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Arab Grain Imports Rising Rapidly

Arab Grain Imports Rising Rapidly

Earth Policy Institute

By Sara Rasmussen

The Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they take in more than 20 percent of the world’s grain exports. Imports to the region have jumped from 30 million tons of grain in 1990 to nearly 70 million tons in 2011. Now imported grain accounts for nearly 60 percent of regional grain consumption. With water scarce, arable land limited and production stagnating, grain imports are likely to continue rising.

Egypt is the largest grain producer in the Arab world, accounting for almost 40 percent of the region’s harvest. Its grain production has doubled over the last 20 years. But because nearly all of the country’s available freshwater and arable land is already used for agriculture, further expansion of the grain harvest is unlikely.

In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia began pumping fossil water from deep underground, allowing it to farm the desert. By subsidizing wheat production at several times the world price, Saudi Arabia became the second largest Arab wheat producer in the early 1990s. At its peak, Saudi Arabia harvested more than twice the wheat it consumed, exporting the excess. But with the underground water supplies nearly depleted, wheat production has plummeted. By 2016, Saudi Arabia plans to phase out wheat production entirely. In a span of 25 years, the country will have gone from exporting wheat to relying exclusively on imports.

Across the Arab world, grain production is stagnating, yet grain demand is growing rapidly as population expands. Since 1960, the region’s population has nearly quadrupled to 360 million. By 2050 the region is projected to add another 260 million people, dramatically increasing pressure on already stressed land and water resources.

But population growth is not the only factor increasing demand for grain. With policies in many Arab countries encouraging meat production, the amount of grain used for livestock and poultry feed has soared from less than half a million tons in 1970 to 40 million tons in 2011. Increased meat and dairy consumption have raised grain use per person by 50 percent over that period.

Thus far, grain imports have filled the widening gap between production and consumption. But population growth alone will raise grain demand in the Arab Middle East and North Africa to 200 million tons by 2050, equal to two thirds of current world grain exports. Increased meat consumption would take demand up even higher. Ensuring grain supplies will become progressively more challenging as countries look to import more grain from abroad.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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