Saudi reaps benefits of first offshore rice production

Middle East Online | 2009-02-03

Saudi reaps benefits of first offshore rice production
First cargo of rice arrives in oil-rich kingdom amid mixed feelings over business ethics.

By Habib Trabelsi - Paris

Having scarce water resources but possessing the world’s largest oil wealth, the semi-desert Saudi Arabia has just began to reap the dividends of offshore agricultural production, with the arrival in the kingdom of the first cargo of rice.

The arrival of this cargo, whose country of origin and quantity were not disclosed, was the opportunity for King Abdullah to encourage the Minister of Trade and Industry, who chairs a Ministerial Committee for overseas agricultural investment, to move forward.

Black gold for a green revolution … offshore

According to official media, King Abdullah "welcomed the positive results of this initiative and urged the Ministerial Committee to redouble their efforts to achieve the set objectives" when he received on January 26 the Minister of Trade and the Industry, Abdullah Zinelli.

The minister was accompanied by two Saudi businessmen, Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi and Hassan Abdallah al-Masri who are engaged in "King Abdullah’s initiative” to ensure the kingdom’s food self-sufficiency.

Like the other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia has seen in recent months the bill of its food imports skyrocket under the impact of the global food crisis and the decline of US dollar.

With more than 24 million inhabitants, Saudi Arabia has always been and remains the largest importer in the GCC, which also groups Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

The poles of attraction for Saudi investors

According to official media, the Committee has already visited several countries as part of this "initiative", especially Turkey, Ukraine, Egypt, Sudan, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Vietnam and Ethiopia.

Other targeted countries include Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, Georgia, Brazil ... and the list is not closed.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have been offered to Saudi investors.

The target country must have fertile and promising lands. It must provide encouraging administrative facilities. More importantly, investors need to recover some of the crops according to "reasonable quotas", which will be exported to the Saudi market, according to the investment criteria set by the Ministerial Committee.

Goal: food self-sufficiency

This "initiative" has, since its launch last summer, been the subject of much controversy, reported by the local press.

Many economists argue "objective reasons" which justify the use of offshore food production, including the rise of food prices in the world market and the dwindling US dollar which resulted in a heavy inflation and severe shortage of basic foodstuffs such as rice, especially after the interruption of supplies of Asian rice, including from India and Pakistan.

Rice prices have almost doubled in recent months in the kingdom, because of the growing demand and insufficient supply. According to press reports, the price of a 5 kg bag of ''basmati rice'' rose from 35 to 75 Saudi riyals.

Moreover, the kingdom had tried in the 1980s to achieve food self-sufficiency. It had even won the expensive bet to become in less than a decade the sixth largest producer of wheat and had ceased to import dairy and poultry products.

A new food imperialism!

However, other experts cited by websites, denounced "the grip" of Saudi billionaires on other countries’ fertile lands which are the only means of subsistence of their populations.

"Now the petrodollars of Gulf monarchies have become a means of pressure to snatch the agricultural land from poor countries. Who said that colonialism was over?” Asked one of the experts.

"And even if they are public officials who negotiate and conclude the transactions, it is the private investors who speculate, do business and reap the benefits of these transactions," said another.

"Details please! and cheap rice!"

"More details please!" Wrote Saturday (February 1) without complacency Hmoud Abu Taleb, a well-known journalist of the daily Al-Madina, urging more information on the first cargo of rice.

"While these are private investors, but the money belongs to the motherland," said Abu Taleb, raising several questions about “the management of these investments" and" long-term strategies” that are to be adopted in case of major political developments in the target countries.

"The ordinary citizen does without details in which only speculators are interested," said Osama.

"All we want is rice at an affordable price," added Osama whom for that rice, especially Basmati and other varieties of quality, has become a luxury product.

Translated by Dr. Saad Guerraoui, Senior Editor at Middle East Online
Original source: Middle East Online

Post a comment


Email address (optional - if you want a reply)