Sa'udi Arabia - Agriculture



Agriculture engaged 12% of the economically active population in 1999 and accounted for about 7% of GDP. Only about 1.1% of Sa'udi Arabia's land area is cultivated, although 40% is suitable for grazing. Small owner-operated farms characterize Sa'udi Arabia's land-tenure system. About 96% of the farm area is owned, and only 4% rented. Less than 3% of the agricultural holdings are of eight hectares (20 acres) or more, and 45% are0.4 hectare (1 acre) or less in size. About two-thirds of the cropped land is used for cereals and the remainder for vegetables and fruit. Although Sa'udi Arabia has more than 18 million date palms and provides over 12% of the world's supply of dates (an estimated 650,000 tons in 1999), the growing of dates has declined in recent decades in favor of wheat, corn, sorghum, tomatoes, onions, grapes, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, dates remain the only major staple food crop with production sufficient to meet local demand. Sa'udi Arabia is 85% self-sufficient for vegetables and 66% for fruit. Wheat output increased from an estimated 150,000 tons in the late 1970s to 1,700,000 tons in 1985, and the government claimed that it met total domestic demand by 1986/87. Production of wheat totaled 1,800,000 tons in 1999; government subsidies have led to a recurring overproduction of wheat. In 1989, the government attempted to discourage production by cutting price supports, but production is still several times higher than domestic demand. Barley production amounted to 400,000 tons in 1999.

Aquifers supply 80% of agriculture's water requirements, but are not renewable. Agricultural irrigation accounts for 90% of total water needs, with wheat production alone using about one-third of the country's annual water supply.

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