A robust and efficient food system is a key ingredient for the UAE’s plans to cultivate its youth and economy.
With more disposable income, many consumers are shifting towards healthier, more sustainable and more nutritional food choices with greater traceability through the food supply chain.
But our food systems are also facing substantial challenges. The world’s population is growing, projected to rise by 2 billion to nearly 10 billion in the next 30 years. In the UAE, less than 5 per cent of land is fertile and water is scarce. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced policymakers around the world to rethink their food resilience, underlining the importance of investment in local food production and a robust integrated value chain to meet growing food demand.
The UAE is taking critical actions needed to address these issues through education, engagement, innovation and entrepreneurial solutions. The government has spared no effort to strengthen the food resilience of a nation that consumes 90 per cent of food originating overseas.
Increasing local production and its regional interconnectivity are critical for the next phase of the nation’s food ecosystem. It will support the nation’s ambition to further enhance food security and attain the top ranking in the Global Food Security Index by 2051.
Progress towards a sustainable and resilient future
Despite its arid desert environment, the UAE has morphed into an advanced economy. It has developed its infrastructure, technology and expertise to grow food locally and establish a sustainable food and agricultural hub. It is also the world’s first country to establish a dedicated ministry to address food resilience.
In Abu Dhabi, the government is increasing domestic agricultural production by 40 per cent over the medium term. For the UAE to supply high-quality food for its growing population, the country requires an efficient supply system and a greater appreciation of the quality of locally produced food.
There are many benefits – from nutritional value to reducing carbon footprint – when it comes to consuming fruits and vegetables that have not been transported across many time zones over and many days. Shortening transit time from farm to fork is better for our health and the environment. Several studies, including from the University of California, show that vegetables can lose between 15 per cent to 77 per cent of their vitamin C content within seven days of being harvested.
Consuming locally produced food also directly benefits the local economy through job creation, which ultimately benefits all participants and consumers. Consuming locally produced food is not only an investment in our health but also in the local economy.
Innovation and investment are driving the rise in agricultural produce in the UAE. They have facilitated research into and adoption of new techniques such as indoor farming, reusable water integration and alternative proteins. Additionally, like in so many industries, investments in artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning and the Internet of Things are also driving tangible efficiencies throughout the food value chain.
The need for large-scale, high-impact investments are why a holding and developmental company such as ADQ is committed to growing critical economic clusters and providing crucial infrastructure for regional and international distribution.
In 2020, we established Silal as part of our sustained commitment to enhance the UAE’s food and agriculture ecosystem and help drive locally grown, raised and manufactured food. Silal’s mandate includes implementing knowledge-transfer programmes related to desert farming technology and other R&D projects to increase the local production of fruits and vegetables from small farmers in the UAE.
Earlier this year, DisruptAD, our venture platform, participated in the $105-million Series B funding of Aleph Farms, which grows cultivated meat from animal cells and is exploring plans to set up a manufacturing facility in Abu Dhabi to supply the UAE and GCC region. We announced our development plans for an AgTech Park focused on the sustainable production of high-quality fresh produce in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi’s future in the global food value chain
However, we recognise that no nation can be entirely self-sufficient. Access to global food markets and trade ties are necessary. Abu Dhabi’s ambition to serve a growing nation with locally sourced food provides the optimal opportunity to demonstrate leadership at a global scale by also supplying other countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that are challenged by limited infrastructure.
These countries could benefit from the UAE’s investment, food exports and expertise, and in turn, bolster their food resilience. Collaboration is a value we relish and we are committed to actively work to help governments and corporations collectively build an integrated supply chain with the UAE at the heart of an interconnected regional food hub.
If we can strike the right balance between cultivating safe and sufficient home-grown foods and supplying other markets efficiently, we can sustainably nourish future generations in a responsible manner that generates value in a prosperous and diversified economy.
Mansour AlMulla, is group chief investment officer at ADQ, one of the region’s largest holding companies