In light of its heavy reliance on food imports and limited supply of fertile land and fresh water, food security is a key issue for Abu Dhabi and one that has become more pressing in recent years. Its importance was under-scored by the rise in global food prices in 2007, which saw countries in the region work overtime to ensure supplies of some basic food commodities. In the aftermath of the 2007 crisis, the authorities took measures to bolster the emirate’s food security, including the establishment of a Food Security Committee to examine possible responses to such events and develop a food security vision for the emirate. The committee also plans to launch a comprehensive study to examine food supply chains and associated risks. In 2010 the Abu Dhabi Executive Council also established a new entity, the Food Security Centre – Abu Dhabi (FSCAD), tasked with ensuring food security for the emirate, defined as the access for all citizens and residents to healthy, safe and nutritious food, even during periods of crisis.
The centre’s mandates include developing food security strategies and emergency and contingency plans in cooperation with the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority; managing emergency reserves; supporting local production; and coordinating investments in the food sector in order to ensure security. Guaranteeing the emirate’s food security is also one of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority’s three core strategic objectives.
Efforts to boost local output and the sustainability of the emirate’s farming activities in order to reduce reliance on imports include initiatives to develop and invest in the hydroponic segment, as well as to reduce water usage though improved irrigation techniques and the provision of alternative sources of water. However, it is doubtful that such efforts alone are likely to achieve food security for the emirate, as was pointed out in a 2013 report by the UK international affairs think tank, Chatham House. The report was funded in part by the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi and argued that sustainable agricultural self-sufficiency is not achievable in GCC states.
As with other countries, the UAE as a whole is looking to invest abroad to bolster its food security. In November 2015, Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, minister of economy, said the country’s food security lay in Africa. Local food companies are already playing a role here; for example, the major agri-business firm Al Dahra has invested in agricultural operations abroad to guarantee the availability of some key food commodities. These operations include a $400m investment made in 2013 in Serbia to acquire eight bankrupt agricultural firms and develop fodder plants. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development has also provided Serbia with a $400m loan to finance irrigation upgrades and provide lending to farmers.
Building up stocks of key food commodities in case of crises such as global shortages or supply-chain problems is another important element of the strategy. As with the investments abroad, local companies like Agthia and Al Dahra are involved in these activities, managing strategic food stocks on the government’s behalf. For its part, Al Dahra operates strategic food reserves both inside and outside the UAE. The authorities are working to ensure food security at the household level as well as across the emirate as a whole. In response to the 2007 crisis, the authorities froze food prices for 18 basic products and worked with supermarkets to limit increases on other products. The government also operates a range of subsidies and other forms of support that are thought to save citizens an average of Dh13000 ($3538) annually, according to Chatham House.
The emirate’s concerted efforts have been paying substantive dividends. Despite its reliance on imports and the significant climactic and geographical challenges to the agriculture sector, the UAE as whole ranked 23rd in the 2015 Global Food Security Index.