Saudi Arabia revamps farming to cut water consumption

By Eliot Beer

- Last updated on GMT

Saudi Arabia is looking for ways to reduce water consumption and improve efficiency
Saudi Arabia is looking for ways to reduce water consumption and improve efficiency

Related tags: Saudi arabia, Wheat, Agriculture

Saudi Arabia is overhauling its agricultural sector to reduce water consumption and improve efficiency, according to the chairman of the country's Agriculture Development Fund (ADF).

In addition to ending domestic wheat production by 2015, the ADF set up an information sharing initiative and has overhauled the fruit and vegetable supply chain. Agriculture authorities have also worked to improve other sectors, particularly date production, poultry and livestock feed.

Agriculture currently accounts for 88% of Saudi Arabia's water consumption. The country aims to reduce consumption from 17 billion cubic metres annually, to around 5 billion cubic metres, Abdullah Al-Rubai’an, chairman of the Agriculture Development Fund, told a conference, in remarks released this month.

Making agriculture sustainable

Definitely the main issue is an ecological issue, it's the water... The ADF decided to have a new strategy and with it to utilise a few initiatives; seven initiatives to help in restructuring agriculture and hopefully making it sustainable. And the sustainability will come from rationalising the water but also from reducing waste and making the supply chains very efficient​,” Al-Rubai’an told the US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum.

He said Saudi Arabia had learned from projects in California, Arizona and Australia when looking for ways to reduce consumption and improve efficiency. Another major strategy was smarter investment in water-intensive crops outside the country, according to Al-Rubai'an.

The Kingdom would like to complement its local production with the crops that could be grown outside where there is water which are water intensive crops. And to do this the government has given the private sector the opportunity to invest outside, and ADF is supposed to provide the financial loans to help in this objective​,” he said.

Shift to wheat imports

The most prominent example is Saudi Arabia's shift from domestic wheat production to imports. From 2008, the first year of imports, the country produced 85% of its wheat. Last year, domestic production had fallen to 20%, with Saudi farmers producing only 800,000 tonnes of the country's 3.2 million-tonne what supply, according to His Excellency Waleed A Elkhereiji, director general of Saudi Arabia's Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organisation.

GSFMO insures its wheat supply from several countries, and is currently looking to expand its import base to include hard and soft wheat. When we started import we used to only import hard wheat, now we introduce soft wheat, and that’s good, more diversity​,” said Elkhereiji at the forum.

More than half of Saudi Arabia's wheat imports came from the European Union, with 20% from Canada, 12% from the USA, 10% from Australia, and 3% each from Brazil and Argentina, according to Elkhereiji.

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