More than 200 agriculture, poultry, fishing and horticulture businesses will gather in Dubai this month for AGRA, the Middle East’s largest agribusiness trade event, to address the region’s food security issues.
The Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of food security as the unsuitable climate, limited water resources and uncultivable soil make food production difficult.
The Economist Intelligence Unit recently predicted that the value of food imports into the GCC alone will hit US$53.1 billion by 2020, more than double the value in 2010 (US$25.8 billion).
Saudi Arabia alone is expected to import more than 2.4 million tonnes of livestock forage by 2016 if it maintains its current rate.
Richard Pavitt, exhibition director of AGRA Middle East said: “Approximately 90 per cent of the food requirements are met through imports and with the GCC population expected to reach 50 million by 2020, there is an increased urgency within the region to look at more sustainable and self sufficient means of securing its food resources.
“To that end, AGRA Middle East provides an ideal platform for companies to share expertise, experience and ideas to realise goals of food security and sustainable development.”
One of the reasons for the huge amounts of imported stock is the growing success and expansion of the Middle East’s dairy industry.
Saudi Arabia is home to some of the most advanced dairy farms in the world – including the largest vertically integrated dairy company, Almarai – and is a major exporter of dairy derivative products to neighbouring Gulf and Middle East countries.
According to Business Monitor International, milk production in Saudi Arabia will grow by 27 per cent by 2016, reaching 2.4 million tonnes.
John Lawton, general manager of the Agricultural Technology Company in Saudi Arabia, said: “This export has led the Saudi government to insist that for every litre of milk exported from the Kingdom, an equivalent amount of one kilogram of livestock forage is imported.
“Already this has significantly increased the importation of alfalfa and other baled forages into Saudi, which has in turn released arable land for the production of other crops.”
While the Kingdom’s dairy industry continues to expand, its grain industry will soon be completely phased out.
Since 2007, wheat production has fallen 12 per cent annually and will be completely eradicated by 2016.
Business Monitor International predicts that 2.3 million tonnes of wheat will be imported into Saudi Arabia this year, a rise of 80 per cent from 2008.
Organisations from more than 30 countries are expected to attend the seventh AGRA event with the organisers, Informa Exhibitions, reporting increased exhibitor space of 20 per cent compared to 2012.
Pavitt added: “The event is growing every year, and the 2013 edition is set to be the largest so far.”