x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Collaboration is key to secure food

The cost of ingredients in a loaf of bread have risen by as much as 30 per cent in the past six months. Unable to raise prices, some bakers in the UAE are using more gluten and less flour to give their bread more volume. "Bakeries will do what they can because they feel there is no other option," an owner of a local bakery told The National.

While local consumers may be getting less in each loaf, it's a small price to pay when much of the world is afflicted by what the United Nations calls a "food price shock". Bad harvests from the Americas to Russia have limited global food supplies. The UAE, a nation that imports 90 per cent of its food, cannot be insulated from poor harvests or the pressures on food prices from rising demand in India and China. The rising price of oil also makes food more expensive everywhere.

When food supplies dwindle and prices rise nations usually look out for themselves, which often makes matters worse. India, for instance, has prohibited the export of grain in response to rising prices. Russia recently extended a ban on wheat exports imposed last summer. Nations that depend on those exports are left to pay the price.

For GCC nations facing common food security challenges, there is an opportunity to develop collaborative solutions. At a conference in Jordan this week, Arab nations discussed the development of a single body to oversee agricultural production and policies for the Middle East and North Africa. That may be prudent for the long-term but there is much Gulf states can do together at present. It is not a simple matter of bringing laws on tariffs and transport of produce in sync. Several Gulf states have purchased fertile land in Asia and Africa but the agricultural capacity of many of the Gulf's neighbours is woefully underdeveloped, which the GCC can address, together.

Iraq was once a breadbasket but decades of neglect and mismanagement mean that its farmers produce only a fraction of what they could. Developing Yemen's arable land, much of which is now used to grow Khat, would improve both the Gulf's food supply and its security. If the GCC can act together, shared challenges can become shared opportunities.