Middle East Faces Food Crisis

Despite ample oil wealth, several Middle Eastern counties, including Saudi Arabia, face an uncertain future as climate change threatens to undermine an already delicate ecological and agricultural balance.

Saudi agriculture is both surprisingly resilient and increasingly fragile. While the nation is primarily a desert, there are pockets of arable land suitable for agricultural production. In addition, the Saudi government has invested billions of dollars since the 1970s into modernizing the Saudi farm sector, creating a desert landscape pockmarked by clusters of verdant fields.

The massive efforts have produced tangible results. Saudi Arabia, whose temperatures regularly reach 100 degrees, became the sixth largest exporter of wheat in the 1990s after investing more than $85 billion.

The agricultural advances, however, cannot last. While the country still has ample oil revenue, water supplies are dwindling and can no longer support massive agricultural projects. In 2008, the Saudis abandoned their focus on wheat production, hoping instead to use their water resources on more cost-efficient produce like fruits and vegetables.

The Saudi agricultural renaissance rested on a massive underground water reservoir, containing hundreds of millions of acre-feet of water. The agricultural projects in the Arabian Peninsula, however, have drained these reserves to about 1/5 of their capacity, with experts predicting that they will soon be empty.

The collapsing agricultural situation in Saudi Arabia is hardly isolated. Farmers across the globe are facing an increasingly hostile climate, limiting their ability to mass-produce certain crops. Without technological breakthroughs and a renewed emphasis on sustainable agriculture, many developing nations are likely to face food insecurity.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer