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The gulf region being in a location with low rainfall that can hardly sustain any agricultural activity, has been rendered insufficient in food security. Its surging population, which is projected to hit 60 million by the year 2030 (Woertz, 2009), has worsened the situation, calling the authorities to act and give clear policies to curb the vice in the short- and the long-term. To increase production to ensure self-sufficiency and averting food crisis, the Gulf countries have to counter the looming food crisis by investing heavily in the use of irrigation. This responded positively, given the production boom of the 1990s, according to Woertz (2009), but it has been dealt a blow by the new facts of the reduced fossil water reserves in the kingdom, making the authorities to phase out water-intensive irrigation projects.
This has added a new twist to the ecological factor of reduced water, which is a scarce resource in the region. Water-intensive wheat production has to be done away with to pave the way to other projects, like the use of greenhouse to produce horticultural products, which use less water but produce high production. It is also evident that the current production of grains in the region is also dwindling day by day (Woertz, 2009). This has made the authorities think beyond the box, and it will not take any chances as it is the primary responsibility of the state to ensure food security to its citizens. Food security can be equated to the elimination of hunger, and at the same time, food should be available in the desired quality and quantity through domestic production or importation.
Water being a scarce resource puts the authorities in a hard situation whether to continue producing wheat to meet its increased demand for grains and conserving the water through cutting production on wheat production or doing away with it completely. An example is Saudi Arabia, where imports stand at 60% of the total food consumption (Woertz, 2009), which signals that importation might pose challenges since it is not sustainable in the long run.
This is because importation is subject to fluctuation in world prices that have many influences, which in turn might affect supply chains. This is the reason why as much as importation is a remedy to averting food shortage; they will not rely on it as it can prove to be an expensive affair in case of disruption in the world prices. Such disruptions may alter supply and are not limited to a bilateral disagreement between the countries in question (the exporters of the product).
The gulf countries have also tried to invest in agro investment in countries like Brazil, Ethiopia, and Vietnam to engage in batter trade. As such, they provide them with oil and get food products in exchange because these countries produce them in surplus. As much as this is a lucrative idea, lack of technological know-how and expertise has been a major setback leading to the involvement of other arms like the FAO and the World Bank. Overdependence of these countries on rainfall for food production can also spell doom for the industry if the failure of rain sets in, which will cut production substantially (Southgate, Graham & Tweeten, 2007).
The new venture that these countries have tried to increase production is focusing on less developed countries in Asia and Africa. Here, they venture in by buying large tracts of land which they intend to plant food crops and import to their home countries. This is called land acquisition, which at times, comes with harsh conditions. Land acquisition can be said to be a “win-win” (Behnassi, Shahid & D’Silva, 2011) investment in Africa. Apart from building a lasting relationship and partnership, it will also gain massively in infrastructure and technology development of some regions, especially with small-scale farmers.
This has made Africa become a hot cake and of strategic importance when it comes to food security. It has been seen as a long and short-term solution for food security by developed nations like China who have scarce land and polluted water. GCC has also strategized itself for a share in this untapped potential. Amid this scramble for land in Africa, it is a challenge in itself, putting in mind that it also has a growing population to feed. China began to look earnestly into this direction, thus generating new dynamism of power with the onset of competition for farmland and investments in agro-businesses.
As a result and in the light of this race for supplies and the possible longevity of the crisis, the GCC states should start to think of establishing a strategic partnership with Africa. It has ventured into Sudan to secure some land for business, but the main challenge is the fact that the people of Sudan also depend on aid food. Therefore if GCC is going to invest there, they must provide some percentage of their produce to feed the population hence reducing the amount of food produced to be exported. Some countries might set conditions of satisfying their population before any product is exported.
Most of the land that is given to these countries was not idle land in the first place, and this will mean the displacement of farmers from their land. As much as it will guarantee employment to the residents of the area, most will not relinquish their land and opt to be employed because they will not be able to produce on their own, and the proceeds from the farms will go for exports. At some point, occupants, especially those subsistence farmers, might, in turn, retaliate. It has not been received well by farmers who are the occupants of the land in question, Kenya, for example, where Qatar’s announced that it is leasing 40,000 hectares (Woertz, 2009).
If, in any case, Qatar invests heavily on the land, then the project stalls midway due to retaliation by the communities living there, and there will be no gain in the investment at all. It will not last and might not realize its goals at the end of it. Some diplomats have also termed it as “neo-colonization” and land grabbing (Butterly & Shepherd, 2010). This might not auger well with the host and might strain relationships in the near future, leading to heavy losses due to massive investments that have been made. Such utterances are a recipe for the failure of the projects.
The population in Africa is growing exponentially; thus, food production must be increased to meet the growing demand, hence a major challenge for the investors. They must ensure that proper measures are being put in place to counter the deficit. This can only be possible if the two partners work collaboratively to guarantee its success.
For the Gulf nations to realize food security, it will take more effort to come up with the correct policies. It is evident that they cannot meet their demand by being self-sufficient producers but must go global to look for ways of getting food at an affordable cost and be able to sustain it. The best way to do so is to get land and invest in it in other countries since they have the capital and the developing nations have the land and the labor force.
They should enter into an agreement that calls for proper evaluation of cost-benefit analysis and putting in mind diplomacy issues that are also important. This will go a long way in sustaining the relationship and having mutual benefits for both partners. GCC should look at these countries as long term partners and not a quick fix to their problem at hand. The host country should also ensure that it thoroughly involves all the stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition of the project and its success. This involves a lot of delicate diplomacy and lots of consultations.
Behnassi, M. Shahid, S. A. and D’Silva, J. (2011). Sustainable agricultural development: recent approaches in resources management and environmentally -balanced production enhancement. New York, NY: Springer.
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Butterly, J. R. and Shepherd, J. (2010). Hunger: The biology and politics of starvation. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.
Southgate, D. D., Graham, D. H. and Tweeten, L. G. (2007). The world food economy. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Woertz, E. (2009). Gulf food security needs delicate diplomacy. Financial Times. Web.