Saudis ‘Back to the Farm’?
An interesting article in Arab News, though I think the expert being quoted is off-target on several points. Turki Al-Rasheed notes that water is a problem, but he says that ‘renewable water’ could be recaptured in run-off. Frankly, other than sewage water, which could be renewed and recycled, I don’t know what water he’s talking about. His mention of ‘dams’ suggests he mean run-off from rain storms, but that is both unpredictable and impractical in widespread areas.
He appears to be politically tone deaf when he says that rather than leasing lands in Africa and Asia for agriculture, Saudis should be buying it outright. Leases avoid the taint of ‘colonialism’—overwrought criticism, but still leveled against these projects. Leases allow for the easy and scheduled repatriation of land; ownership would require nationalization by the various countries, an act that carries its own, negative taint.
Al-Rasheed does note that genetically modified (GM) crops provide part of the answer. I think he’s right there: some GM crops have been developed that deal well both with higher salinity and less water. More might be developed, but it’s not a total solution.
Al-Rasheed also seems to believe that a broad agricultural base would provide job opportunities for large numbers of Saudis. Theoretically, perhaps it would. In the past, it in fact did provide the livelihood for a great portion of the Saudi population. Given the current Saudi attitudes toward manual labor, however, I’m not sure the concept would work. I just don’t see thousands of Saudi university graduates flocking to the fields to find jobs.
What we’re left with, I think, is a man making a special pleading for his own business and business sector. Unfortunately, both geological fact and sociological and political currents are running against him.