Agri-tech’s role in achieving food security in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has unveiled a series of programmes aimed at boosting food security by encouraging innovation in the agri-tech and processing segments, while also incentivising international food firms to establish a presence in the emirate.

On March 11 Abu Dhabi unveiled a Dh1bn ($272.3m) incentive package to support the development of the domestic agri-tech industry.

Part of the Abu Dhabi government’s economic accelerator programme Ghadan 21, the scheme targets three agricultural segments to increase food production: precision farming and agricultural robotics, bioenergy and the production of algae as a power source, and indoor farming.

The incentives offered to local and international firms operating in the agri-tech space include rebates of up to 75% for research and development costs, along with other fiscal and regulatory concessions.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Office, the government body created last year to stimulate foreign direct investment in the emirate, is leading the incentive programme by providing support to agri-tech companies and encouraging them to set up a base in the emirate.

Once fully deployed, the agri-tech financial package is forecast to contribute Dh1.65bn ($449.3m) to GDP and create 2900 new jobs.

See also: The Report – Abu Dhabi 2019

Reducing reliance on food imports by supporting local agri-tech

Abu Dhabi, like the broader UAE, relies on imports to meet its food needs, with shipments from overseas accounting for up to 90% of consumption. Through the deployment of innovative solutions, the government is looking to boost domestic agricultural production by 40% over the medium term.

Announcing the programme, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, said the scheme aims to expand, modernise and diversify Abu Dhabi’s agricultural sector and drive growth in other sectors.

“This initiative has been launched to accelerate the growth of local agri-tech businesses and encourage other leading international companies in the field to invest in Abu Dhabi,” Sheikh Mohamed told local media.

“Helping to transform the sector will, in turn, create new opportunities for economic growth in the mid- and long-term future.”

Abu Dhabi’s central location in the region and strong logistics base should also serve to attract foreign investment in the agricultural production and downstream segments.

Government programme to fund R&D

Another initiative aimed at supporting the agriculture and agri-tech industries was announced on March 25, with the government launching a programme to provide Dh5.6bn ($1.5bn) over the next five years to fund research and development to boost sustainability.

The programme is focused on tackling water scarcity and food security, and will be developed in conjunction with local and international partners.

“The UAE is actively promoting the adoption of the latest research and technology as part of its National Food Security Strategy,” Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, minister of state for food security, told OBG, earlier this year.

“The Ag-tech Accelerators Project is one specific initiative. The programme aims to establish ag-tech in the UAE by introducing and fostering sustainable technologies to promote agriculture in marginal environments. It works by creating a platform that enables governments, private sector organisations, NGOs and academic institutions to work collectively and resolve challenges to the adoption of sustainable agricultural technology,” Almheiri said.

By supporting research and development in these areas, Abu Dhabi will be able to reinforce its agriculture chain, further connecting technology with production.

Regulatory oversight strengthened by creation of new organisation

The government has also moved to centralise regulation of the agriculture sector through the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA) on March 24.

The new organisation, which has taken on the roles of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, the Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Services Centre and the Food Security Centre - Abu Dhabi, is responsible for overseeing agriculture, food safety, food security and biosecurity.

It is also the lead agency tasked with sustainable development and the preservation of fauna and flora.

The founding of ADAFSA is another step in accelerating the emirate's efforts to drive scientific research and agricultural development while helping to build partnerships between the public and private sectors, according to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs.

“Food security continues to be a national and strategic priority that entails concerted actions between the government and private sectors in order to ensure a well-integrated food security strategy that is conducive to unlocking the value in the agriculture and food supply chains, and ensuring all segments of society have access to all food supplies,” he told local media.

With the UAE’s population forecast to increase from the present level of 9.4m to 11.5m by 2025, demand for food is set to rise sharply. By positioning itself as a major agri-tech and production hub, Abu Dhabi will both be able to strengthen the UAE’s food security and to broaden its economic base by meeting rising demand in the years ahead.

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