Dubai: Food security in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is becoming a critical issue as growing consumption means domestic production will be insufficient to meet requirements, a report has claimed.

"While GCC countries are among the world's richest in terms of per capita wealth, when it comes to food, because of a dry climate, they rely very heavily on imports with about 90 per cent of their food being imported," says the recent GCC food industry report by Alpen Capital.

According to the World Trade Organisation, the GCC is the world's biggest importer of food.

The Arab Agriculture Statistics Yearbook 2009, says that the UAE is 99 per cent dependent on imported cereals and 94 per cent dependent on imported pulses. "There's not much they can do but import. Around 10 to 15 years back, Saudi Arabia went through an exercise of growing wheat and became self-sufficient. But the water tables in that country went so low that they had problems. They then cut down their growing efforts and are now importing," Harish Rupani, managing director of Equinox Trading, which deals in food products, told Gulf News.

Food imports in the GCC region were valued at Dh25.8 billion in 2010 said Alpen Capital and the number is set to rise as the total population of the GCC region is predicted to expand at an annual average rate of 3.3 per cent compared to the global average of 1.1 per cent over 2000 to 2010. "We estimate that due to population growth and increased per capita income, food consumption will reach 51.5 million tonnes by 2015, growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6 per cent over 2011-15, while the food consumption per capita will increase at a CAGR of 2.1 per cent over the period 2011-15," the report says.

In 2011, the UAE made up 18.3 per cent of the food consumption within the GCC. This number is expected to increase to 18.9 per cent by 2015. According to Alpen Capital, food consumption in the UAE is projected to grow at 5.4 per cent between 2011 and 2015.

Demand has grown on the back of an expanding tourism industry and high demand from the catering industry that serves in flight meals states the report.

As a hub, more than 120 airlines operate through Dubai.

"The high growth rate is also partly a cultural thing. They like having a lot of children," Rupani said.