Arabs’ Need For Bread
By: Rami Zurayk
Published Saturday, July 7, 2012
In last month’s issue, Futuribles magazine included an article by analyst Sebastien Abis dealing with the geopolitics of wheat in the Mediterranean. In the article, Abis discusses wheat’s nutritional, political and economic importance in Arab countries, where the farming of wheat actually began 2,800 years ago. The region used to be an exporter of wheat, but is now one of the biggest importers of wheat in the world.
Today, Arab countries buy one third of internationally traded wheat, while they only form 6 percent of the world’s population. Egypt is the biggest importer of wheat in the world. In ancient times, it was the first producer and exporter of the grain. It alone demands 8% of the world’s production.
Arab countries provide 8.3 percent of world production, but their share of world consumption rises to 13.8%. This makes them an easy hostage of international export markets. These are dominated by the European Economic Community, the Black Sea countries and North American countries, as well as Australia and Argentina.
Abis also highlights the central role played by wheat and its products in Arabic food. He reminds us that the word aysh means life and bread at the same time. As for the geopolitical dimensions, one has to remark on the symbolism of Iran’s situation. The country still imports wheat from the United States through transnational companies such as Cargill despite the economic sanctions imposed on it by America.
Abis concludes his article by reminding the reader of the important role played by the rise in food prices in fueling the Arab protests and in instigating the call by the EU to deal with the reality of the Arab food deficit through policies encouraging Euro-Mediterranean neighborliness.
Furthermore, the article addresses some very important issues. The Arab countries, being the biggest importers of wheat, have the ability to impose themselves much more forcefully on the market. They could ensure lower prices but only if they are able to agree on a united approach. This is of course what we seek, but so far it remains a distant dream.
Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect al-Akhbar's editorial policy.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.