Journal of Food Security
ISSN (Print): 2372-0115 ISSN (Online): 2372-0107 Website: Editor-in-chief: Apply for this position
Open Access
Journal Browser
Journal of Food Security. 2019, 7(5), 159-169
DOI: 10.12691/jfs-7-5-2
Open AccessArticle

Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Challenges and Prospects

Tarek Ben Hassen1, and Hamid El Bilali2

1Department of International Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar

2International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM-Bari), Valenzano (Bari), Italy

Pub. Date: September 15, 2019

Cite this paper:
Tarek Ben Hassen and Hamid El Bilali. Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Challenges and Prospects. Journal of Food Security. 2019; 7(5):159-169. doi: 10.12691/jfs-7-5-2


Food insecurity concerns are as old as humanity. Food security exists when all population, at all times, has access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. It is built on four pillars, namely food availability, food access, food utilisation, and stability. While it is widely admitted that food security increases with economic development, also rich countries in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, face specific challenges. Therefore, this review paper analyses the state, determinants and perspectives of food security in GCC region. Historically, food security was not an issue for the GCC states. In fact, GCC states are capital rich and have no foreign exchange limitation for food import. Consequently, due to their robust fiscal position resulting in high buying power, these countries, have been less vulnerable to price risk than other food importers; and able to bridge the shortfall in domestic production. As a result, in 2018, the six GCC members have been ranked as the most food secure in the Arab world and among the most food secure countries in the world. However, in the wake of the 2007–2008 global food crisis, food security became an ongoing challenge. The crisis exposed the high dependence of GCC countries on imports, limits of import-based food policies and the need to increase the local production. However, agriculture is limited by several natural conditions, such as scarce water resources and poor soils, and aquifers have been heavily exploited above the average natural recharge. Further, potentially, more critical to GCC food security is availability risk, which arises when an import-dependent country is not able to obtain food, even if it has sufficient funds to purchase it. The paper makes the case for promoting a productive and sustainable agriculture, with high resources use efficiency, to increase food security in the GCC.

