Monday 25 September 2023 - 10:05:16 am

Ensuring availability of food, water at all times is my mission: Minister Almheiri

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By Abdullah Abdulkarim

ABU DHABI, 10th March, 2021 (WAM) -- The UAE is one of the top exporters of dates in the world, however, it still imports up to 90 percent of its food needs and that is a reality, which is going through a paradigm shift, says the Minister of State for Food and Water Security.

Mariam Almheiri cites agriculture, aquaculture and the employment of cutting-edge technology in these two sectors as essential in consolidating the UAE’s food security.

"Going through the past months was really a lesson learned for all of us," the minister told Emirates News Agency (WAM) in an interview, recalling the early days of COVID-19 in the UAE.

"We are so thankful that, with all stakeholders in the country and of course with our leadership, we were able to keep shelves full at all times. This really shows that our food system is resilient even though we are importing 90 percent of our food," she added.

"But with this in mind and the lessons we have learned, we want to ensure that also in the future we would be ready to face such a crisis if it happens again. We have to ensure that every citizen and resident in the UAE have access to nutritious food and drinking water at all times and at affordable prices. And when I say all times, it means when business is usual and also in emergency situations."

She affirmed that enhancing agricultural and food capabilities is a need as importing up to 90 percent of the country’s food needs poses a serious challenge to its food security.

"The UAE strives to develop its food producing sectors in general and the aquaculture sector in particular. We are also focusing on technology," the minister explained.

"Generally, vertical farming uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming. Reducing water consumption through vertical farms can also have a very positive economic and environmental impact.

"We only want to grow more locally produced food and become self-sufficient in some food items, and we also want to make sure we think of sustainability and our natural resources in order to ensure that this sector can thrive for all generations to come."

Doubling down on embracing cutting-edge technology while managing a portfolio of momentous significance like food security, Almheiri, who was appointed as a minister in 2017, said, "When we look at what’s happening globally and also at what is happening on the national level, it’s extremely important to have a plan to ensure sustainability in the essence of everything we do."

"We’re very blessed here in the UAE that our leadership have foresight in their DNA. They are able to understand that these two aspects [technology and food security] are important to be focused on," she added.

"When I was appointed in 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE’s Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai asked me to focus on having a plan on adopting technology and advancing research and development. Thankfully, our past efforts have really showed the resilience of our food system.

"We are really now aiming to raise the bar and top the Global Food Security Index by 2051 and really build on a sustainable food system and have more resilience in our system. Therefore, we are taking the whole portfolio to make sure that we are ready to face any future crisis.

"If you think of water and food, you’ll find that they are basic needs of any human being and for any civilisation. It’s so important for a country to focus on food and security, because as we move along, we see global challenges, including climate change, which is affecting us all; population is on the rise; food demand is going up; and resources are limited."

In September 2020, Abu Dhabi-based RainMakers Capital Investment and GrowGroup IFS from the Netherlands announced that they will be building the largest indoor farm in the world in the UAE, costing AED650 million.

As a result of this partnership, GreenFactory Emirates will produce 10,000 tonnes of fresh produce every year. Phase one is expected to be operational before Expo 2020 Dubai in October 2021.

Talking about aquaculture, the minister has described it as a "central component in the country’s food security strategy."

Aquaculture is typically less land intensive and low in ecological footprint than traditional farming, with ponds or tanks required to grow some fish species being much smaller than the space required to produce the same amount of protein from cattle.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), defines aquaculture as "the farming of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Farming implies some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators, etc. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated."

"As part of the UAE’s drive to be in the top ten most food secure countries and on top of the Global Food Security Index in 2051, you can expect the aquaculture sector in the country to grow substantially over the coming years," she said.

"It will be subject to innovative federal measures designed to enhance its operations and output, as well as substantive government initiatives will be carried out to increase its attractiveness to investors."

According to the UAE Aquaculture Pulse 2020 report, fish is identified as one of the UAE’s 18 strategic food items.

"Launched in November 2018, the National Food Security Strategy was developed to enhance the UAE’s food security. At the time of the strategy’s launch, the UAE stood at 31st place on the Global Food Security Index," Almheiri said.

"The most recent update to the index [in December 2019] showed that the UAE had jumped 10 places to the 21st, with the National Food Security Strategy proving its impact in just over a year.


WAM//MOHD AAMIR/Rasha Abubaker