The UAE is busy expanding the agricultural base despite all the obstacles in the form of weather and landscape. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Access to food and an ample food supply has been a fundamental focus within communities since time began: from early hunter-gatherers to foragers becoming farmers, to the modern day where food production is plentiful, but supply chains are increasingly under pressure.

Despite advances in food manufacturing techniques, preservation processes and better nutritional value in the global food market, the challenge of food security is a concern. If left unaddressed, the impact has the potential to be devastating. Recognised as one of the core United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the call for action is hailed from a global platform – with world leaders, governments and the international food community tasked with finding innovative, restorative and sustainable solutions.

The UAE’s National Food Strategy 2051, announced in November 2018 by Mariam Bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, Minister of State for Food and Water Security, served as an important demonstration of the country’s commitment to being part of the food security solution – and recognised on a global scale. The Strategy involved developing a global-scale food production and distribution capacity, which has fortified the UAE’s resilience to the current disruption in global food supplies caused by the Ukraine–Russia conflict, where other MENA countries are increasingly fragile.

With the UAE’s food security status rising, the process that underpins the Strategy is simple but comprehensive. With a harsh natural climate it has had to ‘think differently’ in food production, preservation and supply. The process has three steps.

Secure your food supplies

The UAE’s founding fathers will have had occasional food scarcity, in an unforgiving desert climate. The foresight to establish a National Strategy for Food Security (NSFS) in 2018 has overcome international transport issues exacerbated by pandemic travel restrictions, climate change, supply shortages and changing consumer choices.

NSFS defined ‘the national basket’ of 18 food types, based on domestic food product consumption, local production and processing capacity, and people’s nutritional needs. It also seeks to support the global food trade, diversify national food import sources and identify alternative supplies for each major food category, reinforcing food security options in troubled times.

Create healthy nutritional options

Whilst addressing food vulnerability and maintaining reliable flows of essential food items, we should focus also on the type of food grown (or manufactured). Feeding people is the minimum; can we also deliver nutritious, healthy foodstuffs amidst the quest for global food security, ensuring sustainability and minimising food waste?

Al Ghurair Foods’ Sri Lankan flour mill produces the nation’s first indigenous high-fibre wheat flour, after supply disruption restricted the availability of essential commodities. This supplies high-quality, nutritious flour across the island, despite petrol rationing and reduced import options, which plays a valuable role in ensuring food security and nutrition.

Another example is the UAE’s vertical farms which produce food staples as well as exotic herbs and grasses. Pioneering hydroponics, shortened supply chains and the joy of ‘local produce’ add to vertical farming’s success in a more sustainable food ecosystem.

Improve distribution – getting food to where it’s needed

The final food security element involves moving foodstuffs from ports (or factories) to suppliers. Storage and distribution are always critical elements in food supply, from pests decimating farmers’ grain stores with perfectly-edible crops rotting unpicked.

The UAE has adopted streamlined supply chains to support local food production, exporting that expertise globally. Its airlines and ships move food products internationally, with Etihad Rail’s launch to further boost the UAE’s transport infrastructure.

The Gulfood Manufacturing FoodTech Summit in Dubai from November 8-10 is a vital moment for the food industry to examine Food & Beverage (F&B) innovation and the future of food production. From utilising alternative ingredients – to reducing the reliance on increasingly scarce foodstuffs, to factories of the future and new production techniques, to building increasingly integrated supply chains, and embracing industrial creativity through AI, data insights and other tech solutions.

The Summit will also showcase food production’s impact beyond the UAE. This is a key opportunity to both celebrate our progress and impart knowledge to the wider community on bolstering food security, enhancing consumer choice, improving supply chains and helping others to build their food security options, through the UAE’s generous practical support for nations in need.