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Food security, healthy eating are also key to sustainability

Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Mehairi
Filed on January 14, 2020 | Last updated on January 14, 2020 at 08.12 pm

To reduce the UAE's heavy reliance on food imports, my colleagues and I launched the National Food Security Strategy in November 2018.

The ability of a country to act sustainably is a determinant of its successful development. In the context of food security, sustainability means enabling all citizens and residents to have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food for an active and healthy life at affordable prices at all times, including emergencies and crises.

My role as Minister of State for Food Security sees me tasked with ensuring that the UAE is able to deliver food sustainably across the food supply chain - from harvest to the table - to feed the UAE's growing population, which is expected to add another million or so people over the next 20 years. When you take the UAE's adverse crop growing conditions into account - its poor soil quality, shrinking levels of groundwater, lack of arable land, and low annual rainfall - it is not difficult to see that this represents something of a challenge.

Thanks to the UAE leadership placing a priority on forging firm and friendly relations with other governments, the UAE has created strong import supply chains that deliver 90 per cent of its total food. Although these have placed the country comfortably at 21st place on the Global Food Security Index, it means that it remains vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions. 

To reduce the UAE's heavy reliance on food imports, my colleagues and I launched the National Food Security Strategy in November 2018. Through its various pillars, the strategy aims to take the UAE from its current 21st place in the Global Food Security Index to being in the top 10 by 2021 and number one by 2051. In devising the strategy, we were acutely aware that its success would depend on our ability to create meaningful partnerships and to involve the community.

Initiating the strategy in the first few months meant finding suitable partners to help get it off the ground. A key pillar is enabling technology-based domestic food production, which has a target of increasing domestic yield by 30 per cent by 2021. One of the first things we did was to remove perceived barriers to adopting technology in this sector. In doing so, we engaged with private sector stakeholders to create 10 new initiatives in 100 days.

Now successfully launched, my office is giving a stronger focus on involving the community - local and global - in our efforts to advance food security. In effect, we are making the community our partners towards our goals. In September this year, we announced, in partnership with Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi-based company mandated to deliver projects to meet the UAE's vision of knowledge-based development, the FoodTech Challenge - a global competition that aims to identify and implement sustainable and technology-driven solutions across the food value chain that enhance the UAE's food security and self-sufficiency at the national, community, and household levels. Launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the challenge is open to all and invites the youth, entrepreneurs, and innovators to find solutions across the food value chain to identified challenges in the UAE with a shared prize pool of $1 million for four winners - the largest ever offered for a food technology challenge - winners will receive a host of benefits that include the offer to participate in a six-month business incubation programme by the Catalyst in Abu Dhabi to translate their ideas into actual projects and connection with international investors.

With respect to creating a healthy population, the Food Security Office and the National Program for Happiness and Wellbeing launched the Nutrition Labelling Policy in September this year. This policy sees the adoption of a traffic light system for healthy and less healthy foods based on their ingredients and nutritional content. Red, yellow, and green labels indicate sugar, salt and fat content, with the policy based on the results of a field study carried out by the Community Design for Wellbeing Initiative - another important partner who is helping us meet our goals.

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) is essential to this concept of partnership. Masdar City is already an important ally in our efforts to create an advanced Agritech sector through its initiatives that include the shipping container vertical farming project, aquaculture farming scheme and the 'Bustani' Smart Home Farming Showcase. Each year ADSW further raises awareness of the importance of sustainability in all spheres, including food security, and we wish this programme every success.

Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Mehairi is the UAE's Minister of State for Food Security


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