Badr Jafar
Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises and Special Envoy for Business and Philanthropy Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), hosted the Food Innovation Conference 2024 in Dubai under the theme "Reimagining Future Food Systems." This high-level event brought together global experts from business, academia, government, and civil society to deepen cooperation and scale technological solutions for transforming food systems worldwide.

The closing session featured keynote speeches by Dr. Amna Al Dahak, UAE Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises and Special Envoy for Business and Philanthropy. Other prominent speakers included Dr. Abdulkareem Al Olama, Chief Executive Officer of MBRGI; Khadim Al Derai, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Al Dahra Holding; Ibrahim Al Zu’bi, Group Chief Sustainability Officer at ADNOC Group; and Jane Nelson, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Harvard Kennedy School.

The conference emphasized the fundamental shift needed in food production and consumption to address interrelated challenges such as food insecurity, biodiversity loss, and carbon emissions.

In his keynote speech, Badr Jafar, who also chaired the COP28 Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum, highlighted the importance of harnessing the combined power of business and philanthropy. He stated, "If we are to truly transform our food systems, we need to supercharge our commitment to collaboration across borders, disciplines, and sectors. As a businessperson who also believes in the power of strategic philanthropy, I am optimistic that we are entering a new era of multi-stakeholder cooperation where artificial walls between government, business, and philanthropy are coming down."

With widespread malnutrition affecting 2 billion people globally, current food systems also contribute significantly to environmental challenges. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), current food production methods are responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, 80% of deforestation, and consume over 70% of the world's freshwater. Additionally, global food consumption is projected to rise by at least 50% by 2050.

Badr Jafar emphasized that technology and innovation are powerful enablers and catalysts of change, commenting, "With $25 trillion in private markets, we know that business is uniquely equipped to channel vast amounts of private capital and expertise, global networks, and cutting-edge technology. For example, the impact that robotics and AI will have on our food systems is immense. From smarter farming and better food processing and safety to smoother supply chain management, the private sector will be on the leading edge of this transformation."

At COP28, the World Economic Forum announced the First Movers Coalition for Food, where the UAE and 20 leading food companies joined forces to create a combined procurement commitment for sustainably produced food, worth up to $20 billion by 2030. During the same UN climate conference, the World Economic Forum and MBRGI launched the Food Innovation Hubs initiative to leverage the exponential potential of technology in addressing food systems and climate needs both locally and globally.

Badr Jafar concluded, "In the UAE, this 'whole of society approach' is authentically being championed. Just as complex challenges such as food security, water scarcity, climate change, and public health cannot be viewed in isolation, the solutions to these challenges will not be spawned in isolation either. We need to work together, while continuing to play to our individual strengths, to operate at the speed and scale necessary to deliver a better world for generations to come."

The two-day conference encouraged knowledge exchange and capacity building, facilitated partnership opportunities, showcased country-led innovation ecosystem models, and explored the latest global frontiers in food systems innovations.