Rising costs and excess waste are the biggest threats to global food security, an Abu Dhabi conference heard on Thursday.
Saeed Al Ameri, director general of the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority, raised concerns over high food prices as the world grapples with the pressing issue.
He made the remarks during a panel discussion at the World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM) conference in the capital.
Mr Al Ameri also stressed the importance of the UAE developing climate-proof food to ensure more produce goes from farms to forks.
“The cost of food is the biggest challenge when it comes to food security right now,” said Mr Al Ameri, during the event at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
“In the UAE here, we also have a challenge that many types of crops were created for more forgiving climates; here, we have a very harsh climate with hot weather and water scarcity.
“Developing varieties that can withstand this hot weather will help us to achieve the highest yields with the lowest inputs [and that] will be a turning point in providing food locally.”
He spoke of the need to invest in technology to reduce food waste at home and abroad.
“Investing in science and technology will help to enable food to be produced locally,” he said. “At the minute there is a lot of food wasted as soon as it leaves the farm gate because we don’t have the right post-harvest practices in place.”
Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment and Minister of State for Food Security, called on the international community to unite to improve food security.
“We need to work together and share our expertise with other countries to tackle these critical challenges,” she said at the conference.
A failure to do so would be catastrophic, she said, leaving the already fragile global food security landscape vulnerable to further disruptions.
Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said work to boost food security was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is one of the biggest challenges facing the global economy,” he said. “Every single supply chain was affected by it.”
UAE aims to be global leader
The UAE has set a goal to become the top country in the Global Food Security Index by 2051.
One example of how the country is helping other nations is the joint UAE-US Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) project.
The initiative was set up to drive investment into sustainable programmes, help food producers to cope with climate change and reduce the almost 33 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production.
A UN report, from 2021, said the average person in the UAE wasted 95 kilograms a year. The UN also estimated that up to 17 per cent of all food produced globally was wasted, the equivalent of more than a million tonnes.
Another key project in the UAE’s mission to ensure food security, both locally and globally, is the Abu Dhabi Food Hub.
The site, which was announced in February, will act as a food trading and logistics centre within the Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi and is scheduled to open in the second quarter of 2024.
Graham Sanders, chief executive of the project, said it would go some way in helping the region to become more self-sufficient in terms of food production.
Due to a short supply of arable land, climate issues and water shortages, the UAE and neighbouring countries have long relied on importing the vast majority of their food.
“We will be opening regional markets for both import and export, which will encourage local production,” said Mr Sanders, speaking on the sidelines of the conference.
“If you open these markets and give them proper access and logistics, then they will produce more and add to food security as a result.
“The UAE imports more than 80 per cent of its food while the Mena region imports more than 50 per cent — that is why a significant part of the motivation for this project is dealing with some of those import issues.”