With the UAE relying on imports for 90% of its food, emirates like Abu Dhabi are exposed to volatility in international food markets, currency fluctuations and regional tension. While greater agricultural self-sufficiency through advances in technology is a longer-term mission, the authorities at the national and emirate level are pursuing nearer-term policies to mitigate risk by deploying a combination of import diversification and stockpiling.
In December 2017 it was reported that the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment was moving forward with initiatives and subsequent legislation to reduce the country’s dependence on imported foodstuffs. The ministry was also collaborating with private partners and other stakeholders to provide an adequate supply of food from multiple and reliable sources. One of the key policy goals is to have enough food resources for the population to survive for between six months and a year.
In February 2018 the federal government announced the launch of a think tank of 50 public and private entities to identify strategies for long-term food security, focusing on six sectors: livestock, poultry, dairy, fruits and vegetables, dates and aquaculture. Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, the minister of state for food security, emphasised the environmental challenges that the UAE faces and called on sector stakeholders to work together to come up with “tangible, sustainable solutions for the food production sector”, according to Abu Dhabi-based daily The National.
Abu Dhabi Plan
Abu Dhabi established the Food Security Centre – Abu Dhabi (FSCAD) in 2010 and tasked it with ensuring food security for the emirate. The centre is responsible for, among other things, developing food security strategies and emergency and contingency plans in cooperation with the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority. In June 2016 the emirate unveiled the Abu Dhabi Plan, aimed at preparing the emirate for a post-oil future, with one of its 25 goals emphasising the need for food security and a sustainable agricultural sector. Like much of the region, Abu Dhabi is increasingly turning to innovation and investment to reduce its dependence on food imports, with the proliferation of greenhouses and financial support for farmers looking to upgrade or install new greenhouses and hydroponic systems.
In recent years significant effort has gone into identifying ways to enhance production as a means of improving food security. At the federal level, the UAE has targeted a 60% increase in domestic food production levels between 2018 and 2051. A key part of this will come from expanding the usage of modern technologies like hydroponics and vertical farming, as well as reducing water usage though improved irrigation techniques. In July 2018, while visiting local farms, Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, minister of climate change and environment, stressed the need for modern approaches to agriculture. “Enhancing the productivity of local agriculture is crucial to ensuring the UAE’s future food security,” he said during the visit.
Along with diversifying food import routes, the stockpiling of foodstuffs to counteract any future dips in supply is an important element of Abu Dhabi’s food security strategy. At the federal level, the UAE has invested heavily in constructing grain silos to store supplies, as well as advanced warehousing and transport infrastructure, with the aid of local companies like Agthia and Al Dahra.
“The Middle East can sometimes be unstable. If something goes wrong and you have a cut in your logistics and supply lines, you have a serious problem and will run out of food very quickly,” Louis Smit, CEO of business planning and development at Jenaan Investment, a private company that supplies hay and forage for Abu Dhabi, told OBG. “What the authorities have done is take the strategic decision to have an emergency stock or source of protein to fall back on.”