Vertical farming
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Ramadan and Eid are now in our rearview. Last month, from dawn to dusk Muslims abstained from the blessings of food and water. Fasting offers insight into a real-life hardship for 793 million people around the world living without a reliable food and water source. Food insecurity is a tangible epidemic, and with the world population expected to balloon to nine billion by 2050, we ask ourselves, how will we secure sufficient food supply? While finding answers to this global question requires global answers, let’s consider how the United Arab Emirates, a country with unique characteristics, has prioritized food security as a nucleus of national policy.

Currently, the UAE ranks 31st on the Global Food Security Index, and, on November of 2018, resolved to become the highest ranked country by 2051, and in the top 10 by 2021. In this context, we will focus on what the private sector can do, and what could be improved on to achieve the goals set by HE Mariam Bint Mohammad Saeed Hareb Al Mehairi, Minister of State for Food Security in UAE.

The Emirates need to overcome unique challenges before reaching its food security goals. The obvious challenge, one that differentiates the UAE from many food-secure countries in the world is its climate. As a desert environment with a limited amount of arable land, the UAE deals with hot weather in the summer time, and sees little rain fall during this period. The climate poses a challenge not only for domestic food production, but also for food storage. Furthermore, fresh water supply is limited and a reliance on desalination makes agricultural production problematic and costly.

Despite the UAE’s limited domestic food production, due to limited arable land, freshwater resources and harsh climate, it has leveraged its financial and diplomatic capital to maintain food security in the country. Namely, robust import strategies based on diplomatic and trade relations coupled with easy access to global trade markets and several strategic trade ports have paved the path to easy food supplies access.

Moreover, the United Arab Emirates is a talent incubator; good ideas are quickly adopted, and the country is eager for continuous growth and prosperity. Enter, the private sector. The efforts of the private sector are catalyzed by the governments’ focus on food security. In the UAE if you have a bright idea, there will be no lack of sheer support from leaders and stakeholders alike. Thus, the question that the private sector must ask itself is: “what can be done to augment the governments’ policies and support?”

While this complicated question, can have an equally convoluted answer, we’ll start here: research. Research is a proven method of amplifying food security in a nation. You might ask yourselves, why would the private sector focus on research, a task traditionally regulated to the ivory towers of universities? The answer is a simple one and is very much rooted in sustainability. The private sector is quintessentially sustainable in its essence, because it simply must be. And as the private sector continues to focus on food security solutions, they will develop cost-effective and implementable solutions for today’s market.

One food security solution is vertical farming. Vertical farming is the practice of producing food in vertically arranged tiers and vertically inclined surfaces, sometimes integrated with other structures such as skyscrapers. Private sector companies, sustainable by nature, will conceive cost-effective, implementable solutions that address current issues while thinking ahead for the future. Vertical farming has already been implemented in the UAE; however, it is the private sector that can catapult these efforts and strive for solutions not only sustainable in the green and traditional sense of the word, but sustainable from an economic perspective as well.

Vertical farming is only the tip of the food security solutions iceberg. A myriad of technologies can also be implemented, but the question is how. Leveraging technology, research, and innovation in a harmonious cluster catalyzed by the private sector’s inherent efficiency, is the key to produce more food using less water and energy. As such, UAE’s private sector has a pivotal role in the efforts to cultivate food security into a holistically sustainable local industry.

So, the next time you gather around the table, ideally with friends and family, think about the millions of people around the world who struggle to secure basic nutrition. Think about the future of food in the beloved country we call home. Think about what you can do to help the country achieve its goal of being the most food secure nation per the Global Food Security Index.

More importantly, if you are a stakeholder in the private sector, think about how your company can play an active role in the food security endeavor. The UAE is a country underpinned by innovation, now is always better than later to leverage the opportune circumstances and make an impact.

-Darine El Khatib FAO's special goodwill ambassador, in association with SmartWatt