Why The Gulf Countries Need to Try Agriculture

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The Persian Gulf region is a desert region. There is very little water there and even fewer crops. However, the Persian Gulf region sits on some of the biggest oil reserves. Selling this oil has got them a lot of money through the ages. There was a time when the Persian Gulf wasn’t recognized as anything great as such. People living in the Persian Gulf in those times were very ordinary and had very crude occupations like fishing and pearl-diving.

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People say that the Arabs were searching for water when they found oil. But the discovery of oil had changed the scenario forever. In fact, that increased the power of the Arabs in the world. In 1973, after the YomKippur war in Israel, the Arabs initiated what is known as an oil embargo on the United States because of their support of Israel. The Arabs took the Americans hostage because of their control on oil. The oil increased the power of the Arabs to such an extent.

Obviously, with the oil came money. Lots of money, to be precise. They had a lot of money to spend. So they spent a lot of money on infrastructure, they initiated a lot of projects, they spent money on their people for their health and education, they sent their children abroad to study on government expenditure and they were hiring a lot of people from abroad to address the needs of labour shortage.

Their power reached the peak when the price of oil per barrel was $100 and was steadily rising. More money was going into the hands of the Arab countries. But when the financial crisis of 2008 struck the world, the Arabs were hit badly. Dubai is a good example. The city had to abandon over half their projects, especially some very ambitious ones like the Palm and many other big projects. They had to lay off so many workers. They were losing a lot of money. Finally, the UAE government had to bail them out by investing $700 billion in Dubai banks from their “Sovereign Wealth Fund”.

The oil prices suddenly came down and suddenly, Gulf countries found themselves in a position where their growth rates just fell and enough money wasn’t coming in.

That showed that the Gulf economy is vulnerable should something happen to its oil reserves.

Since the Gulf countries had no shortage of cash, it did not find it necessary to try and grow food in the desert. So the Gulf countries spent quite less on agricultural research. They import their food from all around the world. If you go to a supermarket in any of these countries, you will find onions from India, bananas from Philippines, apples from Fiji, oranges from the USA and much more. Perhaps the few crops that are grown there are tomatoes and cucumbers. But that is it, you won’t find a lot of local crops there.

Of course, the Arabs may claim that they live in the desert where it is highly impossible to grow crops. But I beg to differ that they cannot grow crops there.

Israel is a great example. They grew crops in the Negev desert using greenhouses and a variety of methods that may help crops to survive in the desert. They get their water the same way the Arabs get their water and that is by desalinization plants. So in spite of Israel’s small area, they grow a lot of crops and they are able to feed their population comfortably and are able to keep a surplus.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food production will have to increase by 70 percent to feed a population of 9 billion people by 2050. That means a staggering additional one billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of meat will need to be produced annually by 2050.

So instead of spending on huge infrastructure projects and huge buildings on which it may not get any returns or secure any future, the Arab countries, especially in the Persian Gulf, should try agriculture.

First of all, there is plenty of unused land in the Persian Gulf. Let us take the example of Saudi Arabia. It has vast expanses of desert which is absolutely vacant and is lying unproductive. This can be used to grow crops for not only the gulf region, but also for poor countries in Africa and other parts of the globe. This will ensure that countries will not overburden their land resources and keep plenty for other purposes which includes forestation. This will also ensure that people will have sufficient food to eat all around the world in sufficient quantities and a lot of people may not go hungry. Hunger is a problem the world is trying very hard to combat and this may be an effective weapon in doing so.

Second of all, Agriculture could be a failsafe in the case of the Gulf countries. Oil reserves in the Gulf are running out and in that case there will be very few sources of income for the Gulf. This could provide a way to stay afloat just in case they run out of oil anytime soon.

Thirdly, investing in agriculture will reduce the Gulf’s dependency on other countries for food. It does not have to spend its money in order to purchase food from other countries. It can not only reduce the imports but also make food cheaper to buy and cheaper to consume.

As the saying goes, “make hay when the sun shines”

So when there is money still flowing into the treasury of the gulf, they should invest in something that may secure their future and think long-term than on short-term. The world will definitely benefit should the Gulf region try agriculture in their countries.

Copyright © 2011 AshwathKomath

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