The GCC countries, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have transformed into a regional hub for the food industry over the past two decades, an impressive enough development given the water scarcity and lack of arable land.
This reflects the quality of the economic management, which allows Gulf nations to overcome difficulties and reach for better achievements.
In the past, GCC states used to import their needs of dairy products and agricultural commodities. But, since the turn of the 21st century, they have been able to meet most of their requirements for some of these products, and have evened turned net exporters.
This remarkable development coincided with a decline in food production across many Arab countries. Though they may have had better conditions for the agri-industry, what they lacked was the sound management and the advanced infrastructure needed to encourage inward investments. This happened despite their populations having doubled over the past three decades, which, sure enough, led to a spike in demand for food commodities. What this managed to achieve was a further complication of their economic and social conditions.
This context better, reflects the sound economic policies and prudent management adopted by the GCC countries, which lacked the basic requirements to develop a food industry such as raw materials. This has led to the GCC states taking on the role of main provider of dairy and agriculture products to other Arab countries. Today, these can be seen on supermarket shelves in Sudan, Iraq, Egypt and Syria, where these goods are of higher quality and sold at competitive prices.
It was not easy to achieve this paradigm shift and which overturned earlier concepts about the impossibility to develop food industries in the GCC. But the interest in infrastructure development, including development of irrigation systems and water treatment, supported by its ambitious private sector and introduction of the latest technologies in cultivation in saline lands and water-saving have contributed to turning the previous concepts upside down and transforming the oil-rich countries into a hub for the food industry.
This supports the strategic approach adopted by GCC states to diversify sources of national income, so as to be well prepared for the post-oil era. It also involves the development of the non-oil sector, including diversification of energy resources, particularly renewable energy.
It seems that this sector is likely to see more growth, thanks to great attention given by the GCC leaders. For example, there is a trend to be up-to-date with latest technologies and utilise them in the development of food and agricultural industries in the UAE at the highest levels.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, gives special attention to the agricultural and food industries, with special focus on the development of organic agriculture directly linked to consumers’ health. This also signifies the possibility of turning the UAE into a regional hub for organic agriculture.
Ambitions have no limits. Successful management and advanced technology have removed all obstacles and rebuffed previous justifications that stood in the way of development of some sectors.
This leads to the conclusion that there is nor rich or poor country, but there is always good or poor management.
Furthermore, the GCC’s approaches, in the past few years, were associated with the need to integrate these industries into the agricultural sector through foreign investment in countries where basic infrastructure and foundations are available.
This will help the integration of the Gulf food industries and assist other Arab and foreign countries to develop their economies through GCC investments in agriculture sector in these countries.
Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert and specialist in economic and social development in the UAE and the GCC countries.