. Any conflict in the Hormuz Strait will disrupt food shipments and would have a devastating impact on GCC’s food security particularly for states that are entirely reliant on ports within the Persian Gulf: Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar 28. While 80% or more of wheat imports to five of the six GCC countries passed through at least one chokepoint, the likelihood of availability risk differs substantially across the countries. With access to both the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are less vulnerable to import food disruption in case of conflict in Hormuz Strait than Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar are the most vulnerable GCC countries to a chokepoint disruption. About 80% of Qatar’s wheat imports and nearly all of Bahrain’s and Kuwait’s passed through the Strait of Hormuz, and there are no alternative maritime routes from the Arabian Sea to the Arabian Gulf 25, 28.

6. Achieving Food Security in GCC States: A Combination of Strategies is Needed

According to FAO 68 “A food security strategy that relies on a combination of increased productivity and general openness to trade will be more effective than a strategy that relies primarily on the closure of borders.” In fact, faced with a high potential for import disruptions, the GCC may find it helpful to focus on four different sets of strategies.

6.1. Foreign Agro-investments

After the 2007-2008 food crises, GCC countries pursued a strategy of purchasing or leasing farmland abroad with the aim of exporting at least some of the crops produced there back to the purchasing country 25 in order to ensure privileged bilateral access to food production 32. Since then, these countries acquired lands in Africa and Australia, among other places, invest in existing agricultural business and export the produce back to the purchasing country, so that it can maintain control over the food supply chain. Today, GCC countries are the biggest regional investors in agricultural land abroad 25. However, these investments are risky. Many of the land deals have been in parts of Africa already suffering from food insecurity. From the point of view of the land-owned country, exporting crops could worsen existing food insecurity and poverty, and may cause political unrest. Given persistent undernourishment for many in Africa, public perception and tolerance of foreign landholders on the continent may deteriorate, especially as African food imports themselves increase 25. To preempt such criticism, Qatar for example, has put foreign agro-projects on hold until land rights issues have been sorted out in a mutually beneficial way. State-owned Hassad Food announced that it would aim to invest in existing agro-companies rather than acquire land rights and building up farming operations from scratch. The Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment and Development chose a similar approach when launching a $2 billion fund in October 2009 32. Another obstacle is the growing resistance of local populations to the agro deals, due to food and water shortages of local residents, the transfer of the lands into a commodity aimed at serving foreigners and the loss of lands that belonged to the farmers’ families for generations. What is considered as legitimate land acquisitions and agro-investments by the investors is perceived as illegal land grabbing by the locals and as a sort of neo-colonialism 69. In most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, acquiring sizeable farms has proved very difficult and controversial, in particular when the investment leads to community displacement from productive land 70.

In addition, the countries targeted for investment face many challenges, among them underdeveloped infrastructure, corruption, political instability, as has been the case with Sudan, and a lack of skilled labor 32. Owing to the generally poor agricultural infrastructure in many target destinations, and because few support services can be provided by local sub-contractors, the investor has to establish the entire system required for successful farm operation: e.g. farm machinery cannot be rented, expatriate staff has to be recruited because management for large farm operations cannot be hired locally, and processing facilities have to be established 70. For example, in Ethiopia, investors have encountered difficulty transporting agricultural machinery and skilled labor to the most remote areas of the landlocked country{10}. As a result, numerous foreign agricultural land acquisitions have not been as successful as predicted. For example, in Ethiopia, only 35 per cent of the leased land has been developed and the Ethiopian government has cancelled seven leases after investors failed to deliver on their promises{11}. In addition, the food commodity crash in the second half of 2008 reduced the urgency for agricultural investments 32. Further, challenges exist even in countries and regions that are food secure such as California 71 (Box 6).

Finally, another issue related to foreign agro-investments, is that they do not guarantee food security in times of crisis. In case of food crises, there is the risk that the host country may renege on a contract or restrict exports. While the WTO outlaws curbs on industrial exports, it allows for agricultural export restrictions in the case of domestic food security concerns. It would be hardly conceivable to enforce delivery of food items from distressed countries 32.

6.2. Stockpiling

Recognizing the unreliability of imports and in order to be less susceptible to price fluctuations, since 2007-2008, GCC states invested in strategic reserves to ensure supplies for domestic consumption. Stockpiling can provide GCC governments with a degree of insurance against price and supply risks 28. In fact, stockpiling can strengthen purchasing power by signaling to sellers that countries have alternative sources of supply, militating against price gouging 28. While stockpiling is a more efficient strategy than the pursuit of an alleged self-sufficiency, it involves many potential risks 42. Firstly, stockpiling is expensive due to the risk of spoilage 25, particularly due to post-harvest insect pests and grain pathogens and the need to cycle the stock periodically. Secondly, ensuring safe grain storage requires technologies that leave no residues on the stored grain that may harm the consumer and demand environmental conditions such as low temperature and low oxygen, which will make it energy intensive in the climates of the GCC states 42. Given the difficulties of domestic production, stockpiling will likely remain an important strategy for GCC countries in the future. Oman, for example, announced in 2018 plans to develop an agricultural bulk terminal in Salalah with a storage capacity of 60,000 tons of grain reserves, and handling equipment capable of handling 15,000 MT of grain per day; designed to serve as a trading hub for the region and to store grain for the country{12}.

