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UAE must develop a more self-sufficient food industry

The UAE must use technology to become self-sufficient in food production, says senior official

Monitoring prices
Image Credit: Alex westcott/Gulf News
Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister ofPresidential Affairs, inaugurated the SIAL exhibition yesterday.
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The current instability in world food prices means that the UAE must invest in high-tech agricultural methods to become self-sufficient, a senior official said in the capital on Monday.

High-tech methods must be used in order to maximise resource utilisation and prevent waste of agricultural resources, Ala'a Al Din Hassan Mousa, senior economic researcher at the Department of Economic Development, said.

"There is a definite gap between the kind of technology available and the ones that farmers here use, and greater investment is necessary so that unfavourable weather conditions and changes in export policy around the world do not jeopardise the population's access to food commodities," Mousa told Gulf News.

He was speaking at the SIAL Middle East 2010, a food summit and exhibition that saw food suppliers, retailers and government officials discuss current trends and challenges in the world food market.

Mousa said guaranteeing price stability and access to food was very important because changes in the price of an essential product like food affected all communities in the UAE, especially low-income groups.

"What is especially worrying is that although farmers can produce self-sufficient amounts of certain food groups like fruits and vegetables, they are unable to do so because they do not have access to high-tech production and irrigation methods," he said.

"In fact, prices of fruits and vegetables increased much more in the last year than the overall consumer price index [which is used to measure inflation rate]," Mousa said.

"Because the UAE relies exclusively on food imports, developing self-sufficiency in some strategic food items like fruits and vegetables is imperative," he added.

The researcher also said that one of the key challenges in getting farmers to adopt new methods of production was the lack of financial resources, especially in the case of small farms.

"In addition, the returns to the investment are not immediate, so many farmers need government support in order to change agricultural methods," he said.

If farmers have access to proper technology, they can also remain aware of market needs so they do not produce more than the required amount of crops in a given year, which can lead to wastage, Mousa added.