Water and Food Security in Saudi Arabia

Cited from http://www.ufz.de

Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that face many challenges related to water and food security. As it is known, Saudi Arabia geographically is made up of mostly desert. Therefore, it cannot grow its crops since it has a huge water scarcity. However, the situation of Saudi Arabia is much better than other MENA region nations. The huge oil rent that the country has really helps to balance between the supply and the demand of food and water.

Food Security: 

Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that are considered as relatively food secure countries. The country has a very large oil reserve that allows it to keep up with the internal high demand of food. The country has enough money to support food import [1]. However, as it was mentioned above, the country is relatively food secure not completely secure. In fact, Saudi Arabia is under a very high risk. The status of food security is going to be directly connected with the status of oil. When oil price is high, the country is going to be able to stabilize prices of food. On the other hand, when the oil price is low, the country is going to be in deficit.

Moreover, the country may be able to subsidize the food now, but not in the future. In fact, the country’s population growth rate is high. Therefore, the more people the country has, the more it is going to spend to feed them. Moreover, Saudi Arabia will not be able to compete with the fast increase of food international prices. To maintain social stability, the country is controlling the prices of food. Needless to say, the food international prices are volatile. Therefore, when the international foods prices go up, the country have no choice but subsidize food to stabilize the prices. In this situation, the country needs more income to keep up with high population growth. Relying mainly on oil is not going be an effective way in the future [1].

Water Security:

Why can not Saudi Arabia produce its own food? The answer of this question is very simple, which is the shortage of water. In the late 1970s, the government set many agricultural plans to achieve food self-sufficiency. In fact, in 1980s, the country used to be the sixth largest exporters of wheat in the world. The government heavily invested in agriculture. It supported farmers by providing them loans and subsidies. In 1971, the agricultural loans were $5 million. By 1980s, the government dramatically increased the loans to reach $1 billion. Between 1980 and 1985, the government spending on agriculture reached more than $20 billion. In 1992, Saudi Arabia was able to produce more than 3.9 million tons of wheat. It used the oil income to improve and develop the food production [2].

However, in 2008, the government realized that it actually took the wrong way. Growing food needs a huge amount of water, which is very little in this country. In fact, the country needs the water more than the income of the wheat. It is much cheaper for the country to import the food rather than grow it domestically [2].

cited from http://www.bloomberg.com

As a result, the government decided to stop producing wheat domestically. It plan was to decrease wheat production by 12.5% every year starting from the year 2008. By 2016, the wheat production will be completely stopped. As an alternative choice, the government decided to move its agricultural investments to other countries that do not have agricultural problems [2].

The fast population growth in the country is making the situation even worse. More people demand more water. Therefore, the country should focus on solving the issue of high population growth to stabilize the demand of water. Moreover, the water price in Saudi Arabia is very low. The government heavily subsidizes the water sector. Cheap water price in a country that has a huge water shortage is not realistic. In fact, the low water price encourages people, farms, and factories to be careless about the water. Therefore, the government should review the price of water to match the reality of Saudi Arabia’s environmental status [3].

The illegal wells’ drilling is one of the most important reasons of water scarcity in Saudi Arabia. over use of wells can affect the level of groundwater negatively. It is going to decrease the level of groundwater until dry it completely. In Al Ahsa city, for instance, was one of the greenest cities in Saudi Arabia. However, in the last few years, more than 7000 unlicensed wells were drilled. As a result, the city gradually starts turning to desert [4]. Therefore, the government should set up programs and seminars for the aim of educating people to be more aware of this problem.



[2]Richards, Alan, John Waterbury, Ishac Diwan, and Melani Cammett. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Boulder: Westview, 2015. Print.




3 thoughts on “Water and Food Security in Saudi Arabia

  1. I liked how you related the issue of food production to the oil sector. Saudi Arabia and it’s gulf neighbors are sufficient to support their populations. However, the drop on oil can affect many problems for the region. The issue of food allowed me to understand a deeper reason for why Saudi Arabia relies on the exportation of oil. I also enjoyed learning about the cut on wheat production. Even though farmers will lose their profit on wheat, this sacrifice can give Saudi Arabia more time to figure a solution for the oil problem. I look forward to learning more about the well crisis as well.


  2. I find it very interesting to learn that even though Saudi Arabia is a desert and cannot grow crops due to a lack of water, is doing much better than other MENA countries! This shows a positive representation on the government’s ability to conquer even the most stubborn situations. Then again, this is to be expected from an economic point of view. Saudi Arabia is one of the leading countries in the MENA region that has high level of export for oil. As you mentioned earlier, this can be a big advantage in importing food. I think it was an absolute smart decision of the government’s part to stop agriculture development for wheat, considering it was taking up much more water than anticipated. So long as Saudi Arabia is confident in their oil supply and has the economic capabilities to import food, then why not?


  3. It is sad to see that a once lucrative business of wheat farming has ended due to the lack of depletion of water in the region. This would have done great damage to the economy of the country when this sector ended causing a lot of money to be lost. As the water levels go down one cannot help but wonder what is going to happen to the people of the country and what alternative do the have when all the water is gone?


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