Abu Dhabi: A staggering Dh6 billion worth of food is wasted in the UAE every year, and ends up in landfills, Mariam Al Mheiri, UAE Minister for Climate Change and Environment, said in the capital today.
This puts the UAE among the top nations in terms of food loss and waste per person per year, she said. She was speaking at a special event organised by Emirates Foundation on “Introducing Ne’ma – the UAE’s new collaborative approach to reducing food loss and waste” in Abu Dhabi.
“If we look at the UAE [at present], we unfortunately have one of the highest food loss and food waste per person per year globally. The amount of food that ends up in the landfill [every year] is valued at Dh6 billion. If you can use all that money for better purposes and better behaviour, imagine what [we could achieve],” the minister said.
A recently launched nationwide initiative – Ne’ma, the Arabic word for blessing– is working to promote more mindfulness and better behaviours towards food production, storage and consumption. It aims to halve food waste and loss in the UAE by 2030, or even earlier.
“The three Cs of COVID-19, climate and conflict are leading to a global food crisis, and it is really important that all of us take this seriously, and think of our own efforts. Food security is not just about growing food. It is holistic and includes where food starts to where it ends, so producers as well as consumers have a role to play,” Almheiri said.
As part of its new strategy to build more resilient communities, Emirates Foundation, in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, recently launched Ne’ma – a nationwide food loss and waste initiative to promote and align shared actions by key national stakeholders, including government, the private sector, NGOs and the general public, in collectively addressing food loss and waste across the whole food value chain, achieving impact at scale; making it a win for all sectors to practice food waste reduction and encouraging responsible consumption.
Ne’ma was initially revealed in March, in the presence of UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“Guided by the values of our founding fathers and ancestors when it comes to rational consumption of food, we are determined to transmit our values and behaviour that is deep-rooted in our Emirati society to our current and future generations to achieve sustainability,” Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed said at the time.
Today’s session, a breakfast discussion and media briefing, was the first major initiative to engage representatives from across government and industry in Ne’ma. Attendees discussed the challenges within industry and society, and shared pledges regarding the actions they would take to cut food waste and loss.
According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people across the world go hungry every day. At the same time, 30 per cent of the world’s food production is wasted annually, equivalent to 1.3 million tonnes, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has said.
Al Mheiri explained that food is misused at various levels in the production and consumption process, and that this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Food loss includes all the food in the supply chain before it reaches the consumer, at the farms, with the retailers and during distribution. Food waste is at the consumer level, and includes food that is wasted by hotels, restaurants, caterers and by households,” Al Mheiri said, before urging innovation and behavioral changes at all levels of society.
Experts at the session also highlighted that a whopping 60 per cent of food waste occurs at the household level, in addition to 25 per cent in the service industry industry and 15 per cent at the retail level.
Wassim Said, advisor at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said that combatting food waste therefore requires a change in mindset.
“Our fridges do not have to be packed; they should contain only the amount of food we will eat. We should also accept smaller plates of food, and shame those who leave behind food rather than those who accept leftovers,” he said.
Studies have also shown that slashing food waste by half its current amount in the UAE would be more impactful to ensure food security than doubling the national food production, Said added.
Other efforts should include innovation in agritech and storage technology to increase the shelf life of food products, and strategies to enable better distribution of prepared food that is not immediately consumed. Retailers can also contribute by slashing prices instead of offering more food at a set price. In addition, various sectors can work together to increase awareness about the value of food among young children.
This year, Ne’ma will itself roll out a specialist study to determine the baseline for food loss and waste in the country. This data can then drive legislation and facilitate innovation.
“The study will work with industry and government stakeholders to determine the baseline, and also uncover the root causes behind food waste and conspicuous consumption norms. At the same time, we will engage residents through awareness campaigns and food saving challenges,” Andrew Archer, director at the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, told Gulf News.
800 million people and more go hungry ever day, according to the United Nations
30 per cent of the world’s food production is wasted annually, equivalent to 1.3 million tonnes
Dh6 billion of food ends up in landfill across the UAE every year
50% reducing in food waste and loss targeted by 2030 as part of Ne’ma ore to follow