Saudi food security is possible only by respecting the realities of ecological footprint and innovation |
Arab News - 17 July, 2012
The ecological footprint (EF) is a relatively new concept, first mentioned academically by William Rees in 1992. Later, the concept and calculation method was developed as the doctorate dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under Rees’ supervision at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, from 1990 to 1994.
According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union: “The ecological footprint measures how much bioproductive area (whether land or water) a population would require to produce on a sustainable basis the renewable resources it consumes, and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology. Biocapacity (BC) measures the bioproductive supply that is available within a certain area (e.g. of arable land, pasture, forest, productive sea).”
Eurostat summarizes: “The ecological footprint measures the extent to which humanity is using nature’s resources faster than they can regenerate. Ecological footprints are usually presented together with biocapacities, which measure the bioproductive supply.”
Although neither the ecological footprint is an exact equivalent to demand on the earth’s ecosystem nor is the biocapacity an exact measure of supply of biologically productive land to meet the demand, an EF value larger than the available BC for a selected time period results in a deficit or overshoot. The Eurostat working paper said a deficit occurs if extraction of natural resources and waste generation exceed an ecosystem’s ability to regenerate the extracted resources and absorb the generated waste. A global overshoot (at the planet level) leads to a depletion of the earth’s life supporting natural capital and a buildup of waste.
Accordingly, to guarantee sustainability in security of food supplies, levels of production and storage capacity should be approached through and connected to the concepts of ecological footprint and biocapacity of a country not to size of food production or capacity to store.
The measurement unit of land area for BC is not the ordinary hectare (ha), but a normalized version of a hectare called global hectare (gha) to encompass the average productivity of all biologically productive land and sea areas in a given year. Biologically productive areas include cropland, forests, and fishing grounds, but do not include deserts, glaciers, and the open ocean.
In 2011, the world’s total biocapacity was estimated on ChartsBin.com to the value of 1.78 gha per capita, while the world’s total ecological footprint was 2.7 gha per capita, which means that people are using more resources than the earth can provide. According to the same source, currently, less than 20 percent of the world’s
population lives in countries that can keep up with their own demands.
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia, with an EF of 5.13 gha and a BC of 0.84 gha currently carries an ecological deficit of the value -4.30 gha (BC minus EF).
Although this value gave Saudi Arabia the ninth position among the worst countries in ecological deficit, the country is in a better shape than some others in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates (-9.83 gha), Qatar (-8 gha), Kuwait (-5.93 gha), and Israel (-4.5 gha).
In fact, some other “fertile” countries including Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, and Egypt are not in a better shape than Saudi Arabia and the above-mentioned countries in terms of ecological deficit.
More recent data about the Arab world was released and published by Bloomberg and the Daily Star of Lebanon on June 20 in a statement by Najib Saab, secretary general of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) during a roundtable discussion at the Rio+20 conference.
In his statement, Saab went over the first results of the Arab region’s ecological footprint report, to be released in November 2012.
One important surprise of the report findings released by Saab is that Saudi Arabia with 15 percent was one of only four Arab nations that combined contributed to more than 50 percent of the Arab region’s ecological footprint in 2008. The other three nations are Egypt (19 percent), the UAE (10 percent) and Sudan (9 percent).
Other findings of the report are that the average ecological footprint per capita in Arab countries increased by 78 percent from 1.2 to 2.1 gha per capita over the past 50 years. The available average biocapacity per capita in Arab countries decreased by 60 percent from 2.2 to 0.9 gha per capita. The average resident in Arab countries demands more than twice what is available locally. Only two nations provided approximately 50 percent of the biocapacity in the Arab region in 2008: Sudan (32 percent) and Egypt (17 percent). Since 1979, the region as a whole has been experiencing a biocapacity deficit with its demand for ecological services increasingly exceeding local supply.
In net terms, countries with an ecological deficit rely on the biocapacity of other nations to meet domestic demands for goods and services. For example: Saudi Arabia imports German wheat and Indian rice, and the whole Arab world needs imports of ecological services from outside the region to bridge the widening gap in food supplies.
According to Saab, the expected AFED report refuses to put the blame exclusively on harsh environment and limited resources. Some should be attached to decades of distortive state policies, negligence, and misdirected investments, which pushed agriculture in the Arab region to its current precarious state.
Saudi Arabia is one of the Arab countries in which distortive state policies should be blamed for a great deal of the current state of agriculture.
Since the first oil boom in the 1970s, Saudi policy makers in the agriculture sector ignored the reality that the country land is mainly arid, located on the desert belt of the earth where desertification, scarcity of underground water resources, and the lack of perennial rivers or permanent running water are vital issues to be addressed and respected in any design or process of policy making in the agriculture sector.
In fact, in their aggressive quest to attain self-sufficiency in some grain items such as wheat (for human consumption) and barley (for livestock fodder), policy makers succeeded in reaching some of their goals for few years. However, they failed to succeed in sustaining growth and continuity of achievements in the long run, due to the severe depletion of nonrenewable fresh fossil water reserved in underground aquifers from the Precambrian era, which extended from the origin of the earth to about 570 million years ago.
Now, the country has prompted the development of extensive seawater desalination facilities in order to face the rising demand on water for urban uses.
Although some restrictions are now imposed on use of water from aquifers for irrigating some field crops including grains, no restrictions are imposed on planting more palm trees, which is considered by experts as one of the heaviest water-consuming items.
Furthermore, knowing that the Saudi per capita consumption of poultry meat is 40 kg annually, the third highest worldwide, talking about food security by reliance on other nations’ biocapacities to bridge local ecological deficit or even to meet domestic demands for goods and services in the long run is a kind of bedtime storytelling.
To conclude, Saudi Arabia’s policymakers need to respect the realities of their country’s ecological footprint and biocapacity by giving up large-scale commercial production of some agriculture products in favor of small-scale and family production of a variety of locally demanded products, and by encouraging innovation in agriculture technology and new methodologies of land use and irrigation.
The world is now opening new horizons in micro gardening, such as bag gardening, vertical farming area expansion including multi-story glasshouses, portable farms, and urban and inner-city farming.
Although some government elements underestimate or cannot comprehend small innovative solutions, they need to know that increasing the available land for farming is now being put in practice by transforming the small greenhouse into a multi-story farm to grow produce for the 2013 Manchester International Festival (MIF).
Also, some of the largest hotels of Paris are now serving their guests with fresh honey produced by in-house honeybees kept in hotels backyards.