Saudi Arabia plans to import around two million tonnes of wheat in 2011 like last year and will boost imports to three million tonnes after 2016 as it ends local production, a source at the grains authority said Feb. 2.
The top OPEC oil exporter has emerged as a major wheat buyer to feed its rising population as the growing economy is attracting more foreign workers, while gradually ending local production to conserve water in the arid desert kingdom.
The Gulf Arab state produced 1.2 million tonnes of wheat locally in 2010 but expects that local production will stop by 2016 when the kingdom’s needs will be covered by imports, the source said.
Saudi Arabia imported 1.98 million tonnes of wheat in 2010.
Saudi Arabia wants to build up reserves of basic commodities such as wheat, rice, oils and sugar to counter a global spike in food prices. The arid desert kingdom hopes to double its wheat reserves to a year’s worth within three years.
To help build reserves that will last it a year instead of six months, the Gulf Arab state is adding 550,000 tonnes of storage in four cities within three years on top of its existing capacity of 2.52 million tonnes.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia is encouraging the private sector to invest in farmland in more than 20 countries abroad but not much has been signed yet, analysts say.