Mariam Al Mheiri calls for global action to fix 'broken and unsustainable' food systems

UAE minister who holds climate change and food security portfolios gives keynote address at horticulture technology conference in Amsterdam

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment and Minister of State for Food Security, shares the UAE’s ambitions for sustainable agriculture with her audience in Amsterdam. Photo: GreenTech
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Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, urged nations and organisations to work together to harness technology to support food production.

Ms Al Mheiri spoke on Tuesday in Amsterdam at the opening of GreenTech, a three-day meeting in the Dutch capital for the horticulture industry and policymakers from more than 100 countries.

The minister spoke about the UAE’s goal of become a leading exporter of sustainable agricultural solutions for hot and arid climates and to share its experiences as the Netherlands does.

She said global action was required to allow all parts of the agriculture sector to thrive.

“Food systems are broken today and they are unsustainable. There is so much we have to do to fix them,” Ms Al Mheiri said.

“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.

UAE aims to be food innovation hub

“Just as the Netherlands have looked at innovation and technology, we are doing the same — to really look into what kind of foods make sense to grow in the UAE, harnessing the power of technology,” she said.

“With our partners we are looking at how we can lessen the cost of operations to help other countries that have the kind of climate we have.”

Ms Al Mheiri said it was important to understand the crops that grow in water scarce and desert environments and to develop solutions that were not always high tech to address the needs of small farmers everywhere.

“We have set a goal for the UAE to become a global hub for food innovation and technology just like the Netherlands … as one of the smallest countries yet the second largest exporter when it comes to agricultural goods,” she said.

“That is the same mindset we are trying, to really leverage innovation, get the youth excited about studying agri technology.”

Netherlands a shining light for agriculture

Mariam Al Mheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment and Minister of State for Food Secruty, at the opening of GreenTech, a horticulture conference in Amsterdam, where she  spoke of the need to explore the crops that thrive in water-scarce and desert environments. Photo: GreenTech

After the US, the Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of agricultural produce.

One of the most densely populated countries, the Netherlands has made the maximum use of limited farmland with exports of €65 billion ($67.9bn) worth of vegetables, fruit, flowers, meat and dairy products each year.

The UAE in the past few years has utilised technology to produce locally farmed salmon, grow berries and quinoa.

Vertical farms use a system of hydroponics in which plants thrive in nutrient-rich water instead of soil.

Jan Kees Goet, secretary general with the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, said the world had learnt lessons from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

“The terrible war in Ukraine has made people aware that food security is not always guaranteed and the Covid crisis was a wake-up call with distortions in international trade,” he said.

He said the key was to co-create by working with partners overseas to find local answers to global challenges, while drawing expertise from high technology sectors, robotics and artificial intelligence.

“Healthy products for local markets, less water use, protected cultivation with less chemicals, green houses that generate energy — if there is one country that is trying to find answers to the questions of today, tomorrow and the future it is the Netherlands,” he said.

“The Netherlands is small, densely populated and our horticulture sector is large and well developed. Knowledge, entrepreneurship and public-private co-operation has made the sector one of the most competitive of our economy.”

Food security at Cop28

Ms Al Mheiri also met Prince Jaime de Bourbon de Parme, the Dutch climate envoy.

Discussions centred on preparing for and placing food high on the agenda of Cop28, which the UAE will host next year.

The agricultural sector is the world’s biggest employer and also the most vulnerable to climate change.

Prince Jaime said both governments were looking at ways to reshape farming with technology when faced with limited water resources.

“It’s clear that [Ms Al Mheiri] wants to put food at the centre of the engagement,” he said.

“How do we use high tech for efficiency in the food industry and adapt to a rapidly changing world — that is definitely something we will be looking at jointly.”

During GreenTech, professionals will share knowledge on precision horticulture, robotics in greenhouses, organic farming, climate control, water and energy solutions. The event runs from June 14 to 16.

Updated: June 15, 2022, 5:22 AM