The United Arab Emirates needs to boost investment in the agriculture sector, which can supply only 37 per cent of its annual food demand and makes it vulnerable to fluctuating prices, an official said Nov. 22.
Gulf states including the UAE suffered when international food prices spiked to record levels in 2008, forcing up their import bills. They have since sought to lease and buy farmland in developing nations in efforts to improve security of food supplies.
“It is extremely important for the UAE to start encouraging local and global production of food,” said Alaa El-Din Moussa, a senior economic researcher at Abu Dhabi’s Department of Economic Development (DED).
“It’s no longer a matter of having money, because in the future if there is a huge shortage of food, securing supplies even if you have money will get harder,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry event in Abu Dhabi.
The DED recently conducted a study based on 102 commodities and found that areas of weakness included fruits, where the country has zero per cent self-sufficiency, vegetables with 14 per cent, sugar with 33 per cent and cereals 40 per cent.
Farming in the desert Gulf region is a challenge due to extreme heat, limited water supplies and high soil salinity. Despite the obstacles, the UAE and a number of Gulf states are investing in technology to help secure food supplies domestically.
“I know that due to limited water supply and heat, the UAE will never be able to produce water-intensive crops like wheat and rice, but at least they can try to increase the fruit and vegetable supply,” said Moussa.
Last year, the UAE’s Ministry of Economy announced a plan to build a three-month food stockpile to cushion against any supply disruptions.
“But the majority of the food for the stockpiling is coming from imports, when the focus really should be to find ways to increase food production,” said Moussa.
Farms need to increase output by 70 per cent by 2050, when global population is expected to rise to nine billion from the current 6.7 billion, according to the United Nations’ food and agriculture agency.
“I suggest the UAE needs to open up an agriculture bank that would give loans to farmers here at low interest rates, which would encourage them in growing food locally instead of just trading for a faster profit,” said Moussa.
– ALAA EL-DIN MOUSSA