Mariam Al Muhairi Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: A strategy that will enable the UAE to be one of the top most food secure countries in the world that produces its own food with less reliance on imports and maximises the UAE’s abundant resources will be released in September.

The Ministry of State for Future Food Security will launch the UAE’s Future Food Security Strategy later in the year focusing on new technologies that will revolutionise agriculture and food production in the country.

Mariam Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Food Security, during a meeting with Dr Ismahane Elouafi, Director-General of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), on Monday said that though the UAE is currently food secure, the country is already preparing for the challenges of the future.

The UAE is the 33rd most food secure countries in the world out of 113, according to the Global Food Security Index 2017 by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Yes, the UAE is considered food secure. But if we look into the future, there lies many challenges for us: the effects of climate change, the high demand for food globally, and water scarcity. We cannot only rely on our buying power of food. We need to look into other innovative systems on how we can start producing food more locally and change the way we consume food as well,” Al Muhairi told Gulf News.

Al Muhairi said the strategy will enable the country to reach its target to become among the top 20 countries in the Food Security File by 2021 and to be the top by 2071. The initiatives will include new economic sectors such as aquaculture, which has shown very promising results in the UAE, and the closed-system agriculture, among others.

“The future of agriculture lies in a closed-system production. Several companies have already approached us and announced that they will start to roll out this year so we can expect some projects coming that’s going into high-tech greenhouse farming,” Al Muhairi said.

Closed-system agriculture is a sensible solution for urban farmers where warehouses or closed spaces are transformed into purpose-built vertical food factories, different from the conventional open-field agriculture being practised now.

Newer technologies will also be made available in the UAE and accessible to local farmers and the farmers of the future — the youth. Al Muhairi envisions future UAE households with reference to the past when Emirati homes used to have everything produced within its backyard or neighbourhood.

“We’ve gone from zero imports to nearly 90 per cent import. So in our future, we have to definitely look into how we can decrease our reliance on import,” she said.

Al Muhairi said the non-profit organisation ICBA will serve as one of the ministry’s most important arm for research and development for projects under the UAE’s food security umbrella.

During the meeting, Dr Elouafi said the centre’s decades of excellence and extensive on-the-ground knowledge and experience in farming systems in marginal environments will help meet the food security targets of the country. The centre prides itself for being able to study and grow various edible crops such as quinoa, pearl millet, salicornia, among others, using different types of water.

Al Muhairi said the goal is to “look into growing our food with seawater and that would be a breakthrough because we have [abundant] sunshine, sand and seawater”.