Following the Covid-19 outbreak, Agricultural Development Fund introduced two initiatives worth 2.5 billion riyals ($665 million) to support farmers and facilitate food imports, said Muneer Alsahali, general manager of the Agricultural Development Fund.
Ever since food crises a decade ago, Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia - which import most of their food - have been working to boost domestic output and investing in farming abroad. Those plans are being accelerated as the pandemic disrupts supply chains around the world and stirs memories of previous food-price spikes in wealthy but parched states.
Out of the initiatives introduced since March 2 billion riyals will go toward bank guarantees for importers of crops like rice, soybeans, corn and sugar, Alsahali said. About 300 million riyals will reach local farmers. Before the virus outbreak, the fund’s budget had already risen about 60% from a year earlier, including allocating 1 billion riyals for overseas investment.
“We are lucky that we had the food strategy approved before the crisis and there’s good coordination among government agencies involved in food security,” Alsahali said, adding that so far there have been no major food issues. “This has helped us.”
Food security is one of the goals of Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s blueprint for reforming the Saudi economy. The overseas funding offers low-interest loans for companies that grow crops including alfalfa, wheat, barley, sugar, rice and corn and which send at least half of the output to Saudi Arabia.
Increasing home production of fruit and vegetables is one of the kingdom’s top priorities, and the nation aims to boost output of tomatoes and cucumbers by 50% this year. The country, much of which is a desert, is encouraging growers to use hydroponics, a technology that uses 90% less water than traditional farming methods. To do that, it’s offering loans that cover a larger share of capital investments.