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Is the agro-food sector on the rise in the Middle East?

Is the agro-food sector on the rise in the Middle East?

As one of the most food dependent regions in the world, the Middle East is struggling to meet its food needs and imports goods on a massive scale. As the region is subject to significant climate change, the food situation in the Middle East is set to worsen by 2050.

At present, the Middle East remains highly dependent on imports to meet the food needs of its population. Agriculture therefore plays an important role in the grand majority of the region’s economies. To improve the efficiency of the agricultural sector, irrigation is expanding on a large scale, contributing to intensive crop production and high value-added exports. Vegetables, fruits and cereals are the mainly imported to the Middle East. For example, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan produce significant quantities of lentils, chickpeas, maize and rice. Livestock is another one of the main agricultural concerns and some countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have made it a key element in ensuring their food security.

In order to support local and regional production, and therefore the exporting of food commodities, the Middle East must implement policies that stimulate the agriculture sector. From June 22 to 26, 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations held the 41st session of its conference in Rome with the theme “The Arab Region toward Zero Hunger: Challenges and Opportunities”. The purpose of this intervention was to underline the food problems facing the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to supporting local production, there is also a need to improve the governance of the natural resources that make up these regions in order to eradicate hunger and meet people’s food needs through equitable crop distribution.

Despite the strong will and enthusiasm for development of the agricultural sector in the Middle East, the states nevertheless face complex obstacles (climate, difficult weather and water conditions as well as limited soil fertility). These factors inevitably slow down the development of the region’s agricultural sector. Agriculture, fisheries and fish farming cannot get around these natural difficulties, which is why it is now necessary to develop new technologies to overcome these challenges posed by nature.

One Middle Eastern agro-food success story is that of Saudi Arabia and its dairy production. One of the largest farms in the world can be found in Saudi Arabia. Al-Kabeer's 22,500-hectare farm provides 1000 tonnes of fodder per day to more than 94,000 cows. A real technological feat, this farm that was developed in the middle of the desert helps produce part of the Saudi Kingdom's food needs. Al-Kabeer produces 1.2 billion litres of milk per year and therefore requires the use of extensive logistical resources to supply food for its livestock. In order to feed its animals, the Almarai company buys its supplies on the international market, but Saudi Arabia wants to develop its own strategy at a local level and become autonomous. In the middle of the Hedjaz, 400,000 tonnes of alfalfa, 300,000 tonnes of maize and 30,000 tonnes of hay are produced. To address this, the 22,500 hectares are irrigated by pivot irrigation systems; the water is sourced from groundwater, which can be found up to 1,800 metres below the surface. More than 410 million cubic metres of water are used to irrigate this farm: producing one litre of milk requires 340 litres of water.

For more information on the agri-food and agribusiness sector, please contact Rania Khedir, Morgan Philips Middle East and Africa Consultant via



Source image:  Growing future of the Saudi agribusiness sector, ZAWYA, 16/03/2019,

Agricultural Wastes in the Middle East, Salman Zafar, 13/07/2019, BioEnergy Consult, available on:

Aperçu régional de l’état de la sécurité alimentaire et la nutrition, Proche Orient et Afrique du Nord, 2018, Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture, available on:

Il faut éradiquer la faim au Proche-Orient et en Afrique du Nord, Webmanagercenter, 02/07/2019, available on:

Visite de la plus grande ferme d’Arabie Saoudite : 22 500 hectares en plein désert, Joagri, 09/01/2018, Agriavis, available on:

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