Exploring the complex factors for ‘Advancing Food Security in the UAE’

Despite importing 80-90% of its food supplies, the UAE has been considered "food secure."
Sunday 08/04/2018
UAE’s Minister of State for Future Food Security Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri addressing the policy forum on “Advancing Food Security in the UAE.”                       (MBRSG)
With an eye on the future. UAE’s Minister of State for Future Food Security Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri addresses a policy forum on “Advancing Food Security in the UAE.” (MBRSG)

DUBAI - Food security is a vital issue in the United Arab Emirates and the country has made considerable progress towards a comprehensive plan to address related challenges. In the Gulf country, which is heavily dependent on food imports, there is awareness that much can be done to improve resilience and sustainability.

Faced with a growing population and rising consumption needs, the UAE also has to deal with lack of water resources and arable land.

The creation of the position of minister of state for future food security, a post held by Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, and a growing awareness of the need to address food security issue signal a renewed focus on the need to devise long-term strategies.

The Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG), the research and teaching institution focused on governance and public policy in the Arab world, in January released “Advancing Food Security in the UAE,” which proposed solutions for improvement.

“Food security is a complex issue, one that we cannot tackle unless we arm ourselves with extensive knowledge of its multitude of components and insight into current realities and future trends affecting the production, procurement and stockpiling of food products to meet the growing demand sparked by the UAE’s large-scale development,” said Almheiri during a forum in February at MBRSG.

“This is where in-depth studies such as this one come into play.”

She stressed the social and cultural role that food plays in Arab societies and said incremental steps needed to be taken so people do not become uncomfortable because of drastic change. “Let’s start with the youth and understand their attitudes towards food. We need to make them aware how much energy and water goes into the food,” she said.

“We should also encourage people to buy locally grown food,” said Almheiri, referring to sectors such as aquaculture and pisciculture, in which there have been major advances in the UAE.

The UAE ranked 33rd in the most recent “Global Food Security Index,” developed by DuPont and the Economist Intelligence Unit. Despite importing 80-90% of its food supplies, the UAE has been considered “food secure” because of its capacity to purchase food on the international market even if at higher costs. However, food security is a long-term concern.

The lack of arable land, water scarcity, hot climate and insufficient investment in agricultural research represent major weaknesses. The country’s high dependence on global and regional markets, coupled with projected population growth to 11.5 million in 2025 and local food consumption expected to increase 12% each year, will pressure the UAE’s food and water resources, the paper stated.

“Although the UAE is categorised as food secure, the research suggests that improving food security remains an ongoing challenge in light of changing climates, resource depletion and regional instability,” said Tara Fischbach, MBRSG associate researcher author of “Advancing Food Security in the UAE.”

“Developing policies that help overcome future food security challenges facing the UAE requires further research and development to build a solid foundation for effective food security strategy. Without such alignment of future strategies (supported) with research and development, future plans may lack resilience and sustainability,” Fischbach said in February.

The UAE is expected to capitalise on opportunities to boost food security, including the economic diversification, a growing entrepreneurship sector, green initiatives and new technologies, particularly in agriculture.

Fischbach said: “In terms of specific strategies, our research is concentrated on public policy and recommendations, outlined in our report; focus on policy dimensions of food security.”

The paper’s recommendations include encouraging development of long-term strategies that manage the country’s strengths and mitigate risks. Strategies must involve all stakeholders and empower them to find solutions to the UAE’s challenges.

“The UAE should continue efforts to develop a focused and overarching food security strategy and should outline a focused strategic goal from which all policies, tools and implementation mechanisms derive to achieve long-term impact,” recommended Fischbach

She emphasised that the UAE, with its climate challenges, must invest in technology that addresses its specific needs.

This involves “continuing to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels and towards innovation sectors of the future. These strategies must be intrinsically linked to its food security policy,” Fischbach said.

Research and development, she added, were vital to the UAE’s food security challenges.

“The UAE is pursuing research and development initiatives that would improve agro productivity. This policy is effective and must be more vigorously pursued,” she said.

“I think the government is very aware of the issue and has already put forward many initiatives and the minister has been working on different strategies in this area, including the development of a food security strategy for the UAE,” Fischbach added.