UAE, Jordan and Netherlands unite to grow food in the desert

Countries will work on sharing research, data on drought resistant crops and ways to conserve water and energy

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The UAE, Jordan and the Netherlands have issued a joint call to work together on food, water and energy security by strengthening critical resources.

Government ministers, leading researchers and youth participated in person and online for the first trilateral meeting of the three nations during a session at Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday.

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment and Minister of State for Food Security, spoke of the urgent need to develop solutions without placing an additional burden on the environment.

Scientists and researchers are involved in the partnership to find innovative techniques and share data on growing crops in arid climates in the Middle East.

There is nothing more essential than reducing water and energy for food
Prof Louise Fresco, Wageningen University in the Netherlands

"Though interconnected, these resources [water, food, energy] are managed separately, not recognising that a change in one severely affects the other two,” Ms Al Mheiri said.

The three nations will explore agricultural processes that increase productivity sustainably, conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The co-operation will focus on strengthening food security efforts in the Middle East, where people are heavily dependent on energy-intensive desalinated water.

The collaboration will include a Dutch consortium of Wageningen University & Research, Deltares and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, researchers from the National Agriculture Research Centre in Jordan and the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in the UAE.

Groups will work together to learn from the experience of the Netherlands, a small country that overcame a shortage of space to become one of the largest exporters of agricultural products.

Ms Al Mheiri told the audience that although most of the UAE’s food is imported, the country now has salmon farms and grows kale, quinoa, blueberries and raspberries.

“We can’t do this alone, we have come together, put our minds together to find solutions,” she said.

“We need to transform to more sustainable food systems so we are on this mission. We want to show our audience and other partners that it is important to share knowledge.

“Working together in this joint shared vision will be a cornerstone of our success."

Speakers addressed the need to redouble efforts to reach the UN’s sustainable development goals as the world moves towards a 10 billion population by 2050.

Making radical changes in global water, food and energy systems is viewed by experts as the path to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Liesje Schreinemacher, the Netherlands' Minister for Foreign Trade, spoke of the need to develop more drought-tolerant crops and new seed varieties that require less water.

“International co-operation is key,” she said. “We need strong partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society.”

She said the three countries were already working on a database that keeps track of water needed for drinking and to grow vegetables in extreme weather conditions.

Saleh Al Kharabsheh, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources of Jordan, said collaboration and collective action would increase understanding of the interdependent relationships between water, energy, and food security.

“In the coming decades, the world will need increasing amounts of resources. Population growth, resource-intensive lifestyles, and the damaging effects of climate change will lead to water, energy, and food insecurity across the globe,” he said.

Prof Louise Fresco, president of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said an interdisciplinary approach would not be easy due to the number of players involved in the public and private sectors in the water, food and energy sectors.

“This is the starting point,” she said. “The goals set out for us are very clear. We need more innovation, we need tools and methodology to share our results. We need data to judge which techniques are best and we need capacity for building and training.

“We need not just food but better food. We need food that is healthy, sustainable and affordable to all and that is not an easy feat. But we must do this because there is nothing more essential than reducing water and energy for food.”

Youth voices were heard too with an acknowledgement that young people should be involved in decision-making.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nation’s secretary general’s youth envoy, urged governments to empower and train young people.

“There is an enormous potential for food systems and the energy transition to provide decent work for young people and help eliminate generational inequalities in access to resources,” she said.

“What the youth need is support from governments, academic institutions and adults to integrate their inputs."

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Updated: January 19, 2022, 8:07 AM