Dubai: An exciting transformation is underway in the UAE’s thriving food and agriculture sector. Over the next five years, this industry is set to offer 20,000 job opportunities – with salaries starting from Dh12,000 and going all the way to Dh50,000. Not only that, the sector is projected to add a $10 billion boost to the nation’s economy.
And the fast-evolving landscape is offering multiple roles, from food scientists to geneticists, nutritionists to traditional farmers, and food technologists.
Saleh Lootah, Chairman of UAE Food and Beverage Manufacturing Business Group, said, “Post-pandemic, the government has prioritised food security and has done quite a bit to diversify its sourcing and supply chain processes. Moreover, with the rise in vertical farming and aquaponics, the industry is set to undergo a considerable transformation, boosting job opportunities.”
There is also an increased focus on producing locally and transforming the country into a major food hub as consumers demand traceability. “Consumers want produce that is locally produced. There is also growing interest in e-commerce and conscious buying. Whatever can be produced locally is being grown and consumed here,” explained Lootah.
Going forward, the most in demand jobs in the sector would be for geneticists, nutritionists, people who develop farming systems, agriculture engineers, and experts in food technology.
Most in-demand jobs
Considering these factors, industry experts are predicting many new job opportunities within the sector. “Going forward, the most in-demand jobs in the sector would be for geneticists, nutritionists, people who develop farming systems, agriculture engineers, and experts in food technology,” said Lootah.
There is also an increased focus on new research and product development. Graduates with experience in food science and agri-tech would be greatly in demand in the next 2-3 years, with many Emiratis joining the workforce.
Abdul Vaheed, UAE Secretary General of Food and Agriculture Group, said that in traditional agriculture, the existing workforce of farmers (animal and plant) and individuals who engage in fish farming are currently doing it for personal or community consumption.
“However, even this segment is getting a lot of incentives and money from the government,” he said. This is allowing them to scale up their operations.
The UAE government is actively supporting local food manufacturing businesses for food security reasons.
“Innovation in the F&B sector is rising, with automation and AI playing significant roles. This shift has resulted in the localisation of the supply chain,” said Luke Truin, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Food People, a company specialising in mid to senior-level recruitment across the entire value chain of the F&B industry.
Moreover, consumers have become more discerning. “The market has shifted from traditional marketing to a focus on quality, innovation, freshness, and variety. Consumers now demand visibility and traceability of products, which has led to the implementation of QR codes by many companies, for example,” he added.
Diversity is crucial when it comes to recruitment in the food sector, and small businesses benefit from diverse teams as it drives business growth.
And companies need young, fresh minds to get the job done. But these pose a challenge. “The younger generation, particularly Generation Z, is more attracted to the tech industry. But companies often seek individuals with extensive GCC experience, which can limit the introduction of new perspectives,” he said. Truin suggested that businesses should focus on building their culture, creating an environment that encourages talent to stay, and nurturing new talent.
Industry experts say agri-tech positions are particularly lucrative, as these roles have the potential to offer developers anything between Dh16,000 and Dh20,000.
Sidhartha Samal, Customer Experience Leader at Mindsprint (the technology and business services wing of agri-giants Olam Group), said, “With digital interventions in food distribution, there’s a shift towards online ordering, processing, and invoicing, even on the B2B front. Retailers are connected to distributors via apps, streamlining logistics and stock ordering.”
Samal said this transformation demands skill development for sales teams, including trainers and platform developers. “Moreover, strong analytics underpin these solutions. And there is a growing need for architects, senior and entry-level developers, project managers, and executives within the sector,” explained Samal.
Lucrative pay scales
Regarding pay scales, the starting salaries for those entering the food industry begin at Dh12,000 and go up to Dh16,000, said Vaheed. In the agri-tech industry, salaries average from Dh16,000 to Dh20,000 per month. “Typical monthly salaries for these roles range from Dh25,000 to Dh45,000 for entry to mid-level positions, while senior executives can earn Dh50,000 or more, with potential for a 20 to 25 per cent increase to adjust for inflation,” he explained.
For senior executives, salary levels present a significant challenge for the industry, said Truin. “Employers may not feel compelled to offer excessive salaries because the job market is saturated with job seekers who assume that payscales in UAE and Saudi Arabia are attractive. That is not always the case,” he said.
Instead, companies should concentrate on their specific business needs and consider benchmarking salaries internally. “For instance, if a company, let’s call it Company X, is hiring a Supply Chain Director, they should structure their compensation based on the role’s value. If the candidate previously earned Dh50,000, but the position warrants Dh100,000, then it’s fair to pay them a higher salary,” explained Truin.
“Consistently underpaying employees can be unfair and may result in competitors luring them away. The industry should have high expectations, considering 15 to 20 per cent salary adjustments to account for inflation compared to 2019,” Truin said.