Gulf states look to harvest food from foreign investment

DUBAI, July 20, 2008 (AFP) – Faced with a scarcity of fertile land, water shortages and surging world food prices, wealthy Arab states in the Gulf are seeking to secure their food supplies by investing in agriculture abroad. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the top food importers among Arab countries in the Gulf, are now looking to Asia and Africa as opportunities for agricultural investments.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan said in Kazakhstan on Monday that his country, which imports around 85 percent of its food, is interested in the central Asian nation “to diversify its sources of food supplies.”

Investing in agriculture abroad “is part of our strategic investment in general,” UAE Economy Minister Sultan bin Said al-Mansuri said earlier this month.

Rapid growth fuelled by record oil revenues has triggered a huge influx of expatriates in the Gulf, steadily boosting populations and stretching the ability to meet demand for mostly imported foodstuffs.

The total population of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — rose from around 30 million in 2000 to more than 35 million in 2006, according to GCC statistics.