|12 December, 2019

Saudi Arabia takes important steps in securing farming sector

Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 is focused on rationalizing the use of finite resources and increasing efficiency through production and value chains

Image used for illustrative purpose. Farmers carry boxes containing freshly harvested corns on a farm in Al-Kharj, 77 km (48 miles) south of Riyadh December 20, 2013.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Farmers carry boxes containing freshly harvested corns on a farm in Al-Kharj, 77 km (48 miles) south of Riyadh December 20, 2013.

REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Saudi Arabia - Population growth and rising incomes mean the world needs to produce 50 percent more food by 2050. This realisation has become a critical issue, placed firmly at the top of the global agenda for political and business leaders.

At a time of climate crisis, water shortages and a lack of suitable arable land, it is a complex dilemma to solve. Producing more but wasting less. Add to that problem the evolving consumer preferences, increased health, food safety and food security concerns — and the challenge can appear at first glance overwhelming.

In Saudi Arabia, the government has taken steps to address these issues. Vision 2030 is focused on rationalising the use of finite resources and increasing efficiency through production and value chains. The development of rural economies is a top priority. The farming sector is rightly seen as an important source of income and employment, as well as helping resolve issues of food security in an increasingly uncertain world.

In today’s integrated global food network, what gets lost is the perspective of the farmers and rural producers who are often some of the world’s poorest people.

Technological advances developed in sophisticated laboratories have their place, but traditional forms of agriculture are set to produce the bulk of our food for the foreseeable future.

New technologies have the potential to improve profitability and incomes for farmers, who have been squeezed for generations by a global system which means that only a small fraction of the price paid by consumers ends up in their pockets. But these technologies typically require upfront initial investment and come with considerable costs to implement.

Urban consumer trends for sustainable and organic, traceable food are to be welcomed, but little thought or attention is paid to how this works for farmers who have ultimate responsibility to care for the precious ecosystem on which humanity depends for our ultimate survival. The costs of meeting these higher standards fall on small scale producers, far more than on large food processors and manufacturers more able to shoulder the burden.

Only a small percentage of the “green premium” global consumers are prepared to pay reaches the farmer. It means that individual farmers from South America to South East Asia, who do not benefit from this increased global emphasis and awareness of sustainability, have little choice but to continue to burn down precious rainforests to ensure their continued economic survival.

It is sophisticated, well-established global agri-businesses in the developed world who are best able to adopt and finance cutting edge technologies. We need a large-scale change, which even such agri-businesses need support to implement — they require subsidies from governments to bring about meaningful change. New techniques also require a highly skilled workforce.

Rural communities need help to acquire the necessary technical knowledge to flourish in this food and agriculture ecosystem. They need the data to be able to understand complex supply chains and to make informed decisions.

We will only succeed by helping to inform and develop the skills of the people who actually toil in the fields. The challenge is to structure inclusive systems which combine the interests of consumers and producers.

Food and agriculture systems will only succeed by placing people and not just technology at the centre of the process. The challenge is to structure inclusive systems that align the interests of consumers and producers through intermediary food and agribusiness companies that rethink their business models.

One approach is to forge long-term relationships where everyone involved is incentivized to invest in products and environmentally sustainable practices, so we all share in the long-term opportunities.

Improving quality, reliability and food safety and raising standards through the widespread adoption of Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) in Saudi Arabia is to be warmly welcomed as an important step to making that vision a reality.

Eduardo Tugendhat is director of thought leadership for Palladium, which is a global impact firm with 3,000 employees in over 90 countries.

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