UAE hailed as 'trendsetter' in drive for innovative sustainable farming methods

Water scarcity is not a reason to shy away from boosting the country's agri-sector, environment minister says

ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 04MAR2013 - Salem Sulaiem Khamis, 54 years,  owner and farmer at his green house capsicum farm in Al Rahba area near Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
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The UAE's role as a “trendsetter” in the global battle to find innovative ways to produce food in regions with a low supply of fresh water is in the spotlight at the Munich Security Conference.

Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Almheiri said the issue of water scarcity was not a hindrance but had spurred the Emirates to use its natural resources — the sun, the sand and the sea — to experiment with new ways to produce food.

In a session titled “Seed Change Needed: Ensuring Food Security” at the conference on Friday, Ms Almheiri said the UAE has “really doubled up on investments in [research and development] because we believe this is also the way to go".

“The UAE is known as a country that imports most of its food. We are a water scarce country, we have less than 5 per cent arable land,” she said.

“And when I took to the position of Minister of State for Food Security in 2017, our leadership said to me, focus on a plan, focus on technology and innovation and focus on research and development.

“We see us a little bit of a trendsetter. We also feel very responsible as global citizens to invest money and look for solutions that work in our environment.”

UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Almheiri said she is working to attract more young Emiratis into the agricultural sector. Photo: Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri/Twitter

She said the UAE is keen to use the natural resources it has to help the drive to find new ways to produce food.

The minister stressed the central role consumers have to play when it comes to improving food systems at home and overseas, particularly when it comes to avoiding waste.

“Each and every one of us have a huge role to play. And I often set challenges for my own team and my own family as well.

“I say, let's try and not put any edible food in the bin. You have to think about it. You really have to think about what you're doing because sometimes you're doing it without realising it.”

Ms Almheiri said she and her colleagues are working to encourage young Emiratis to venture into the agricultural sector.

“I don't call them farmers anymore. I give them a new name: agri-technologists, because we need to make this a cool thing to do.”

She said farming technology that has proved successful in the UAE has made its way to other Gulf nations.

“We've seen now a lot of companies that have set up in the UAE three four years ago using some innovation funds and are now going into neighbouring countries to help them as technology providers on how to grow food.”

Werner Baumann, chief executive of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, said climate change is a “massive contributor” to the growing problem of food insecurity.

“We see massive changes in arable land and the lack thereof, we see massive pressure on ecosystems,” he said.

This means the global community has to “find better solutions that give us a more climate resilient type of agriculture where we bring people who are the ones most exposed into the capacity to care for themselves and their family’s livelihood with better tools, better knowledge, and also access to finance and a few other things".

Updated: February 18, 2022, 6:49 PM