food security water security food self-sufficiency sustainable agriculture GCC

Creative CommonsThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit


[1]  United Nations, Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015. New York. 2015.
[2]  FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018. Building climate resilience for food security and nutrition. FAO, Rome. 2018.
[3]  Du, J. and King, C, “Unravelling China’s Food Security Puzzle, 1979-2008”, The China Quarterly, 235: 804-827. 2018.
[4]  Committee on World Food Security, Coming to terms with terminology: Food security, Nutrition security, Food security and nutrition, Food and nutrition security. 2012. MD776(CFS___Coming_to_terms_with_Terminology).pdf.
[5]  Gross R., Schoeneberger H., Pfeifer H. and Preuss H.J, The Four Dimensions of Food and Nutrition Security: Definitions and Concepts. FAO, Rome. 2000.
[6]  Ingram J.S.I, From Food Production to Food Security: Developing interdisciplinary, regional-level research. Wageningen University, Wageningen. 2011.
[7]  Lang T. and Barling D, “Food security and food sustainability: Reformulating the debate”, The Geographical Journal, 178 (4). 313-326. 2012.
[8]  McMichael, P, “Rethinking ‘Food Security’ for the New Millennium: Sage Advice”, Sociologia Ruralis 54 (1). 109-111. 2014.
[9]  Dumont, R. and Rosier, B, The hungry future. Deutsch, London. 1969.
[10]  George S, How the other half dies: The real reasons for world hunger. Penguin, Harmondsworth. 1976.
[11]  OECD, Global food security: Challenges for the food and agriculture system. Working Party on Agricultural Policies and Markets; Committee for Agriculture; Trade and Agriculture Directorate; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Paris. 2013.
[12]  Prosekov A.Y. and Ivanova S.A, “Food security: The challenge of the present”, Geoforum, 93. 73-77. May 2018.
[13]  Sen A, Poverty and famines: An essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press, New York. 1981.
[14]  FAO, Rome Declaration on Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. Rome. 1996.
[15]  FAO, State of Food Insecurity 2009. Rome. 2009a.
[16]  FAO, Declaration of the World Food Summit on Food Security. Rome. 2009b.
[17]  Ericksen P.J, “Conceptualizing food systems for global environmental change research”, Global Environmental Change, 18(1). 234-245. 2008.
[18]  FAO, WFP and IFAD, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013: The Multiple Dimensions of Food Security. FAO, Rome. 2013.
[19]  United Nations System High Level Task Force on Global Food Security, Food and Nutrition Security Comprehensive Framework for Action. Summary of the Updated Comprehensive Framework for Action (UCFA). Rome. 2011.
[20]  El Bilali, H, “Research on agro-food sustainability transitions: where are food security and nutrition?” Food Security, 11 (3). 559-577. 2019.
[21]  FAO, Regional Overview of Food Insecurity - Near East and North Africa: Strengthening Regional Collaboration to Build Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition. FAO, Cairo. 2015.
[22]  Breisinger, C., Rheenen, T., van, C., Ringler, A., Nin-Pratt, N., Minot, C., Aragon, B., Yu, O., Ecker, Zhu, T, Food security and economic development in the Middle East and North Africa: Current state and future perspectives. IFPRI discussion paper. 2010.
[23]  Raouf, M. A, “Climate Change Threats, Opportunities, and the GCC Countries”. The Middle East Institute, Policy Brief N. 12. 2008.
[24]  Shahid S., Ahmed M. (eds) Environmental Cost and Face of Agriculture in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. Springer, Cham. 2014.
[25]  Efron S., Fromm C., Gelfeld B., Nataraj S. and Sova C, Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Emerge85 and the RAND Corporation. 2018. s/EP60000/EP67748/RAND_EP67748.pdf.
[26]  The Economist Intelligence Unit, Global Food Security Index 2018: Building resilience in the face of rising food-security risks. 2018.
[27]  Babar, Z. and Kamrava, M, “Food Security and Food Sovereignty in the Middle East”, In Babar, Z. and S. Mirgani, eds. Food Security in the Middle East. Hurst/Oxford University Press. 2014.
[28]  Bailey, R. and Willoughby, R, Edible Oil: Food Security in the Gulf, Chatham House, London. 2013.
[29]  Lippman, T. W, “Saudi Arabia's quest for "food security”, Middle East Policy, 17 (1). 90-98. 2010.
[30]  Scardigno, A., Capone R., El Bilali H., Cardone G, “Water-food security nexus in Middle East and North Africa Region: an exploratory assessment”, New Medit, 16 (4). 31-38. 2017.
