The Al Dahra stand at The AGRA Exhibition 2013 at the DIFC in Dubai Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Experts at Agra Middle East 2013 are calling for improved agriculture technologies to boost domestic food production amid insufficient water resources.

“We need more land requirements and logistics,” said Syed Tariq Husain, CEO at Emirates Investments Group.

The amount of land being used for agriculture in Asia and Africa is decreasing due to the rapid growth of cities, Nicholas Lodge, managing partner at Clarity, a consultancy for investments in water, energy and agriculture said.

Additionally, there are no systems in place to reserve agricultural land, which leads to the cutting down of domestic food productivity, he said.

Additionally, water used for agricultural purposes and others is scarce, he said.

When global food prices peaked in 2007 and 2008, the UAE government rushed to sign agreements with local supermarkets to cap prices of food items to help curb soaring inflation. Prices of commodities and staple foods, like oil and sugar, were rising. The worldwide shortages and surging prices made securing sources of food a matter of substantial importance. Investors then began to turn look beyond their shores in search of farmland to insulate themselves from market fluctuations.

Investors in the GCC continue to do just that, as well as increasing stocks bought internationally.

Edward Shaw, president at International Quality Forage, says there are risks to investing abroad, including exchange risks and political risks, such as trade barriers. He added that farmers may not produce certain crops, as their production depends on what they view as “the most profitable.”

Inefficient use of available resources

The inefficient use of water is a substantial issue in the UAE and GCC.

“It is being used as though it is in abundance and cheaply available,” said Lodge

The UAE and Saudi Arabia consume “six times the water per capita that’s being used in the UK,” Lodge said, adding that less than one per cent of total fresh water in the world is available to the region.

Already, the GCC is investing $100 billion in water desalination projects to increase water used for agriculture, among other things, from 2011 to 2016.

Lodge is calling for the increase of the region’s limited food supplies and lowering consumer demand, instead of the increase of consumer demand, which is currently happening in the UAE and GCC.

Available food in supermarkets, meanwhile, is being wasted. Food is thrown away if it does not meet the criteria of how it should appear- if blemishes are found on a product or if it reaches the end of its shelf date.

Increasing demand for food

Consumers in the GCC spend “sixty to seventy per cent of [their] available income on food,” adding the region is in a “desperate situation” to produce enough food supplies to feed themselves.

The growing population and the availability of disposable income are driving demand for food in the region, said Lodge.

High disposable income triggers diet changes in consumers, with many opting to buy more meat, he said, adding that in Saudi Arabia, it is forecasted that the consumption of meat will double in the next 15 to 20 years.

By improving technologies, such as greenhouses, hydropincs, as well as renewable energy production, the region can increase production of crops in the harsh clime, according to Dr Mohamed Amrani, director-research and innovation division, international centre for biosaline agriculture.

If domestically produced food increases with the help of these technologies, they can be produced for the same prices that are available internationally, according to Lodge.

If farmers have the “right technologies, infrastructure and inputs, they can do it,” he said.



Sarah Algethami is a trainee at Gulf News