The report warned that the volatile political situation in the Middle East could threaten food security in the GCC. Coupled with Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, the current situation could affect the stability of the import trade on which the region so heavily relies.
The author of the report was Rob Bailey, senior research fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources. He argues that the three main maritime ‘choke points’ that surround the GCC could be closed as a result of conflict or political manoeuvres, heavily impacting the region, which depends on imports for 80-90 per cent of its food.
Bailey’s report claims: "Recent events such as the 2011 Arab uprisings, continued instability in Egypt and Syria, threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz and repeated spikes in international food prices have sharpened these risks. The worst-case scenario is conflict in the wider Middle East and North Africa region that disrupts multiple import routes for a sustained period.”
Bailey continues: “All the Gulf countries’ imports from North America, South America, Europe and the Black Sea must pass through the Suez Canal, which militants recently tried to close by firing rocket propelled grenades at a container ship. Were Suez to close, imports would have to be re-routed round the Cape of Good Hope. But were regional conflict to close both Suez and the Strait of Hormuz, then Gulf governments could face real difficulties getting enough food into their countries.”
According to Chatham House, the idea of food self-sufficiency within Gulf countries is an understandably attractive notion; however the scarcity of water in the region makes this difficult.
While most GCC members already hold strategic cereal reserves as a cheaper and environmentally sustainable option, Chatham House suggests that developing ports on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean coasts, then linking these by rail could diversify the import routes on which the region relies.
The full report is available here.