A UAE minister called on the nation's youth to draw inspiration from climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg to drive efforts to safeguard food supplies.
Speaking at the launch of a $1 million (Dh3.67m) Global Food Technology Challenge in Dubai, Mariam Al Mehairi, Minister of State for Food Security, urged young people to lead the way towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
The competition is challenging participants to come up with new ideas to solve sustainability problems facing the Emirates in the near future.
Entrants are encouraged to use advanced technologies and techniques to overcome problems faced by the agricultural sector to achieve sustainable food production in the UAE.
“The challenges we have are the same ones we have heard time and again,” said Ms Al Mehairi.
“There is a lot of pressure on our natural resources and therefore a reduction in farming of food. All these things are happening globally.
“Greta Thunberg has created a big environmental movement among young people in Europe and around the world, and I’m sure the youth of the UAE will also take inspiration from her.
“She is opening the eyes of young people to look at what we are doing.
“Food security is not just a government responsibility but of every community.”
The strategy specifically aims to implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems.
Registration is open until February for those taking part to submit a detailed case study and minute-long pitch video explaining their idea.
Four finalists will have their project assessed by a judging panel.
Each winner will receive $250,000 (Dh918,000), comprising of $100,000 (Dh367,000) in cash and $150,000 (Dh550,000) of support from Catalyst, an Abu Dhabi business accelerator programme.
Winners will be announced in April.
“The UAE is not an agricultural country, so children do not grow up around a farming environment,” said Ms Al Mehairi
“Food gets thrown away, but there is no guilt. This is something we need to change.
“When we launched the national food security strategy in 2018, one of the enablers is how to engage the community to get them involved in the subject of food security.
“The effects are that we will show the world the UAE is taking food security seriously, enabling communities and youth to look at solutions.”
The UAE is currently ranked 31st in the Global Food Security Index, created by The Economist Intelligence Unit, and aims to be among the top 10 countries by 2021.
One proven solution already in development in the UAE is vertical farming.
The concept involves plants being grown in vertically stacked layers in an indoor controlled environment.
Vertical farms typically use artificial light, humidity regulation, temperature control and minimum use of pesticides, enabling the production of vegetables in large quantities all year round without the need for soil, sunlight and chemicals.
The foodtech prize ties in with article seven of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s 50 year charter for future growth.
In the charter, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai addresses self-sufficiency for citizens, and aims to make at least one in 10 homes self-sufficient for water, food and energy.
“The Global Food Technology Challenge will open new horizons for regional and global cooperation that will help create a unified vision for global food security,” Sheikh Mohammed said in a government release announcing the project.
“We look forward to the UAE being at the heart of this vision.
“Achieving food security is a key pillar of continued development.
“In order to find innovative solutions that would aid us in developing a sustainable agricultural system, we must invest in scientific competencies.”
The launch of the challenge was organised by the Food Security Centre in partnership with Abu Dhabi-based company, Tamkeen. Other partners include New York University Abu Dhabi.