[31]  ESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia), Arab Horizon 2030: Prospects for Enhancing Food Security in the Arab Region. 2017.
[32]  Woertz, E, “Arab Food, Water, and the Big Landgrab that Wasn’t”, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 18 (1). 119-132. Fall/Winter 2011.
[33]  Alpen Capital, GCC Food Industry. 2015.
[34]  Woertz, E. S. Pradhan, N. Biberovic and Jingzhong, C, Potential for GCC Agro-investments in Africa and Central Asia. Gulf Research Center (GRC) Report. 2008a.
[35]  Woertz, E. S. Pradhan, N. Biberovic and Koch, C, Food Inflation in the GCC Countries. Gulf Research Center (GRC) Report. 2008b.
[36]  Brinkman H.-J. and Hendrix, C. S, Food Insecurity and Violent Conflict: Causes, Consequences, and Addressing the Challenges. World Food Programme. Occasional Paper n° 24. 2011.
[37]  Woertz, E, Oil for Food: The Global Food Crisis and the Middle East. Oxford University Press. 2013.
[38]  Ramady, M.A, Saudi Arabian Economy: Policies, Achievements and Challenges. New York: Springer. 2010.
[39]  The Economist Intelligence Unit, The GCC in 2020: Resources for the future. 2010.
[40]  Saif, O., T. Mezher and Arafat, H. A, “Water security in the GCC countries: challenges and opportunities”, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 4 (4). 329-346. 2014.
[41]  OECD and FAO, Agricultural Outlook 2018‑2027, Special focus: Middle East and North Africa. OECD Publishing, Paris/Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. 2018.
[42]  Spiess, A, Food Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Economies, Working Paper. Hamburg: NDRD. 2011. _Working_Paper_on_Food_Security_in_the_GCC.pdf.
[43]  Omar, S.A. and Shahid S.A, Reconnaissance soil survey for the state of Kuwait. In: Shahid SA, Taha FK, Abdelfattah MA (eds) Developments in soil classification, land use planning and policy implications: innovative thinking of soil inventory for land use Planning and management of land resources. Springer, Dordrecht/Heidelberg/New York/London, pp 85-107. 2013.
[44]  Abdal, M.S, Suleiman M.K, Soil conservation through mulching. Desertification in arid lands: causes, consequences and mitigation. Paper presented at the international conference on desertification control in the arid region, 12-15 May. 2007.
[45]  Al-Menaie, H. S, Prospects of Agriculture in the State of Kuwait-Constraints and Opportunities. In: Shahid S., Ahmed M. (eds) Environmental Cost and Face of Agriculture in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. Springer, Cham. pp 43-59. 2014.
[46]  Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), Arab Environment: Food Security. Annual Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development. 2014.
[47]  Biswas A.K, “Integrated water resources management: a reassessment – a water forum contribution”, Water International, 29. 248-256. 2004.
[48]  FAO, New dimensions in water security: water, society and ecosystem services in the 21st century. Rome: FAO Land Division Water Development. 2000.
[49]  White D.M., Gerlach S.C., Loring P., Tidwell A.C. and Chambers M.C, Food and water security in a changing arctic climate. Environmental Research Letters, 2 (4). 2007.
[50]  Sadik, A. K, The state of food security and agricultural resources. Chapter 1. In Arab environment: Food security. Annual Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development. 12-43. 2014.
[51]  Brown, J.J., P. Das and Al-Saidi, M, “Sustainable Agriculture in the Arabian/Persian Gulf Region Utilizing Marginal Water Resources: Making the Best of a Bad Situation”, Sustainability, 10 (5). 1-16. 2018.
[52]  Laaboudi, A. and Mouhouche, B, “Water Requirement Modelling for Wheat under Arid Climatic Conditions”, Hydrology Current Research, 3 (3) 130. 2012.
[53]  Bucchignani, E., Mercogliano, P., Panitz, H.-J. and Montesarchio, M, “Climate change projections for the Middle East–North Africa domain with COSMO-CLM at different spatial resolutions”, Advances in Climate Change Research, 9 (1), 66-80. 2018.
[54]  Luedeling, E., Gebauer, J., Buerkert, A, Climate change effects on winter chill for tree crops with chilling requirements on the Arabian Peninsula. Climatic Change, 96 (1-2). 219-237. 2009.
[55]  Al-Rowaily, S.L.R, “Rangeland of Saudi Arabia and the ‘Tragedy of Commons’”, Rangelands, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 27-9. 1999.
[56]  Elhadj, E, “Camels Don’t Fly, Deserts Don’t Bloom: An Assessment of Saudi Arabia’s Experiment in Desert Agriculture,” Occasional Paper 48, Water Issues Study Group, SOAS/KCL, University of London. 2004.
