This carefully researched book focuses on food security in the Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf and on the Arabian Peninsula, but it ranges far beyond that subject to delve into the relative impact of oil and food on international trade and the likely effects of climate change on agricultural markets. Woertz begins in the 1970s, when the Arab-led oil embargo pushed up prices and elicited Western threats to withhold their food exports in retaliatory “food wars.” The oil-rich Arab states responded by investing in agricultural production elsewhere, primarily Sudan. Those projects eventually came to naught, although Saudi Arabia ultimately became a net exporter of wheat owing to generous state subsidies (and at the expense of the country’s meager ground-water resources). In 2008, agricultural prices surged in the wake of the financial crisis, rekindling concerns about food security in the region. Food importers began to search again for reliable partners in developing countries with unexploited capacity and low productivity. But poor infrastructure, political instability, and red tape discouraged Arab investors from backing projects in countries such as Ethiopia and Pakistan.
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