Even though Russia and Ukraine, together a bread basket for the world, account for 29 per cent of global wheat exports, the war between them is not the sole factor causing an upheaval in food prices – critically, in the supply of wheat. Climate change, too, is a big factor and a longer-term threat. Unpredictable and extreme weather patterns mean that drought and disrupted rains affect agriculture over time and take a toll on crop yields.
But even as geo-political realities continue to play out, it is an urgent and moral imperative that people have access to food. Co-operation remains crucial, as several neighbouring countries continue to work together to ensure securing food supplies, relying on the strength of their diplomatic ties, to support each other's populations in times of an imminent food crisis.
India exporting wheat to the UAE is an example of the strength of such ties. Domestic food security is a priority for all nations. It becomes all the more important during periods of looming shortage. India, the world's second largest producer of wheat, with an output of 108 million tonnes of wheat last year, managed to export seven million tonnes, despite debilitating heat waves and the 5 per cent decline in crop yield, catering first to the plates of its more than 1.3 billion people.
India is not the only country with strong ties to the UAE when it comes to food security. Imports arrive also from other nations including Canada and Australia, as well as Russia and Ukraine. Conversely, the UAE has a long trade history of supporting its regional allies. This week, the country boosted its exports to Jordan, in a deal for nearly $20 million, with food being one of the five key areas of export.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still exacting a toll, economic self-reliance and a continued investment in agri-tech continues to be a priority for the Emirates. Consequently, the UAE's investment in domestic agri-tech has been sizeable in the past few years. The rise of vertical farming, among other technologies suitable to a desert climate, have borne fruit, with Abu Dhabi increasing domestic agricultural production last year by 40 per cent over the medium term.
In the current global political backdrop, it becomes a humanitarian duty to try to minimise the ripple effects of war, which is the toll that hunger adds to the human cost of war. As such, and in whatever capacity, partner countries should continue to rally behind each other to help feed one another's population.
Mariam Al Mheiri, UAE's Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said this week at a green tech event in Amsterdam, about the UAE’s goal of become a leading exporter of sustainable agricultural solutions: “We need to forge partnerships, we need to exchange knowledge, we need to grow and develop our agri-technologists to solve these issues and transform our food systems into more sustainable ones."
Even as regional trade flows in and out of the country remain essential, the UAE's push for food security and domestic production are a priority and will be prominent on the agenda during next year's climate summit, Cop28, which the UAE will host.
As Ms Mheiri wrote in The National earlier this year: "We can only harness the full potential of innovation to tackle global challenges if we work together to achieve our common goals".