x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Gulf nations must store their wheat, expert says

Wheat is particularly important for middle- and low-income countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where people have limited access to meat and fish.

AMMAN, JORDAN // Governments in the Gulf region need to start stocking up on wheat, an expert told the Arab Food Industries & Franchising Forum yesterday.

Jack Khayat, a regional office manager for the Arab Federation for Food Industries, said the wheat also needs to be of better quality, despite shortages that have forced up food prices and triggered unrest across the region.

Wheat is a key ingredient in making bread and other foods. It is particularly important for middle- and low-income countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where people have limited access to meat and fish.

Hunger remains an important issue in the region, the only one where the number of undernourished people has risen over the last decade.

In 2008, Egypt suffered bread riots brought on by wheat grain shortages and high inflation. Recent protests across North Africa have found a rallying cry in the lack of affordable food.

Last spring, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition said people in the UAE often suffer concurrently from obesity and undernourishment from a lack of nutrients.

Around 35 per cent of children in the UAE between six and 22 months of age are anaemic, which can be caused by vitamin deficiency, according to a Government report released at the same time.

According to scientists, whole grain offers significant health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It contains vitamin B, protein and minerals. However, the industrial process to mill flour, which is made from wheat, removes many of these benefits.

In addition, Mr Khayat urged officials to increase their stockpiles of wheat to at least a year's worth. That would allow countries to soften price jumps, restocking only when prices are low, he said.

Regional stockpiles would also protect governments from political pressure applied by exporting countries, he added. More than half the region's food is imported.

mdetrie@thenational.ae