Tight monitoring of food prices 'to keep UAE inflation in check'

Price caps on thousands of types of food will keep everyday goods affordable, says UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment

Mariam Al Mheiri visits Carrefour Bio, an organic store that stocks locally produced food, in Dubai in February 2022. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Government controls on food prices will ensure shopping remains affordable for families amid a global surge in the cost of goods, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment has said.

The country has price caps on thousands of food items, said Mariam Al Mheiri, who oversees food security.

Inflation is on the rise in many countries, including the UAE. Dubai lender Emirates NBD has just revised up its inflation estimate for 2022 to 4-4.5 per cent, from 2-2.5 per cent.

“This is all being very closely monitored by the Ministry of Economy,” Ms Al Mheiri said in an interview with The National, when asked about the inflation rate.

When it comes to a point where the traders are really, really suffering, there is a mechanism in place ... where we discuss what would be acceptable to raise up as a price point
Mariam Al Mheiri

“The prices of most foods are capped here in the UAE. So there is a close control on it.”

World food prices hit a record high in February, led by a surge in vegetable oils and dairy products, amounting to a 20.7 per cent increase year-on-year, the UN's food agency said last month.

Rises are linked to a broader surge in inflation as countries recover from the coronavirus pandemic, higher oil prices affecting shipping, and rising tension in the Black Sea even before the invasion of Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has led to a huge increase in the global price of wheat, affecting the Middle East and Africa in particular.

Ms Al Mheiri said supermarkets and suppliers were expected to shoulder increases in price to a point, before requesting rises if there is a case to do so.

“When it comes to a point where the traders are really, really suffering, there is a mechanism in place … where we discuss what would be acceptable to raise up as a price point.

“This is done in close collaboration with the private sector, but for now things are OK.”

If that changes, the community would receive advance notice of any changes to the caps, she said.

“If there would be something going up [in price] there would be an early warning to the community to let them know this is coming up.”

Harnessing technology to cut imports

The UAE recently announced the launch of the second run of the FoodTech Challenge, which is aimed at early stage start-ups, and will offer a prize pool of $2 million and a high-profile platform to turn ideas into reality.

FoodTech Challenge 2.0 has a dual focus on food production and food loss and waste, which are both important issues for the country.

“The UAE has a lot of its own challenges. We have less than 5 per cent arable land,” she said.

“We are a water-scarce country and therefore growing large open fields and traditional farms made no sense.”

The country is also one of the world’s largest per capita generators of food loss and food waste, she said.

A way to address those issues is to harness the power of innovation and technology.

“This is the whole idea with FoodTech Challenge,” she said.

The competition has issued a call to early-stage start-ups and entrepreneurs to produce solutions that can address the UAE’s food security challenges.

“FoodTech Challenge is, in a way, the UAE really taking a serious step in working with the global community and finding solutions to food systems in the UAE, but also to use these systems later on when we can scale them up and see they are commercially viable, to help other countries that face challenges we have as well,” she said.

She said the UAE has worked hard to diversify its food sources in recent years, particularly during the pandemic.

“Our message to the community is our supply chains are doing well. We are keeping a close eye on them,” the minister said.

“We have the Emirates Food Security Council, which I head, where we meet regularly to ensure the supply chains are looked over.

“We are in close co-ordination with the farms the UAE owns outside the UAE. So all these mechanisms that have been put into activation through Covid have really helped us now also going through these global conflicts that are happening.”

Updated: April 21, 2022, 2:43 AM