Spend now to feed people in future, Gulfood told

The UAE currently imports 80 per cent of its food at US$3 billion, but that number could rise by US$8.4 billion by 2020.

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DUBAI // The UAE needs to invest in new technologies to ensure it has enough food in the future experts say.

Food security was at the top of the agenda at yesterday's opening of Gulfood, a four-day event at Dubai's International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Gulfood addressed feeding a world population forecast by the UN to grow to 9 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now.

"The UAE is the regional food market's second-largest hub and the production and availability of food pose economic issues," said Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade.

"And while the UAE currently imports 80 per cent of its food at US$3 billion [Dh11bn], that could rise by $8.4bn by 2020." Sheikha Lubna said $70bn would be needed to feed the world's population by 2050.

Lee Linthicum, head of food research at Euromonitor International, said: "The reality is food security is a big issue and we need to explore the technological solutions to not just address climate change, but also to respond to these realities.

"Agriculture is a challenge here but it's a challenge worth looking into. Some people are saying there's not enough meat in the world and that we have to start growing meat in vats rather than from animals, so these are all issues at play."

James McCluskey, managing director of Al Batha Consumer Group, said food prices were also a driving force for the Government to invest in options to produce food locally.

"It drives the economy and reduces prices," Mr McCluskey said.

But Gulf states are heavily dependent on food imports. "It is a key risk that needs to be managed," he said.

"We should think about how to grow more crops and increase the production and quality of food," said Yusuffali MA, the managing director of Emke, which operates LuLu hypermarkets. "The future of agriculture must grow faster than the population to meet demands."

So far the UAE is on the right track, Mr Linthicum said, because it is keeping prices down through limits set by the Ministry of Economy, "so people can afford to eat".

"Although the cost of wheat, grain, sugar and coffee can increase quite a bit, the UAE can help influence costs," he said. "But the UAE and the GCC must control the supply chain of food to keep costs down."