Nabeel Gangi is FAO’s Representative to the UAE and GCC. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: International organisations will reach out to partner with the UAE Food Bank in its fight to eliminate food waste and channel good food to good causes, experts said.

The UAE Food Bank’s mechanism and implementing guidelines have yet to be released after its launch last week. But international food organisations have already expressed their keenness to support the initiative.

Nabil Gangi, Representative to UAE and Coordinator ad interim of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Sub-Regional Office for GCC States and Yemen, lauded the UAE for its role in leading the region in recovering and redistributing safe and nutritious food for human consumption.

“FAO welcomes this initiative and looks forward to include the UAE’s spearheading best practices towards “Dubai Zero Waste” among its global “Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Losses and Wastes”. FAO will continue to work hand-in-hand with the UAE government and stakeholders to ensure the success of this initiative within a sustainable Food Diversification Strategy,” Gangi told Gulf News.

Gangi added: “The beauty of this initiative is that it is home-grown. It will look at other country’s experiences, but will also look at how it could address elements pertaining specifically to the UAE.”

Food banks operate successfully on a fourfold approach, Gangi said. The first is through government involvement by way of laying policies, laws and regulations. The second is society implication where residents are made aware of why the initiative will benefit and is relevant to them.

The next step is to get the private sector on board, Gangi said. And lastly, is to make the process “simple and clear” so everyone in the community can pitch in.

“This initiative in every stage from the collection to the distribution has got to look into these aspects: whether it’s food storage, fridges, where and how will they be operated, if it will use solar energy, and many other elements,” Gangi said.

Dr Moez Al Shohdi, Founder and CEO of the Food Banking Regional Network that operates from the International Humanitarian City, said professionally qualifying partner non-profit organisations (NPO) is among the key factors in the success of any food bank.

“After that, we screen the needy families on the databases of qualified NPOs to avoid duplication [and errors]. We’ve found that 30 per cent or more of those in the database are actually not in need,” Al Shohdi, who has established 22 food banks in the MEA region and South Asia since 2006, told Gulf News.

Another key aspect is to directly partner with multinational companies because they will always have excess production. The donations act as an investment that should be seen as endowments on the part of donors to make the programme sustainable.

“We are now providing 17.8 million meals a month, that’s an average of 600,000 meals a day out of saved meals from our partners. [Our] model is very successful and I believe we can cooperate with the UAE Food Bank to make it one of the top food banks so we can also support other countries outside UAE.”

How food banks work

The world’s first Food Bank was set up in Phoenix in 1967 by John van Hengel. The soup-kitchen volunteer said he got the concept from a woman with 10 children and a husband on death row. The woman cooked food, the ingredients of which came from discarded produce and frozen meats in bins behind grocery stores. Many of these goods were still edible but were thrown away for various reasons.

The food bank is called thus because it works similar to a typical bank but the currency is mainly excess food or produce that is “deposited” by groceries, restaurants and other sources. This can be ‘withdrawn’ by charities to distribute to people who can’t afford to eat.

What can be donated:

The items vary depending on the food bank’s rules. In general, these items are often donated (either fresh, canned or frozen): cooked food (as per required temperature and proper handling), grains, meat and meat alternatives, dairy, vegetables, instant foods and baby formula.

Who can donate:

Hospitality, retail and manufacturing sector; farms, individuals