Food is big business in the UAE. It is the second largest sector in the country. In 2016, total food sales were Dh121 billion ($32.9 billion). Food is not only important for the local UAE economy but also for the country’s global aspirations and ongoing economic development transformation.
Here are five ways the UAE is an architect of its own food security and sustainability.
- Economic development strategy prioritizing food security and sustainability
Tackling the challenges of food security, Ministers of State, HE @mariammalmheiri and HE @sarahamiri1, highlighted the UAE's strides in supporting a healthy and sustainable food security system benefiting from innovations in science and technology. #GlobalFuturesCouncil #UAEGov pic.twitter.com/ogCKSv2u1E
— UAEGov (@uaegov) November 12, 2018
The world’s growing population, coupled with climate change, is generally thinking longer-term on food security and sustainability. In the case of the GCC this is a present issue, with most land is not arable for farming, such as with the UAE who imports 90% of its food. In the long-term, the UAE does see food security as a priority. For instance, following a cabinet reshuffle, Mariam Al Mehairi was appointed as Food Security Minister, who is overseeing the development of UAE Centennial 2071”, a long-term national strategy for the UAE to be the best in the world.
There is also UAE Vision 2021, a long-term plan that aims to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world by 2021, with two of its four pillars including a competitive knowledgeable and innovative economy and a nurturing and sustainable environment for quality living.
- Increase in sustainable farming and greenhouses
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#Dutch ambassador #FrankMollen during the launch of #PureHarvest with the presence of @mariammalmheiri, Minister of State for Food Security. Amazing event at a very special location, we wish Pure Harvest a very successful produce and presence in the #UAE! #betterthanorganic #tasteliketheyshould #dutchinnovation #tomatoes #greenhouse
Agritech entrepreneurs are building various commercial greenhouses across the UAE. There is Badia Farms, the GCC’s first commercial farm launched this year in Dubai, which was officially inaugurated by Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment. Second, the Al Dahra BayWa Greenhouse has inaugurated in Al Ain this past October and expected to locally produce 3,000 tonnes of tomatoes; this is part of a Dh167 million joint venture between German BayWa AG and Abu Dhabi-based Al Dahra. Finally, there was the recent inauguration of the one-hectare greenhouse Pure Harvest Smart Farms in Nahel, Al Ain, which had her Excellency Mariam Al Mehairi and the Dutch Ambassador to the UAE Frank Mollen in attendance alongside other high-profile guests.
- Hosting World-Leading Events
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#Repost @dubaimediaoffice ・・・ . صاحب السمو الشيخ محمد بن راشد آل مكتوم حاكم #دبي يزور معرض الخليج للأغذية "جلفود" ويتجول في مختلف قاعات المعرض في مركز دبي التجاري العالمي . . @hhshkmohd tours @gulfood, one of the biggest annual food and hospitality show being held at #Dubai World Trade Centre
Dubai is getting ready to host Expo 2020. Its theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” has sustainability as a subtheme; within that food and agriculture naturally plays a huge part. Besides Expo, Abu Dhabi earlier this year hosted the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture, which had visitors from 86 countries.
The UAE is already a host of world-class innovative food events. Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) is home to Gulfood, now the world’s largest annual food and beverage trade event with nearly 100,000 visitors. DWTC also has other trade shows in the sector like the recent Speciality Food Festival, Yummex, Seafex and Gulfhost, as well as Gulfood Manufacturing, The ME Natural & Organic Products Expo and SIAL Middle East in Abu Dhabi.
- Logistics hub and exporting current know-how
.@ACIWorld Airport Traffic Report: #Dubai International remained in third position with more than 88 million passengers and maintained its position as the world’s busiest hub for international passenger traffic. DXB also ranked 6th in terms of Air cargo.
Image: @AirlineGeeks pic.twitter.com/oPHjAFone0
— Dubai Media Office (@DXBMediaOffice) September 20, 2018
Aspects of the food supply chain and cycle are relying more on the Gulf, and this know-how is also being exported. This know-how makes the UAE a strong player as far as exports. For example, Lulu Hypermarket signed earlier this year a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Indian state of Telangana to invest $400 million USD in a shopping mall, food processing plant, and logistics and export processing unit for fruits and vegetables.
The UAE’s current strong infrastructure and logistics cargo hub capabilities, notability with Dubai International Airport and Jebel Ali port, put it in a strong position in the future as far as global trade, especially with respect to food – not just with reexporting but one day as it potentially might be able to export more of its home-grown commodities.
- Public health initiatives
There are noticeable trends with wider healthy eating options, much of which is home-grown from the UAE. For instance, Spinneys Dubai earlier this year announced introducing a new first-of-its-kind labelling system that allows customers to trace their food “from farm to fork.” Also, companies like Ripe Organic and restaurants and supermarkets offering organic, gluten-free and vegan – to name a few – are becoming more noticeable in the UAE food landscape.
Dubai last year started its first “Dubai Fitness Challenge,” an initiative by the Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. A series of events on health, fitness, well-being, weekend carnivals to citywide events, and the community joined in to help make Dubai the most active city in the world. Hugely successful, the initiative happened again this year.
For the UAE’s ambitions and strengths, signs are very admirable and forward thinking about the country’s global status and reputation in the food sector. Its ongoing economic diversification clearly has food security playing a huge part of that.
Richie Santosdiaz is a recent UAE-based economic development expert with a focus on internationalisation in the management consulting space, where he advises governments and multinationals. At present, he sits as an advisor for London-based Pax Tecum Global Consulting – amongst his other current work. He is also an active thought leader in the economic development space.