Reliance on food imports is problematic when countries such as Argentina suddenly restrict their exports in response to rising prices. Buying farmland in countries such as Sudan, Tanzania and Pakistan is another Gulf ploy. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are among the top ten investors in land abroad, according to Land Matrix, a body that tracks such deals. But this has drawbacks, too. Getting big projects off the ground in places that lack infrastructure is tricky. And Gulf states who fund them have sometimes been accused of being neocolonial.
Many of the region’s rulers are now considering investing in food companies abroad, often in more developed countries. The UAE’s Al Dahra Agriculture, which works closely with the government and owns land abroad, recently bought eight farm companies in Serbia for $400m. It has also invested in an Indian rice producer. In addition, countries like Saudi Arabia are looking at ways of keeping strategic food reserves.
Gulf rulers may end up following a mixture of such strategies to fill their peoples’ stomachs. They should at least be commended for grappling with the problem, says a regional food expert. Poorer and hungrier Arab countries, like Egypt and Yemen, are far less willing to address it.
Food security in the Gulf: How to keep stomachs full, Economist, Feb. 22, 2014