Saudi to import soft wheat as local production dwindles

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Huge wheat fields in Saudi desert. Photo - Matthaslam.wordpress.com

Saudi Grain Silos & Flour Mills Organisation (GSFMO) said on Thursday it may import soft wheat, in addition to the current hard wheat imports, to meet local food demand.

The desert kingdom has piled up imports sharply since abandoning plans for self-sufficiency in wheat in 2008. The country now aims to import all of its wheat by 2016 as it strives to save water.

Waleed el-Khereiji, director general of GSFMO, said on the sidelines of the International Grains Council’s annual conference a study is underway to assess local consumer demand for soft wheat, which is suited for products such as biscuits.

“Some of the industries in Saudi Arabia need soft wheat,” he told reporters. “We are doing a study of the demand for soft wheat in Saudi Arabia, and according to that we will gradually import soft wheat.”

“That will open up (imports) to other origins.”

He added that Saudi Arabia traditionally uses high-protein hard wheat for flour and, in line with last year’s level, expects to import about 2 million tonnes of wheat in 2012.

The European Union was the biggest supplier of wheat to Saudi Arabia last year with a 36% share, most of which was from Germany.

Canada followed with a 26% share with the United States with 14% and Australia with 12%.

El Khereiji disclosed that Saudi flour mills were traditionally built to process hard wheat, but new mills are able to handle both hard and soft wheat.

The top official said Saudi is also considering privatising the flour mill activities of GSFMO in an auction with four lots in the next two years.

The country wants to reduce its dependency on barley in animal-feed grains, of which it is the world’s largest importer, and plans to use feed wheat as well, he said.

Saudi Arabia’s imports of barley used for feed were expected to fall to 6.5 million tonnes from 7.2 million in 2011, he added.

“The government started to import feed wheat, and that will help decrease the high imports of barley,” he said, adding the issue was obtaining better nutrition for livestock and not a problem of barley availability on the world market.

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