Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are facing challenges when it comes to food accessibility due to their heavy reliance on imports, according to a new report. While rising food prices have been observed globally, it is the accessibility of food products, rather than affordability, that is posing a threat to food security in the GCC region. The report highlights the vulnerabilities of supply chains and the impact of global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, and climate change, on food commodity prices.
The report, published by Marmore, the research arm of Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz), reveals that GCC countries import approximately 85% of their food needs, including a significant percentage of cereals, meat, and vegetables. This heavy reliance on imports is largely attributed to the lack of fertile land, water resources, and suitable climate conditions for agriculture in the region.
Although GCC countries have high income levels that provide financial buffers to absorb intermittent price shocks, their dependence on food imports makes them vulnerable to disruptions in supply chains, protectionist trade policies, and resultant shortages. Any disruption in food production, supply, or distribution elsewhere in the world could force GCC countries to find substitutes and alternate supplies, usually at a high cost.
Kuwait, for example, relies on imports to meet around 95% of its food needs. While the Russia-Ukraine war affected wheat prices globally, Kuwait was not significantly impacted due to its importation of wheat from Australia. However, media reports have indicated a decline in the country’s ample supply compared to the previous year, with shortages of commodities such as frozen chicken and lentils.
Despite these challenges, GCC countries have implemented long-term food security measures since the 2007-2008 world food price crisis. Countries like the UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait have adopted strategies to achieve self-sufficiency in key food commodities, diversify import sources, reduce waste, and establish adequate reserves. The UAE and Qatar, for instance, have developed their respective National Food Strategies focused on increasing domestic production, leveraging technology, and securing partnerships with other countries.
To reduce vulnerability to supply chain disruptions, food retailers in the region are encouraged to take measures such as maintaining well-stocked shelves and competitive pricing. Communicating with suppliers to plan inventory and promotions, informing consumers about supply chain-related product unavailability, and maintaining multiple vendor channels can improve the chances of product availability.
Overall, while GCC countries have managed to tackle the affordability aspect of food security through their financial capacity, the accessibility of food products remains a concern due to heavy reliance on imports. By implementing long-term food security measures and leveraging technology and partnerships, these countries aim to mitigate the risks associated with supply chain disruptions and ensure food accessibility for their populations.