Located on the western edge of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait is a small Arab state comparable to the size of New Jersey. Nevertheless, Kuwait holds the sixth-largest oil reserve in the world. This has helped its citizens become among the wealthiest in the world. Kuwait has consistently ranked among the Arab world’s best for food security. However, its reliance on food imports, as well as having underdeveloped agriculture and fishing industries, could hinder its future. Here are five facts about food security in Kuwait.
Top 5 Facts About Food Security in Kuwait
- According to the Economist’s 2019 Global Food Security Index, Kuwait received a score of 74.8 out of 100 and ranked 27 out of 113 countries for food security. As a result, Kuwait only trails Qatar (ranked 13) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (ranked 21) in the region. Kuwait is most notably fifth in the world for food “affordability” and boasts a high “sufficiency of supply”. Both factors significantly prevent hunger.
- Despite its high ranking on the Global Food Security Index, Kuwait imports over 96% of its food. Given that Kuwait only has 1.4 million citizens, more than 700,000 foreign nationals and migrant workers benefit from a subsidy program. In November 2019 alone, subsidy expenditures reached upwards of $23.5 million. Kuwait’s food subsidy initiative has ultimately improved the nutrition of Kuwaiti children and created widespread food security in Kuwait.
- Expatriates in Kuwait who do not receive subsidized food are at great risk of food insecurity. The average non-Kuwaiti worker in 2018 earned about 299 KD, while the average Kuwaiti citizen earned 1,415 KD. In the event of another surge of COVID-19, this wage gap could be especially catastrophic for the 2 million foreign nationals in Kuwait who do not receive food subsidies. For some, their salary might even not cover all of their basic human needs.
- A major reason for Kuwait’s reliance on imported food is its weak agriculture industry, which has traditionally consisted of fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, onions and melons. Ultimately, agriculture contributes less than 0.5% to the country’s GDP. Further development of agriculture seems unlikely considering an average annual rainfall of about four inches and 8.6% arable land. An underdeveloped agriculture sector would be an existential threat to most countries. Conversely, Kuwait’s small population, great wealth and diversified imported food supply chain allow it to circumvent such risks.
- Kuwait’s fisheries have experienced reduced production. Kuwait’s fisheries can provide only 33-49% of total fish demand in Kuwait and their production has dropped by over 20% in recent decades. Anything that negatively impacts Kuwait’s fishing industry could make Kuwait more dependent on other countries for their fish supply. If water temperatures increase as predicted, the average price of fish would likely rise with the departure of locally-sourced fish. This could increase poverty nationwide. Therefore, programs like the DNA Project are crucial to protecting Kuwait’s food security in the future. The DNA Project intends to collect DNA from local and migrating fish in order to manage stock more effectively.
Kuwait Works with FAO
Although fighting domestic poverty has long been a priority for Kuwait, the growing presence in foreign policy is exciting. Kuwait’s current work with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to combat hunger in Syria is just one example of this transition. In May 2019, Kuwait donated three million dollars to the FAO, securing 200 kilograms of enhanced wheat seeds for 20,000 Syrian farmers and their families. Consequently, agricultural production and food security in Syria have both been bolstered. Kuwait’s involvement in eliminating poverty in Syria builds on its partnership with the FAO in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, where it has achieved similar success in improving food security. As collaboration develops between nations to eliminate poverty, the ability to achieve other humanitarian goals will significantly increase as well.
– Alex Berman