Despite importing 90% of its food supplies, UAE is considered food secure due to its capability to purchase food from international markets, even at higher costs. However, the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting disruptions to supplychains; border closures; restrictions in delivery routes; trade quotas and international export restrictions have all been a wake-up call for the UAE to further scale up its agricultural production at home.
UAE’s FOOD SECURITY CHALLENGES/CONTEXT
-The UAE faces significant challenges in producing food domestically. Only 0.5% of the land mass is arable, extreme heat limits the capacity to cultivate and store food, and the country receives very minimal rainfall.
-The UAE’s soil composition is predominantly made up of sandy soil, which is difficult to cultivate without additives and fertilizers
-The majority of UAE’s water supply is from groundwater and desalinated water , resources that are increasingly scarce or costly to produce
-Staple crops such as wheat and rice are not commercially cultivated in UAE due to their water-intensive requirements
-There are gaps in food handling throughout the supply chain, leading to food waste in all stages of production
-Adoption of food waste management policy and technology has been slow
FOOD SECURITY- A TOP PRIORITY FOR UAE
The UAE government has always placed food security at the top of its agenda. Over the past years, the country has
been working on bolstering its resilience to supply shocks, especially following the lessons of the global food crisis of 2007-2008.
In 2017, the government appointed H.E. Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri as Minister of State for Food Security to streamline all initiatives. And a year later the UAE launched the National Food Security Strategy 2051 with a vision to become a world-leading hub for innovation-driven food security. The strategy defines the components of the national food basket and includes 38 short- and long-term initiatives. It also spells out five broad goals with a focus on facilitating global food trade, diversifying sources of food imports through partnerships, and enhancing sustainable local food production, among others.
And two years on, the strategy has paid off. The country rose from 33rd place in 2017 to 21st in 2019 in the Global Food Security Index (GFSI), compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. By 2021, the strategy aims to make make the UAE among top 10 countries on the GFSI, to create more than 16,000 jobs, increase agricultural production by over 100,000 tonnes, and achieve economic returns of up to USD 6 billion.
SOME RECENT INVESTMENTS IN AGTECH
-In 2019, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) announced USD 272 million AgTech Incentive Programme -On September 23, 2020, at ADIO’s first sector-specific webinar titled “Inside Abu Dhabi: Innovation in Agriculture”, more than USD 30 million in financial incentives were announced to be offered to AgTech companies looking to establish or fast track their growth in Abu Dhabi.
-A USD 1.5 billion Dubai Food Park project was recently unveiled in the 51 million sqm Dubai Wholesale City.The region’s largest free zone and a dynamic food hub will create opportunities for companies around the world to capitalise on global food trading demands and presents an excellent opportunity for prospective investors.
-With USD 54 million invested to date in developing fish farms and hatcheries, Aquaculture is expected to become one of the country’s “breakout industries” as it represents a central component of the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy, with fish identified as one of its 18 strategic food items. Strategic partnership opportunities in the Aquaculture space is a new promising territory with more investments envisaged in knowledge and technology exchange capabilities in farm automation, IoT, drone management of offshore sites among other processes.
-The largest indoor farm in the world called GreenFactory Emirates has been announced in the UAE. The project
estimated to cost USD 177 million will be built in Abu Dhabi. GreenFactory Emirates will produce 10,000 tons of fresh produce per year on a plot of 17.5 hectares and a cultivation area of 160,000 sqm. Using most advanced indoor growing system, the farm will be using a combination of vertical and flat farming to solve the normal cultivation restrictions due to extreme climates in regions as the UAE. The project will also include a built-in research and development component that will help ramp up the production beyond the current varieties of crops. It will also optimise its production by collecting real time data to inform future global expansion of indoor farming.
PROJECTS RECENTLY IMPLEMENTED AND TECHNOLOGIES CURRENTLY IN USE
The UAE currently grows more than 70 types of vegetables and fruits. According to Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment, there were more than 35,000 farms in the UAE in 2018, with the highest number being in Abu Dhabi.10 UAE has seen a revolution with indoor LED-assisted vertical farms using hydroponics; aeroponics; shipping container farms; greenhouse farms; precision agriculture using hyperbaric chambers; coastal and inland modular farming.