Saudi Arabia has a very hot climate and very little arable land. Yet it is home to 16 million citizens and about 9 million ex-pat workers. Where do they get their food?
Saudi Arabia grows some of it’s own food, and it has farms for poultry and cows, but most of the food is imported. Saudi Arabia spends about 6 billion a year on imported food. And food for the poultry, sheep and cows is also imported.
Keeping cows in the desert is a very expensive project.
The Afu-Safi diary farm in Saudi Arabia originated in the 1970’s. It was modelled on a dairy farm in California, but is twice the size holding 38,000 cows. Each cow requires 30 gallons of water per day for drinking and cooling. Oil drilling technology was used to reach aquifers beneath the desert.
There is also a growing ”outsourcing” of the food supply. Saudi Arabia’s Hail Agricultural Development Company, Hadco, stopped producing wheat in 2008 and is purchasing land abroad. Hadco has already purchased 9,239 hectares of land in Sudan, and is considering purchasing another 32,755 hectares in Sudan within the next five years to grow wheat, corn and other crops to be used for feeding livestock. In January 2009 Saudi Arabia received the first batch of rice produced abroad.
Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia, and Asian states, have purchased a total of over 20,230,000 hectares of land suitable for arable crops in Africa in the past years, about ten per cent of the farmed land in Africa. This would secure food supply and stable prices for the wealthy importing countries. The likely outcomes for exporting countries like Sudan, which are unable to feed their own people, appear less favourable
A Naijdi sheep costs twice as much as an imported sheep.
Saudi Arabia has indigenous sheep, but at least 75% of the sheep consumed are imported.
Saudi Arabia imports close to 18 million sheep and goats per year. More than a million sheep are imported for Hajj and eid alone.
To feed all these sheep Saudi Arabia also imports enormous amounts of Barley, mostly from Russia and the Ukraine.
One reason why barley imports in Saudi Arabia are so high are subsidies. The Saudi Government encourages a sheep fattening industry. Economically it makes more sense to import lamb and feed it on subsidized barley than importing grown up sheep.
This industry is mostly located in Jeddah and other coastal cities, not in traditional livestock rearing areas.
Beside this industry barley subsidies are also important to feed the camel and sheep of Bedouin in rural areas and ensure tribal loyalty there.
Animal activists complain about the horrible treatment of animals sent on ships to the middle east, a yearly loss of 2 million animals is considered a sustainable risk by the companies who deal in them. Many animal lovers also complain about the way these animals are slaughtered, which is considered animal abuse.
With an ever increasing population and no chance to ever be able to grow enough food to be selfsufficient Saudi Arabia is in a very dangerous position. One could imagine when the oil dries up, and no other industry of note there would be nothing which could keep the Saudi population alive. They would have to either mass emigrate, or die of starvation.