The Almarai Company has made the decision to stop the cultivation of fodder for animals and import it from abroad instead mainly due to the scarcity of water sources in the Kingdom.
Abdul Rahman Al-Fadhli, CEO of Almarai, said the company currently imports 100% of the animal feed to produce milk. It is also developing an operational plan to stop the local cultivation of fodder and cover the entire needs of the domestic market by importing all products. "Almarai is the first dairy company in Saudi Arabia which has started importing feed from abroad where the company has invested in Argentina, the US and several European countries," Al-Fadhli said.
Almarai has recently received the first shipment of feed estimated at 39 thousand tonnes coming from farms owned by the company in Argentina. According to a recent scientific study 96% of water consumption in the dairy sector is provided for the cultivation of fodder, while this percentage can be provided through a plan to import feed from abroad. The study that was conducted by Saudi researchers in co-operation with specialised US companies estimated that the amount of water consumed in the dairy sector accounts for about 3.1% of the total consumption of the agricultural sector which consumes 16 billion cubic meters a year.
Meanwhile, the Saudi government has decided to invest in agricultural development abroad and strengthen Saudi Arabia's position in this regard. Experts claim that the project, entitled the King Abdullah Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investment Abroad will help secure national food security.
Dr. Riyadh Abu Mansour, an economic expert and CEO of Al-Belad Company for Investments said, "Several Saudi food firms had invested in Sudan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt but the bad political situation of these countries had forced Saudi investors to look for other alternatives. Pakistan is one of these options especially as there are many Saudi agricultural investments which have seen successful results during the last ten years."
Until six years ago, the Kingdom's policy makers advocated self-sufficiency for its local wheat cultivation, as well as some other products such as milk, meat and eggs. However, as it became clear that levels of subsidies required for farmers and limited water resources were making domestic wheat production unviable, the government decided to gradually wind down operations and opt instead to meet their wheat requirements through imports.
The Kingdom is expected to phase out domestic wheat production completely by 2016 as farmers are encouraged to shift their focus toward alternative crops. At the same time, wheat imports are increasing rapidly as the government looks to bridge the widening gap between falling domestic production and rising demand. Saudi Arabia is expected to import 1.96 million tonnes of wheat for human consumption within the period 2012 to 2014, according to estimates of the local office of the US Department of agriculture.