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Kuwait 2018 | AGRICULTURE | REVIEW

Kuwait's agricultural sector has been a small part of the nation's economy due to geographic and political obstacles, but new technologies may bring increased production.

Kuwait's agriculture sector is an extremely small part of its economy, estimated at 0.4% of GDP as of 2016. A combination of geographic and economic factors have combined to leave it largely neglected; the country's geography is ill suited to crop cultivation due to small land area and a lack of rivers and rainfall, and the size and prominence of the oil sector has made the nation wealthy enough to rely on agricultural imports to meet demand from a growing population. Aquaculture has a long history in Kuwait, and more recently tilapia and shrimp farming has seen increasing volumes after being sidelined by economic and environmental difficulties in the 1980s. As Kuwait continues to grow, new firms are arriving to play a role in ensuring the country has stable and sustainable food options.

Agricultural production in Kuwait goes back centuries, but the sector has rarely developed beyond sustenance-level farming. At just under 18,000sqkm, Kuwait is the second-smallest state in the GCC, behind only Qatar. The total arable land was estimated at about 150,000ha, of which just over 7,000ha was cultivated, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Much of the lack of crop cultivation can be attributed to Kuwait's sandy soil, which retains very little water and lacks the organic material needed for strong agricultural output. There are regions in the center and northern parts of the country where conditions are better, but irrigation is sparse due to a lack of groundwater and fresh water sources; there are no permanent rivers or lakes, and the country's limited groundwater resources are being depleted quickly due the high rate of use—Kuwait's water consumption is among the highest in the world at more than 440 liters daily per capita. To increase the supply of fresh water, desalination and sewer treatment plants have become a larger part of Kuwait's water system, but upgrades on these plants have been slow.
Vegetables, potatoes, and grains make up the majority of Kuwait's crop production. Fisheries have become a larger part of the country's food supply mix; though absolute employment is low, new aquaculture sites have boosted tilapia production to more than 250 tons per year over the last five years. Marine fisheries receive funding assistance from the government, with shrimp, finfish, and zobaidi among the most common catches. Just about all of this is sold locally. Imports are critical to meeting demand, and firms like Mezzan Holding Co. and Kuwait London company have seen significant growth in the market by offering delivery and specialty options to Kuwait's wealthy population.

Kuwait is in the midst of plans to boost agricultural production by improving access to water clearing out more of its previously uncultivated land. New technologies have made wastewater treatment and desalination plants more affordable and feasible options. In 2015, the Kuwaiti government announced its goal of achieving self-sufficiency by 2040, but international observers have expressed doubt that it is possible or even wise considering the country's geographic and economic position. New investments in agricultural technology should help improve efficiency by improving water usage and introducing new, hardier crops. Increasing storage capacity, which is currently far below needed levels, would help lessen the blow of an economic downturn by giving the country a greater store of self-produced goods. Water management is perhaps the most important project for the future of the sector. New policies on household and industrial usage are needed to reduce waste, but achieving the political consensus needed to do so may be tricky going forward. Adjusting behavior to make better use of the country's water supply will reap benefits down the road.