IS IT MEAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR?

Kuwait 2017 | FOOD & AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: DOMESTIC FOOD SUPPLY

As one of the world's biggest consumers of meat, Kuwait is under pressure to diversify its sources of livestock and to establish domestic farms.

Though expected to maintain food security over the next decades, Kuwait's dependence on expensive food and livestock imports is likely to take a toll on the country's national budget—especially given that the small Gulf state recently accounted a budget deficit for the first time in 16 years. In the wake of a low oil price environment, the government increasingly voiced its intention to privatize state-owned, food-security sustaining companies. With all sectors having been affected by privatization in line with the government's five-year development plan (2015-2020), food prices are likely to increase significantly. In order to balance supply and demand, meat prices could expectedly double.

According to the latest statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meat consumption in Kuwait averages around 120kg of meat per person per year. In light of steady regional population growth, the demand for meat in Kuwait is further estimated to rise even more over the next 10 years. However, desertification as well as a consequent lack of arable land has largely prevented Kuwait from cultivating domestic livestock that would ensure food security.

As a result, the Gulf state has largely been dependent on imports of foods and livestock paid for by oil revenues. In order to maintain food security, however, the government has established a number of companies such as the Kuwait Flour Mills & Bakeries Company, the United Poultry Company, and the Livestock Transport & Trading Company (KLTT) to not only import livestock and slaughter animals in compliance with the halal ritual, but to also import and produce basic foods.

As for Kuwait, Australia, and New Zealand constitute the major suppliers of sheep, for instance. Over the past 25 years, however, the number of heads exported to Kuwait has decreased from up to 170 million heads in 1990 by a little more than half. This was mainly due to drought, high costs for grazing of cattle, and animal rights organizations' objections against halal slaughtering.

Although Kuwait has long registered this decline to be unsustainable in the long run, alternative “countries of sheep origin" such as India, China, or Ethiopia pose additional challenges. These do not only comprise higher shipment costs, but also an increased likelihood of livestock illnesses, having arisen from less sophisticated food infrastructures in the countries of origin.

Osama Boodai, CEO of the KLTT—the world's largest supplier of sheep—talked to TBY about his own initiatives in this regard: “For a new operation, we are starting with 3,000 ewes, local lambs, which we buy from the market to breed locally for the future. We will never cover the quantity needed for the country, but we want to start with something. The 3,000 will allow us to reach 50,000 in the next five years. This will form the new generation, which we will take for breeding."

On a similar note, Dr. Sultan Alkhalaf, the Director General of Dar Al-Khalaf for Agricultural Studies & Consultations, told TBY: “What we did at Dar Al Khalaf, for instance, was to prepare a feasibility study and consultation service for a Kuwait investor to establish a sheep production farm on 2.5 million sqm in Ethiopia. This project will produce 10,000 hybrid sheep, crossbreeding Ethiopian sheep with Arab Awassi sheep. Projects such as this will have a great effect on providing livestock for Kuwait."