Dubai: Saudi Arabia, currently self-sufficient in wheat, is likely to start importing the grain in the third quarter of 2008 to tame high domestic prices and boost stocks, traders said on Sunday.

The government said in January it will start reducing purchases of wheat from local farmers by 12.5 per cent per year from this year, abandoning a 30-year programme to grow wheat that achieved self-sufficiency but depleted the desert kingdom’s scarce water supplies.

Riyadh’s plan was to start importing wheat in the spring of 2009 and move to 100 per cent reliance on foreign purchases by 2015.

“It is now clear that the local wheat harvest will yield less this year, so we are planning to look abroad most likely in the third quarter, which will ease local high prices,” a Gulf-based wheat importer said.