Minister: coronavirus jolted people into thinking about food security

Mariam Al Mheiri calls for more homegrown farming to bolster country's self-sufficiency

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - May 03, 2020: HE Mariam Mohamed Saeed Hareb Al Mehairi, UAE Minister of State for Food Security (R), delivers a lecture titled “ Nourishing the nation: Food Security in the UAE ”. The lecture was broadcast on Al Emarat Channel as part of the Ramadan lecture series of Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed. 

( Mohamed Al Hammadi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs )
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Covid-19 jolted people into thinking more about food security, a UAE minister said.

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food and Water Security, said the pandemic had taught people a newfound respect for where food comes from.

Speaking at a World Economic Summit online conference on Wednesday, Ms Al Mheiri said ensuring shelves were stocked during the crisis was not easy but people now realise how crucial the issue is.

It comes as the UAE steps up efforts to boost local production and encourage more food producers to operate in the country.

We did not face shelves empty of essential items

“Going through the pandemic, food security has taken centre stage,” Ms Al Mheiri said. “The pandemic has given us all a shock.

“Over the past months we have had time to reprioritise what is important and how we can boost domestic production using technology and get that on to the shelves of retailers. Manoeuvring through those challenges has not been easy."

But she said the country's strong private sector combined with government support helped prevent any shortages.

“We did not face shelves empty of essential items.”

Much work had been done to ensure the UAE becomes less reliant on imported food but many of those plans were accelerated during the coronavirus outbreak.

Vertical farming and LED lighting used to grow more produce were vital to ensuring more locally grown produce made it into supermarkets.

Developing the UAE’s aquaculture capability with the latest agricultural technology was also a rare pandemic success story.

The online conference, meanwhile, was about the UN's sustainable development goals. The 17 goals and 169 targets aim to eliminate poverty, protect the planet, ensure human security, welfare and wellbeing by 2030.

The UAE's aims in the goals include reducing its reliance on imported food that currently accounts for about 90 per cent of all consumed.

“The last few months have been a journey but we have made real progress on these sustainability development goals,” Ms Al Mheiri said.

"People have started growing their own food and they have started to respect it more.

"They know how much water it takes to grow it and that is important.

“All the choices we make as consumers have a connection to food security and our sustainable development goals."

Ms Al Mheiri said water was scarce, the UAE has less than 5 per cent arable land and authorities had to look at self sufficiency through technology.

“We are seeing the fruits of that work in homegrown salmon, quinoa and blueberries – things you would never expect to see farmed in the desert.

“Now we want to support others and be a hub for this kind of tech to reduce carbon emissions and have access to more healthy and nutritious food.”


Inside one of the UAE's newest vertical farms