[57]  Kim, A. and van der Beek, H, A Holistic Assessment of the Water-for-Agriculture Dilemma in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University in Qatar. Occasional Paper No. 19. 2018.
[58]  FAO, Crops and Drops: Making the best use of water for agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome. 2002.
[59]  General Secretariat for Development Planning, Qatar Second National Development Strategy (2018-2022). Doha. 2018.
[60]  United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Water Governance in the Arab Region Managing Scarcity and Securing the Future. January 2013. nvironment/Arab_Water_Gov_Report/Arab_Water_Gov_Report_ Full_Final_Nov_27.pdf.
[61]  Abdulghafar, A, “Cost of Groundwater Deterioration in Bahrain: An Economic Perspective for Sustainable Development.” Master’s Thesis, Arabian Gulf University, Manama. 2000.
[62]  Al-Zubari, W.K, “Impacts of Groundwater Over-exploitation on Desertification of Soils in Bahrain—A Case Study (1956–1992)”. In the General Water Authority of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’ International Conference, “Regional Aquifer Systems in Arid Zones—Managing Non-renewable Resources,” 20-24 November, Tripoli. 2001.
[63]  Al-Saidi, M. and Saliba, S, “Water, Energy and Food Supply Security in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Countries—A Risk Perspective”, Water, 11 (3), 455. 2019.
[64]  General Secretariat for Development Planning, Qatar National Development Strategy (2011-2016) - Towards Qatar National Vision 2030. Doha. 2011.
[65]  FAO and OECD, Food security and nutrition: challenges for agriculture and the hidden potential of soil. Report to the G20 agriculture deputies. 2018.
[66]  Willenbockel, D, Extreme Weather Events and Crop Price Spikes in a Changing Climate: Illustrative Global Simulation Scenarios. OXFAM research reports. September 2012.
[67]  World Bank, Agricultural Innovation Systems. An Investment Sourcebook. Washington DC. 2011.
[68]  FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the world. Rome. 20011.
[69]  Shiloh, N, “Africa – The GCC’s Food Reservoir?”  Ifriqiya: Africa Research Program, 1 (6). 2015.
[70]  Hilhorst, B, GCC Agro-Investments in sub-Saharan Africa, Synthesis Report. Doha, Qatar. 2015.
[71]  Markam, L, “Who keeps buying California's scarce water? Saudi Arabia”. The Guardian. Monday, 25 March 2019. 2019.
[72]  Capone R., El Bilali H., Debs Ph., Cardone G. and Driouech N, “Food system sustainability and food security: connecting the dots”. Journal of Food Security 2(1). 13-22. 2014.
[73]  El Bilali H. (2019). Innovation-Sustainability Nexus in Agriculture Transition: Case of Agroecology. Open Agriculture 4(1): 1-16.
[74]  Anderson W.K., Stephens D. and Siddique K.H.M. (2016). Dryland Agriculture in Australia: Experiences and Innovations. In, Farooq M. and Siddique K.H.M. (Eds.), Innovations in Dryland Agriculture, Springer, Berlin; pp. 299-320. 2016.
[75]  Sixt G. and Poppe K, The Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System of Jordan’s horticultural sector; Current state and suggestions for improvement. Wageningen Economic Research, Wageningen. Report 2019-005. 2019.
[76]  Hussein K. and El Harizi K, Policies to foster innovation in the Mediterranean region. In, Coudel E., Devautour H., Soulard C.T., Faure G. and Hubert B. (Ed.), Renewing innovation system in agriculture and food. How to go towards more sustainability. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen; pp. 185-204. 2013.
[77]  Naeem, M, Rai, N. A, “Determination of Water Requirements and Response of Wheat to Irrigation at Different Soil Moisture Depletion Levels”, International Journal of Agriculture and Biology, 7 (5). 812-815. 2005.
[78]  Bharat, R. S, Crop Water Requirements and Water Productivity Concepts and Practices. College of Agricultural Engineering, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. 2006.
[79]  Pereira LS, Oweis T, Zairi A, “Irrigation management under water scarcity”, Agricultural water management, 57: 175-206. 2002.
[80]  Ngigi, S. N, “What is the limit of up-scaling rainwater harvesting in a river basin?” Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 28. 943-956. 2003.
[81]  Baig M. B., K. H. Al-Zahrani, F. Schneider, G. S. Straquadine and M. Mouradd. “Food waste posing a serious threat to sustainability in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – A systematic review”, Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 2018.
[82]  FAO. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome. 2011.