Can the Gulf recover from Covid-19 using ‘food tech’?

Green initiatives don't just secure the planet's future, they also enrich our economies

The launch of the first phase of Food Tech Valley. Courtesy Dubai Media Office
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After many months of uncertainty, Covid-19 vaccines are helping countries plot a route out of the pandemic. Their equitable distribution is a challenge, but for those nations with high vaccination rates, a return to normality is tangible.

Securing the health of a population is one thing – economic convalescence is another. The difficulty that task poses for governments will last a great deal longer.

With the second-highest vaccination rate globally, the UAE is one of the leading countries that can start planning for a future beyond the pandemic. On Sunday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to continue discussions on that topic.

epa09171532 Laborers work at the under-construction Museum of the Future on International Labour Day in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 01 May 2021. Labor Day or May Day is observed all over the world on the first day of May to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers and fight for laborers' rights.  EPA/ALI HAIDER
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are set to hold a number of major international in-person gatherings. EPA
Covid-19 has familiarised people with ambitious policymaking

The UAE has been opening up for some time. Hotels in the country are recording a surge in occupancy rates. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have hosted major international events, including defence exhibition IDEX and a gathering of hospitality industry leaders at Gulfoods, respectively. Both occasions appear to have resulted in no significant rise in infections. Over the coming months, Dubai will be holding yet more meetings, one being the International Astronautical Congress. Abu Dhabi will host ADIPEC later this year, as well as a number of other high level in-person events

A true recovery will not just be about returning to pre-pandemic openness at the border, however. Covid-19 has familiarised people around the world with particularly ambitious government policymaking; reviving economies after well over a year of unprecedented disruption will require yet more. In a recent flurry of major projects, the UAE has launched a new centre for food technology, billed as a "global destination" for innovation. Food Tech Valley will allow the country to tap into the financially promising field of agricultural technology, the value of which is expected to rise from from $13.5 billion to $22bn over the next four years.

Food Tech Valley will work on researching ways in which our planet can feed its inhabitants, something that is a particularly pressing concern for the Middle East, a part of the world that is threatened by over-reliance on food imports, a water crisis and a rapidly growing population. Innovations such as vertical farming are an early focus of the project and a heavy academic presence will be on hand to turn research into worldwide solutions.

After a virus response that has been better than most, the GCC region can afford to place itself at the head of global economic recovery. A particularly effective one will not just prioritise a return to normal, but also plan for the many other risks that may lie ahead. If the pandemic has taught the world anything, it is that readiness matters above all else.