6.3. Innovation in Agriculture: Towards Sustainable Food Production

The third set of strategies – which will become critical if multiple trade routes are simultaneously disrupted – is to increase the potential for domestic production 25. However, as explained above, past GCC experience to increase local food production resulted in serious environmental damages and heavy drainage of the non-renewable water resources with little productive results. Consequently, there is, hence, a need for a transition towards sustainable food systems that ensure food and nutrition security 72, 73. In fact, in arid and semi-arid countries, such as the Gulf region, where natural resources are scarce, there is a need for strategies to produce more food with less land and water. GCC’s agriculture is based on traditional irrigation methods with a low use efficiency and aquifers have been heavily exploited above the average natural recharge. In this context, new technologies and innovative practices such as hydroponics, greenhouses, modern irrigation systems (e.g. drip irrigation), and appropriate crops that would suit the local climatic conditions, can be used to increase the productivity and the sustainability of agriculture systems 74, 75, within a positive enabling environment supported by efficient policies 76. Hence, water shortage in GCC countries requires developing new technologies and methods of irrigation that can be helpful to utilize this precious input in an effective way 77. In addition, there is also a need to carry out practices of irrigation water management to achieve high water use efficiency and to increase the productivity of existing water resources and also to produce more food with less water 78. This necessitates innovative and sustainable research and an appropriate transfer of technologies 79. Further, another issue related to agriculture innovation is the adoption and integration of new technologies (cf. innovations) into agricultural production. Low adoption rates of new and potentially beneficial agricultural technologies in many countries continues to contribute to food insecurity and low agricultural productivity 80. Another solution related to water is to increase the use of wastewater. Many GCC countries use treated wastewater to irrigate certain types of crops. While Kuwait and Saudi Arabia reuse about 50% of their total wastewater, Bahrain and Qatar only reuse about 10-15%. Public perception and stigma represent a considerable hurdle in expanding the use of this strategy 25.

6.4. Reducing Food Waste

Ironically, another issue related to food security in the GCC is food waste. The Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) do stand out as among the world’s top food wasters 81. On an average, GCC countries waste a third of the food imported, and the UAE is estimated to lose billions of dirhams through food waste each year. On a per capita basis, Saudi Arabia wastes the most food annually, at 427 kg per person{13}., while the UAE ranks 22nd out of 25 with wastage of 196.6 kg, compared with 95-115/person in Europe and North America 82. Though prices for the food commodities are on the rise in the international markets yet the GCC governments provides food items to the consumers at highly subsidized rates. Since the prices for the food items are not very high, therefore, GCC citizens take food items for granted 81.

7. Conclusion

GCC – countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) face specific challenges for achieving long-term, sustainable food security. Food security is a holistic concept that involves economic, social, cultural, environmental and political aspects. However, food security is still a misunderstood operational concept in the public policy in the GCC 27 42. The contemporary discourse is still characterized by a broad emphasis on the supply-side, reflecting the global perception from the 1970’s 42. There is, hence, a need for a transition towards sustainable food systems that ensure food and nutrition security through a mix of strategies and policies that address all the four dimensions of food security (availability, access, utilization, stability).

There is also a need for transition towards a sustainable local food production. In this context, new technologies and innovative practices, that would suit the local climatic and soil conditions, can be used, to increase the productivity and the sustainability of agriculture systems. However, the paucity of current research on the dynamics and characteristics of innovation and technologies adoption within the agriculture sector in GCC and its link to food security and sustainability leaves a major and worrying gap in the knowledge base needed to form effective policies. Further, studies detailing the factors that influence the interactions between the different stakeholders and what does this imply for knowledge production and exchange, and consequently innovation, are lacking. There is a need for research to identify the main obstacles and the factors that influence innovation, technologies adoption, knowledge sharing and cooperation within the agriculture sector in the GCC. Furthermore, the food crisis of 2007-2008 and the need to increase the local food production is an opportunity for a systemic and holistic approach of innovation that considers the several aspects of food production, including agricultural production, economic development, environmental sustainability, and institutions, taking into account at the same time all the elements, their interconnections and related effects. A more system-oriented understanding of how innovation occurs is critical to promoting dynamism in agriculture and, ultimately, to enhancing agri-food productivity and sustainability in GCC countries.

