Saudi Arabia will launch a new farming plan in September that will reward farmers for shifting to water-thrifty crops, a move that could raise the kingdom’s imports of barley, soybeans and maize, officials said.
The sustainable agriculture plan aims mainly at halving the consumption of water within three years, said Abdullah al-Rubeeyan, who heads the state-run Agricultural Development Fund (ADF).
This means abandoning the cultivation of grass fodder which is used to feed the kingdom’s livestock, he said at the first presentation of the plan at the Riyadh chamber of commerce and industry.
Agriculture accounts for 85 per cent of the kingdom’s water consumption, or about 17.5 billion cubic metres, which comes mainly from aquifers and heavily subsidised desalinated water.
The cultivation of grass fodder consumes six billion cubic metres of water annually, Rubeeyan said.
The government last year started cutting the production of wheat by 12.5 per cent per year, abandoning a 30-year program to grow its own which had achieved self-sufficiency but depleted the desert kingdom’s water resources.
Wheat cultivation consumes four billion cubic metres of water, Rubeeyan said.