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Economy, agriculture and food security
In 2007, the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$381.7 billion. The share of GDP accounted for by agriculture rose during the 1980s, mainly as a result of the decline in revenue from the petroleum sector and government efforts to pursue a policy of greater self-sufficiency in agriculture. It was 8.8 percent in 1993. Since the late 1990s it has fallen again, mainly as a result of the decline in subsidies from the government to national farmers in an effort to reduce water consumption in agriculture. In 2007, agriculture accounted for only 3 percent of GDP. The total economically active population was 8.7 million or over 35 percent of the total population (2005). The population economically active in agriculture was estimated at 600 000 in 2005, of which only 9 percent was female.
Even though environmental conditions are not ideal, Saudi Arabia has always attached great importance to the agricultural sector and has given it priority in its various development plans. The sector is expected to achieve the goals of economic development among which food security, diversification of the production base and minimization of the reliance on petroleum as a main source for the national income. Various government policies and programmes have been devised and implemented in the past so as to permit the achievement of such goals.
These policies and programmes included a great deal of support and encouragement for the private sector to invest in the agricultural sector, such as subsidies, interest-free loans, and free distribution of uncultivated land, in addition to the development of infrastructure (roads, dams, irrigation and drainage canals), extension services, protection, quarantine, research services and training of agricultural workers, farmers and their sons. All this led to the achievement of self-sufficiency for some important food crops such as wheat, dates, table eggs, fresh milk and some vegetable products, besides increasing the levels of self-sufficiency for other vegetables, fruits, poultry meat and lean meat (FAO, 2007).