Food production doesn’t have to come at the expense of our natural resources

Instead of expanding agricultural land, we can – and we need to – prioritise food security strategies

Slim Zouari, a hydroponics expert of Tunisian Union of Agriculture, checks tomatoes at a hydroponic farm in Tunis in April. EPA
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Taking action to address climate change is not just a choice; it is an absolute necessity.

As I write this, global temperatures continue breaking records. Climate change is already wreaking havoc with devastating storms, rising sea levels, droughts, wildfires, scorching heat and floods. These changes are causing crop failures, ravaging farmland with droughts, and leading to food and water shortages.

The threat of climate change is no longer a theoretical concept, it is a matter of our existence. It is an immediate problem that will only worsen without decisive global action.

As the chief executive of a food security company, I have seen first-hand the destructive impact of climate change on agriculture and food availability in the developing world. Untold millions depend upon scarce food and water resources, where an unexpected disruption risks catastrophe.

Key to preventing disaster is building infrastructure and systems that add resiliency across the food supply chain.

The immediate and growing consequences of climate inaction are already costing families their homes and farmers their livelihoods

My company – and others – are focused on fixing this, and in the process, converting subsistence farming into sustainable farming, which not only lifts millions of small farmers out of poverty but also reduces the strain on water resources. Moreover, improving food security can prevent the further encroachment of agricultural land into vital rainforests and other natural environments. These “lungs” of the Earth serve as crucial carbon sinks and oxygen producers.

Food production doesn’t have to come at the expense of precious natural resources. Instead of relying on expanding agricultural land with substantial carbon footprints at the expense of the environment, there is a need to prioritise food security strategies in the developing world. These strategies focus on sustainable practices that preserve the environment, including forests under threat, while lifting millions out of poverty and preventing humanitarian disaster.

The immediate and growing consequences of climate inaction are already costing families their homes and farmers their livelihoods. Today's realities demand that the developed world invests in climate-positive solutions for water, food and power in countries of the Global South.

This year, the UAE will host Cop28, the annual UN-led climate summit aimed at reducing emissions and protecting people, lives and livelihoods everywhere from the effects of a warming planet. The UAE's hosting of this conference presents a crucial opportunity to unlock benefits for everyone.

And, now more than ever, the world requires strong leadership grounded in realistic approaches and practical experience. I have known this year's Cop President, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, for decades. He is a man who embraces significant challenges and has consistently shown leadership by introducing innovative solutions – an area where our organisations share common ground.

Dr Al Jaber, an engineer and pragmatist as chief executive of Adnoc, was the founding head of the renewable energy company Masdar and Masdar City in 2006, spearheading renewable energy initiatives in the UAE. His vision for Masdar was not only to be a model for the world to emulate but also to be realistic and achievable. He recognised the importance of sustainability, renewables and combating climate change long before they became popular concepts.

Dr Al Jaber is a staunch advocate for investing in food security, particularly in the developing world. This was evident when he sought the assistance of my company to establish the Food Sustainability Research and Development Centre at Masdar. Enhancing food security is a fundamental pillar in our battle against climate change.

Efforts to mitigate emissions and bolster adaptation, like resilient food systems, demands leaders who are realistic and experienced. I firmly believe that Dr Al Jaber is the right person to tackle the daunting task of rallying the world together to solve the climate crisis. The world requires leaders like Dr Al Jaber, who have the passion and skills to drive change, especially from the private sector, to develop and implement the solutions that this fight demands.

Published: October 24, 2023, 2:00 PM