UAE ensuring food security
Whether it is agritech initiatives or creating state-of-the-art food processing hubs, the UAE is connecting the dots in its food security strategy. Image Credit: Supplied

Many of the emirates are serving as incubators for the UAE’s rising capabilities in food production. Dotting the desert landscape in Al Ain is a row of greenhouses that symbolize this ambition of being self-reliant in food production.

A host of activations in food production were also showcased during Expo 2020 Dubai, leveraging controlled environments such as aquaponics and hydroponics. The list goes on.

The work being done in local food production is all the more vital as GCC food demand is expected to reach 52.4 million metric tons by 2025, up from 46.8 million tons in 2020. Boosting local food production thus plays a central role within the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy 2051 to diversify food import sources and identify alternative supply schemes.

There are also other benefits to cultivating a strong local food industry. This includes a need to meet the nutritional demands of the population, forecast to swell from roughly 9.5 million today to 11.5 million by 2025, significantly increasing demand for food. In parallel, the pandemic exposed inherent weaknesses in global supply chains, thus accelerating the need for more resilient food supply systems. There’s also a real economic impact of relying on food imports. This time last year, the UAE imported nearly Dh18 billion worth of food in just a single fiscal quarter.

Domesticating even a portion of the country’s food needs promises a significant boost to the local economy in line with national economic diversification goals. Taken as a whole, the nation can serve as a model for public-private collaboration in enhancing food security.

Central to security

The government does of course play a crucial role in any nation’s food economy. The starting point is a national framework to guide public and private sector policies in food production. The UAE’s establishment of the National Strategy for Food Security is already spurring the development of a comprehensive ecosystem that enables sustainable food production using modern technologies. Initiatives under this framework are constantly being rolled out.

Abu Dhabi has unveiled an Dh152 million incentive package to support the development of the domestic agritech industry. The Abu Dhabi Investment Office also announced an Dh367 million investment to bring agritech pioneers to the emirate to develop next-generation solutions for arid and desert climates. Just last year, there was the launch of ‘Food Tech Valley’ aimed at food self-sufficiency while ensuring sustainability and conservation of resources. The Food Tech Valley will be a hub for agricultural technology and engineering, a food innovation center, R&D facilities, and an advanced smart food logistics hub.

Through such projects across the UAE, the government aims to make the UAE among the world’s leaders in the Global Food Security Index by 2051. But this ambition is one that the UAE’s private sector must also take pride in supporting. It not only creates social value but makes clear business sense.

Localised manufacturing

Today, there is a slew of attractive segments within the UAE food industry just waiting to be developed locally. The rising demand for healthy and organic packaged foods is just one example. The UAE also sits at a crossroad of global trade with Asia, with quick and easy access to raw products such as salts and spices from which to manufacture its own brands. As hundreds of varieties of crops are being supported by projects like the Food Tech Valley, scaling the UAE’s infrastructure for food manufacturing enables local players to supply both local and regional customers with fresh food.

This combination of ambitious public policy combined with private sector innovation is making the UAE one of the most exciting countries globally for food. Entrepreneurs in this domain recognize the potential not just for their own gains, but in helping chart a path of social-economic progress across the region.