Without its oil wealth, Saudi Arabia’s 27 million inhabitants would eventually starve. At a recent social event, the country’s Minister of Agriculture Fahd Balghunaim warned that the ratio of food and water in the kingdom is perilously out of balance.
But oil wealth currently ensures that its own population will be fed in the decades to come, as it enables the kingdom to invest huge sums to develop agriculture projects in Africa, Turkey, and elsewhere. By 2100, at least 10 billion people will be jostling for food and other natural resources. As long as it continues to earn money from oil exports, Saudi will not get left behind.
In addition to its projected $2.5 billion investment in Ethiopia and $600 billion in Turkey’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors over the next two decades, Saudi Arabia currently spends $1 billion on food imports every month.
These ease pressure on the domestic agricultural sector, which uses up scant water resources.
With desalination providing nearly 70% of its total water supply and quickly usurping its finite oil resources, the Kingdom has resorted to several plans to cut back water use.
Mr. Balghunaim said that his ministry is growing less wheat in favor of increasing less water-intensive berseem fodder production and that new irrigation methods are being explored. He also lamented that the Al-Jouf olive festival is an “extravagance of no benefit.”
An unknown company has invested $50 million to establish a center of sustainable agriculture and an international council for dates will be headquartered in Riyadh.
Since date palm trees consume considerable quantities of water, Mr. Balghunaim noted that Saudi is not interested in “going over the top with them” and that the kingdom is currently mostly concerned with packaging rather than production.
Peak oil is the kingdom’s leading nemesis. Currently 80% of its revenues are based on petroleum, which its own residents are burning at speed. Remove oil from the equation, and Saudi Arabia stands to lose so much more than just the food war.