The UAE’s aim to further enhance food security and attain number one ranking in the Global Food Security Index by 2051 were the key focus areas at a MEED webinar entitled ‘Agritech – Enhancing Food Security in the UAE’, organised by DP World, UAE Region and Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza).
UAE Minister of State for Food and Water Security Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri (pictured right) delivered a keynote speech, emphasising that the efficiency of the food supply chain is a top priority for the UAE’s leadership.
The country’s National Food Security Strategy serves as a “roadmap to overcome all food-related challenges via innovative solutions such as accelerated adoption of agricultural technology (agritech), a strategic direction for the UAE”, Almheiri said.
“Agritech will help increase our domestic food production while minimising the use of water, one of the scarcest resources in our region.”
She added: “Agritech is transforming the UAE with a growing landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA’s) in the form of indoor greenhouses and vertical farms that typically use 95 per cent less water than traditional farms.”
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO of DP World (pictured below), said the UAE has come a long way, from “being a country that primarily has vast stretches of desert land to now being a booming hub for agritech”.
“As we utilise the power of modern technologies to boost agriculture in the nation, we are certain that we will meet our goal of increasing food production by 30-40 per cent in 10 years. Increased investments and the UAE’s robust digital infrastructure will accelerate our progress in the field,” he said.
Securing the supply chain
DP World, UAE Region has been a key contributor to the growth of the region’s food and beverage (F&B) sector, thanks to its AED13.3bn ($3.6bn) foodstuff, livestock and agricultural products sector in Jafza.
The free zone’s dedicated F&B cluster spans an area of 1.55 million square metres, supporting more than 4,700 port customers and hosting 550+ companies from more than 70 countries.
Mohammed al-Muallem, CEO and managing director of DP World, UAE Region and CEO of Jafza, praised initiatives such as the National Food Security Strategy 2051 and Emirates Food Security Council, as well as the UAE’s efforts to tackle environmental challenges.
“In June last year, the Federal Cabinet approved a national system for sustainable agriculture to improve the efficiency of farms in the UAE, enhancing our self-sufficiency in food. We, on our end, are offering our full support through our world-class hub for food and agriculture that hosts various companies.”
As part of the panel discussion, Abdulla bin Damithan, chief commercial officer, DP World, UAE Region, said: “The supply chain has a pivotal role in the growth of any economy. Disruption in the supply chain has a direct impact on food security. There is huge scope in how we can achieve sustainability with technological innovation and management of food and agriculture with futuristic solutions.
“The recently launched F&B Terminal at DP World is a progression in achieving this goal, which is aligned with the country’s vision to establish the UAE through Dubai as a leading innovation and F&B hub. We need to disrupt the old norms, promote international trade partnerships, and collaborate and work towards supporting the country’s pioneering initiatives.”
Dubai is the gateway to 61 per cent of the UAE’s F&B trade by value, pointed out Djamal Djouhri, CEO of Al-Ghurair Resources Oils & Proteins and Al-Ghurair Foods.
“Despite being a nation that is largely food secure, it is essential to carve a roadmap that will help us prepare for the challenges of the future, which can include increased pressure on demand and supply for food and water resources,” he said.
Boosting food sustainability
Commenting on the urgent need for sustainability of the food supply value chain using new improved methods and technologies, Ralph Nehme, senior director of AeroFarms, explained: “The need to host such dialogue is crucial, especially in a world that is moving at a neck-breaking pace when it comes to developments.
“To ensure that we maintain sustainability, we must look beyond traditional practices. Since 2004, we, at AeroFarms, have been pioneering and leading commercial indoor vertical farming and agriculture from genetics to post harvest to create a more sustainable approach.”
Giving insights on urban agriculture, Henry Gordon Smith, sustainability strategist at Agriculture Consulting (pictured right), said: “According to a report by Fitch Solutions, UAE consumer spending over 2021 is positive with real household spending projected to reach AED505.6bn in 2021.
“Higher spending power will lead to an increase in demand in the sector. To guarantee no food shortage, countries around the world can use the power of urban agriculture, which can provide the global population with at least 10 per cent of its fresh fruit and vegetable supply.”
DP World, UAE Region’s Food and Agriculture Terminal at Jebel Ali Port has positioned Dubai as a major gateway for global trade in the F&B sector. Spread over 1 million sq m, it has a canal with a depth of 16 metres, allowing shipping cargo on a large scale.