Notes

1. The Global Food Security Index considers the core issues of affordability, availability, and quality across a set of 113 countries.

2. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/2821312/Clerics-tell-Saudi-rulers-to-curb-inflation.html

3. Agricultural land refers to the share of land area that is arable, under permanent crops, and under permanent pastures. Land under permanent crops is land cultivated with crops that occupy the land for long periods and need not be replanted after each harvest. Arable land refers to land under temporary crops (double-cropped areas are counted once), temporary meadows for mowing or for pasture, land under market or kitchen gardens, and land temporarily fallow. http://www.fao.org/faoterm/viewentry/en/?entryId=162552.

4. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.ARBL.ZS

5. In the GCC, the annual precipitation (P) is less than two thirds of the potential evapotranspiration-PET (evaporation from soil plus transpiration by plants) 24.

6. Total per-capita internally available renewable water is defined as “the sum of internal renewable water resources and external actual renewable water resources”.

7. To provide water for their populations despite low levels of freshwater resources, GCC countries rely on desalination. Desalination provides the majority of potable water (more than 70%), and a large percentage of total water usage including industry, irrigation, municipal drinking water, and other uses 25.

8. The ratio between effective water use and actual water withdrawal. It characterizes, in a specific process, how effective is the use of water.

9. https://ciat.cgiar.org/what-we-do/climate-smart-agriculture/

10. https://ig.ft.com/sites/land-rush-investment/ethiopia/

11. https://ig.ft.com/sites/land-rush-investment/ethiopia/

12. https://www.omanobserver.om/new-agriculture-bulk-facility-set-up-in-salalah/.

13. http://foodsustainability.eiu.com/gulf-region/.

References

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Tarek Ben Hassen, Hamid El Bilali. Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Challenges and Prospects. Journal of Food Security. Vol. 7, No. 5, 2019, pp 159-169. http://pubs.sciepub.com/jfs/7/5/2
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Hassen, Tarek Ben, and Hamid El Bilali. "Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Challenges and Prospects." Journal of Food Security 7.5 (2019): 159-169.
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Hassen, T. B. , & Bilali, H. E. (2019). Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Challenges and Prospects. Journal of Food Security, 7(5), 159-169.
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Hassen, Tarek Ben, and Hamid El Bilali. "Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Challenges and Prospects." Journal of Food Security 7, no. 5 (2019): 159-169.
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In article      View Article
 
[4]  Committee on World Food Security, Coming to terms with terminology: Food security, Nutrition security, Food security and nutrition, Food and nutrition security. 2012. http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/sites/default/files/file/Terminology/ MD776(CFS___Coming_to_terms_with_Terminology).pdf.
In article      
 
[5]  Gross R., Schoeneberger H., Pfeifer H. and Preuss H.J, The Four Dimensions of Food and Nutrition Security: Definitions and Concepts. FAO, Rome. 2000.
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[6]  Ingram J.S.I, From Food Production to Food Security: Developing interdisciplinary, regional-level research. Wageningen University, Wageningen. 2011.
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[7]  Lang T. and Barling D, “Food security and food sustainability: Reformulating the debate”, The Geographical Journal, 178 (4). 313-326. 2012.
In article      View Article
 
[8]  McMichael, P, “Rethinking ‘Food Security’ for the New Millennium: Sage Advice”, Sociologia Ruralis 54 (1). 109-111. 2014.
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[9]  Dumont, R. and Rosier, B, The hungry future. Deutsch, London. 1969.
In article      
 
[10]  George S, How the other half dies: The real reasons for world hunger. Penguin, Harmondsworth. 1976.
In article      
 
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In article      
 
[12]  Prosekov A.Y. and Ivanova S.A, “Food security: The challenge of the present”, Geoforum, 93. 73-77. May 2018.
In article      View Article
 
[13]  Sen A, Poverty and famines: An essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press, New York. 1981.
In article      
 
[14]  FAO, Rome Declaration on Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. Rome. 1996.
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In article      View Article
 
[18]  FAO, WFP and IFAD, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013: The Multiple Dimensions of Food Security. FAO, Rome. 2013.
In article      
 
[19]  United Nations System High Level Task Force on Global Food Security, Food and Nutrition Security Comprehensive Framework for Action. Summary of the Updated Comprehensive Framework for Action (UCFA). Rome. 2011.
In article      
 
[20]  El Bilali, H, “Research on agro-food sustainability transitions: where are food security and nutrition?” Food Security, 11 (3). 559-577. 2019.
In article      View Article
 
[21]  FAO, Regional Overview of Food Insecurity - Near East and North Africa: Strengthening Regional Collaboration to Build Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition. FAO, Cairo. 2015.
In article      
 
