The COVID-19 continues to reinforce the fragility of global food security. Global supply chains have suffered, with the pandemic exposing considerable vulnerabilities towards maintaining a sustainable and reliable flow of essential food items.
Across the global food community, this has served to create a sense of urgency to identify new ways of doing this – and to transform how we produce our food. Even before the pandemic, governments were increasingly putting food security on their agendas, ramping up initiatives across the industry to create a more secure and sustainable food ecosystem.
In recent years, the issue of climate change - coupled with economic instability and evolving consumer behaviour – had already heavily impacted and influenced food production. With the added complication of the pandemic, governments are under increased pressure to rethink methods to meet their own food security objectives, and deliver on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Looking to the Middle East in particular, with its harsh environmental conditions, the issue remains a key priority for the regions’ leaders. The UAE already is taking concrete action to become a global leader in driving food security, aiming to lead the ranking in the Global Food Security Index by 2051.
In 2021, the UAE established the Emirates Food Security Council to meet the National Food Security Strategy goals and is investing in new and innovative agricultural technologies to increase local production and distribution and to produce food more efficiently. With an ever-growing population, these initiatives are fundamental for the country to be able to cater for rising consumption needs.
Now, the country looks to a new frontier for food, with a number of key drivers and trends set to shape the future of food in the region.
Rise of agritech
There has been a monumental shift in global food production, and the world is looking at innovative and new sustainable agricultural technology solutions to address food security challenges. The UAE has implemented a number of agritech initiatives, such as ‘controlled-environment agriculture’; aquaculture to reduce the consumption of fresh water and farm in controlled conditions for fish; vertical farming by stacking layers of plants and vegetables in an indoor environment to control conditions for all-year round production, and other initiatives such as robotics and drone solutions for crop planning, production and resourcing to increase yields.
Supporting local produce
Local production is an opportunity to decentralise our food systems, develop shorter supply chains and support local businesses and communities as consumers demand fresh, healthy, and locally farmed produce. There are huge benefits to producing food locally, including nutritional benefits, as well as reducing carbon footprint and waste, and supporting job creation to boost the local economy.
At Al Ghurair Investment, we are long-time advocates for local production. With an underlying commitment to enhancing life in the communities in which we operate, we seek to actively facilitate regional food supply, and to enrich product diversity. From our wheat and other milling operations, an animal feed plant, and one of the UAE’s largest poultry farms, we deliver sustainable business solutions and streamline supply chains to support the production of local, fresh food across the region.
At this year’s Gulfood exhibition, there was a notable uplift in the presence of ‘homegrown’ brands – a trend that looks set to stay.
Healthy alternative diets
With a young and growing population in the UAE, environmental health, wellness, and sustainability are at the forefront of consumer decision-making. The emergence towards flexitarian diets -which includes cutting food groups, reducing consumption of animal products and the rise of vegan and plant-based diets - have grown exponentially.
These emerging behaviours go beyond solely health benefits ; many consumers are also raising questions not only about animal welfare, but also about the the environmental impact on the planet as a whole. Supermarkets, brands, and restaurants are rapidly meeting this evolving market demand and are focusing on providing alternatives to meat and dairy products.
As we enter a post-pandemic era, where consumers are demanding change from the food industry, food security remains at the top of policymakers’ agendas. There are clear signs of change in the regions’ dynamic agriculture sector, as the UAE leads the global charge for food security.
We must ensure we are all part of this ecosystem to address these challenges by strengthening our resilience, improving efficiencies in the supply chain, embracing new innovative trends, and supporting product diversity, to drive the food security agenda for all in the UAE and beyond.