Oxfam urges action on food security

Head of the humanitarian aid group wants UAE to take social responsibility for poorer countries into consideration while forming strategies.

Farm workers tend to the tomato crop on a farm in Liwa. Experts say the Government must increase its investment in agriculture locally and through investment in foreign farmland.
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ABU DHABI // The head of the humanitarian aid group Oxfam GB has called on the Emirates to take a more active role in global food security.

After launching the Grow campaign to motivate governments to solve the food crisis, Barbara Stocking said yesterday in the capital that she expected fruitful discussions on the matter with UAE officials.

"We want the support of the Emirates Government in the discussions of some of these issues, especially during meetings like the G20 [Group of 20 leading and emerging economies]," Ms Stocking said.

"But we also need to raise a lot of awareness here about food security problems."

While in the UAE, she is holding talks with partner charities including Dubai Cares, The Khalifa Foundation and Red Crescent to secure better collaboration on projects in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and the Palestinian Territories.

A charity event has been organised for next Saturday as part of the Dubai International Film Festival.

Ms Stocking will also meet officials from the UAE Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid and the Ministry of Foreign Trade to discuss education and food security.

She said the country must develop a food-security strategy but also take into consideration its effect on poorer countries and small farm holders.

"While developing their own food security strategy I would be wanting to make sure they were looking at food security in countries like Africa as well," said Ms Stocking, who yesterday gave a presentation on the Grow campaign at New York University Abu Dhabi.

She said several countries and companies were involved in land acquisition and that it was a complex issue that had to be looked into.

"It's not necessarily wrong, although in Africa where there is very little actually available land there are some concerns," Ms Stocking said. "But countries must ensure it is done properly by making sure the people get their compensation."

The FNC had proposed a food-security strategy and reserve this year. The UAE imports 85 per cent of its food, which makes it vulnerable to price fluctuations.

Experts said the Government must increase investment in agriculture locally and through investment in foreign farmland.

Public and private investment groups and food importing and processing companies from the UAE have land deals in Africa, Eastern Europe, South America and Asia.

Like several other Gulf countries, UAE companies also own farmland in Sudan.

Ms Stocking said the question of water security was also an essential point to be considered in Gulf countries.

"Will they be doing their own desalination or buy land in other countries to secure water reserves?" she asked. "And what will be the energy cost involved and can it be done in a way that does not produce more carbon emissions?"

The Grow campaign tries to make countries aware of the increasing strain on resources, and climate and its effect on the food supply, particularly on underdeveloped populations.

In 2050, the world will need 70 per cent more food supply to feed 9 billion people. Ms Stocking said countries had to make sure the resources were shared.

"The campaign is our way of looking at the issue, taking food as a lens to look through and see what is happening to food security and poor people," she said.

Ms Stocking said it would require major system changes, including a deal on climate change.

"That is important because a massive increase in temperature is not going to help food production," she said.

"It means getting grain reserves in countries and regions and a social protection system, so that when the prices go up, people have money to buy food."

Several issues could be tackled through promoting local agricultural opportunities as well, she said.

"Fundamentally, we need more agricultural production to solve the food crisis."

Yousrey Elsharkawi, a food business consultant, said the UAE should try to become self-sufficient.

"Some of the challenges Gulf countries face in addressing the problem are that of manpower, which is not very big, and there are no institutes or education programmes for agriculture either," Mr Elsharkawi said.

He said local farming and investment in agricultural activities in other countries had to be encouraged as part of the food strategy.

"If UAE and other countries work towards becoming self-sufficient it will automatically contribute to the global problem," Mr Elsharkawi said.

He also suggested easy banking and credit facilities to farmers would spur the industry.

Ms Stocking said Qatar was developing their food security strategy and "were very alert to many of these problems".

"We had an interesting discussion on the land issue trying to understand and learn what is happening in the developing countries," she said. "We expect to have the same type of reception to the campaign and a fruitful discussion with the Government here as well."