[22]  Breisinger, C., Rheenen, T., van, C., Ringler, A., Nin-Pratt, N., Minot, C., Aragon, B., Yu, O., Ecker, Zhu, T, Food security and economic development in the Middle East and North Africa: Current state and future perspectives. IFPRI discussion paper. 2010.
In article      
 
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In article      
 
[24]  Shahid S., Ahmed M. (eds) Environmental Cost and Face of Agriculture in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. Springer, Cham. 2014.
In article      View Article
 
[25]  Efron S., Fromm C., Gelfeld B., Nataraj S. and Sova C, Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Emerge85 and the RAND Corporation. 2018. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/external_publication s/EP60000/EP67748/RAND_EP67748.pdf.
In article      
 
[26]  The Economist Intelligence Unit, Global Food Security Index 2018: Building resilience in the face of rising food-security risks. 2018. https://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com.
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[27]  Babar, Z. and Kamrava, M, “Food Security and Food Sovereignty in the Middle East”, In Babar, Z. and S. Mirgani, eds. Food Security in the Middle East. Hurst/Oxford University Press. 2014.
In article      View Article
 
[28]  Bailey, R. and Willoughby, R, Edible Oil: Food Security in the Gulf, Chatham House, London. 2013.
In article      
 
[29]  Lippman, T. W, “Saudi Arabia's quest for "food security”, Middle East Policy, 17 (1). 90-98. 2010.
In article      View Article
 
[30]  Scardigno, A., Capone R., El Bilali H., Cardone G, “Water-food security nexus in Middle East and North Africa Region: an exploratory assessment”, New Medit, 16 (4). 31-38. 2017.
In article      
 
[31]  ESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia), Arab Horizon 2030: Prospects for Enhancing Food Security in the Arab Region. 2017.
In article      
 
[32]  Woertz, E, “Arab Food, Water, and the Big Landgrab that Wasn’t”, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 18 (1). 119-132. Fall/Winter 2011.
In article      
 
[33]  Alpen Capital, GCC Food Industry. 2015.
In article      
 
[34]  Woertz, E. S. Pradhan, N. Biberovic and Jingzhong, C, Potential for GCC Agro-investments in Africa and Central Asia. Gulf Research Center (GRC) Report. 2008a. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/111335/Potential_for_GCC_Agro_5729.pdf.
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[35]  Woertz, E. S. Pradhan, N. Biberovic and Koch, C, Food Inflation in the GCC Countries. Gulf Research Center (GRC) Report. 2008b. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/111316/food_inflation_3609.pdf.
In article      
 
[36]  Brinkman H.-J. and Hendrix, C. S, Food Insecurity and Violent Conflict: Causes, Consequences, and Addressing the Challenges. World Food Programme. Occasional Paper n° 24. 2011.
In article      View Article
 
[37]  Woertz, E, Oil for Food: The Global Food Crisis and the Middle East. Oxford University Press. 2013.
In article      View Article
 
[38]  Ramady, M.A, Saudi Arabian Economy: Policies, Achievements and Challenges. New York: Springer. 2010.
In article      View Article
 
[39]  The Economist Intelligence Unit, The GCC in 2020: Resources for the future. 2010. http://graphics.eiu.com/upload/eb/GCC_in_2020_Resources_WEB.pdf.
In article      
 
[40]  Saif, O., T. Mezher and Arafat, H. A, “Water security in the GCC countries: challenges and opportunities”, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 4 (4). 329-346. 2014.
In article      View Article
 
[41]  OECD and FAO, Agricultural Outlook 2018‑2027, Special focus: Middle East and North Africa. OECD Publishing, Paris/Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. 2018.
In article      
 
[42]  Spiess, A, Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Economies, Working Paper. Hamburg: NDRD. 2011. http://www.ndrd.org/Spiess_- _Working_Paper_on_Food_Security_in_the_GCC.pdf.
In article      View Article
 
[43]  Omar, S.A. and Shahid S.A, Reconnaissance soil survey for the state of Kuwait. In: Shahid SA, Taha FK, Abdelfattah MA (eds) Developments in soil classification, land use planning and policy implications: innovative thinking of soil inventory for land use Planning and management of land resources. Springer, Dordrecht/Heidelberg/New York/London, pp 85-107. 2013.
In article      View Article
 
[44]  Abdal, M.S, Suleiman M.K, Soil conservation through mulching. Desertification in arid lands: causes, consequences and mitigation. Paper presented at the international conference on desertification control in the arid region, 12-15 May. 2007.
In article      
 
[45]  Al-Menaie, H. S, Prospects of Agriculture in the State of Kuwait-Constraints and Opportunities. In: Shahid S., Ahmed M. (eds) Environmental Cost and Face of Agriculture in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. Springer, Cham. pp 43-59. 2014.
In article      View Article
 
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