Rising to the Challenge: The UAE's Innovation-Driven Food Security Movement

Food systems are ripe for disruption, and Dubai is leading the way regionally regarding the adoption of technology-enabled food production.

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By Saud Abu Al-Shawareb


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Hypermarkets and grocery stores in the UAE have remained fully stocked ever since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, thanks to the vision and vigilance of our nation. We have not seen empty aisles or hoarding, unlike other countries, even though approximately 60-90% of the food consumed in the GCC is imported. There are several reasons for this, and the UAE's vision for innovation-driven food security is on top of the list.

We have unprecedented access to food thanks to modern agriculture and global trade, yet food insecurity is a reality for vulnerable populations in advanced and impoverished nations alike. The wealth and economic stability of the UAE, though, has created a strategic stockpile of essential goods, and this preparedness and readiness will ensure we emerge from this difficult moment stronger than ever.

Logistics and an integrated supply chain are crucial here. You need to have an efficient distribution network that has direct access to major roads, with storage facilities in close proximity to airports and ports.

Food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers are at the heart of the UAE's innovation-driven food security movement, and among the unsung heroes on the frontlines of the fight against this virus. These companies have protected jobs, the economy, and our health by contributing to a stable supply of safe and nutritious food across the region.

It stemmed from the vision of our leaders to create a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy. In turn, this contributed to the convergence of science and technology, which has profoundly impacted food security in the UAE.

Food systems are ripe for disruption, and Dubai is leading the way regionally regarding the adoption of technology-enabled food production. We are on the cusp of this transformation and have demonstrated an ability to overcome agricultural constraints, such as soil and water availability, by creating controlled environments to cultivate produce.

Scientific and technological advances have spurred the rise of non-traditional food production such as hydroponics and aquaponics. These innovative systems have been used to cultivate tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and strawberries across the GCC.

Future-focused food production feeds into the UAE's ambition of becoming the highest-ranked country on the Global Food Security Index by 2051. This initiative was created by the government in 2018 and presented by H.E. Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security. Her role showcases the UAE's unwavering commitment to ensure all citizens have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

Related: First-Mover Advantage: H.E. Mariam Bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, UAE Minister Of State For Food Security

In 2018, we were ranked 31 on the index. Today, the UAE is joint-21 with Japan. Our rise reflects the focus on innovation-driven food security espoused by our wise leaders. Nationally, we see many examples of companies working together to enhance technology-enabled food production.

Dubai Industrial City, for example, is a key driver of the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, and we are focused on increasing the output of F&B manufacturing. Our business community boasts more than 80 food-related business partners. We also have 8.4 million sq. ft. of scalable warehouses in addition to 18 million sq. ft. of high end industrial land, which can be used by the F&B sector.

Badia Farms is building the first vertical farm in the region that will produce 3,500kg of high-quality fruits and vegetables per year when it begins operations. China's Baofeng Grain Mills is gearing up to produce 250,000kg of fresh rice noodles per day in one of our ready-to-use light industrial units. Anorka Foods is already exporting coffee to Canada, Barakat is providing fresh fruits and vegetables nationwide, while Oasis Cuisines is distributing fresh bakery and ready-to-eat products across the UAE.

But it is not just Dubai Industrial City contributing to food security. Other companies are exploring plans to build vertical farms using hydroponics, while artificial fish caves have been installed at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour to replenish fish stocks.

We endeavour to keep our business community up to date on the latest trends and technologies in food security and other important issues through our expert-led series of talks and networking opportunities, such as DI Talks. We have shared knowledge and expertise on various topics, most recently on how the fourth industrial revolution will impact manufacturing and logistics.

The deployment of artificial intelligence, automation and "Industry 4.0" technologies has had a profound impact on food production locally, regionally and internationally. It is also making sweeping changes to logistics through creating more efficient warehouses that are smart, interconnected and less labour-intensive. E-commerce, food delivery, and online grocery shopping –industries that have mitigated some of the headwinds during these exceptional times– stand to benefit from these changes moving forwards.

The UAE has established a resilient food supply chain nurtured by knowledge and innovation. Our interconnected ecosystem, supported by excellent infrastructure and a business-friendly environment, has attracted international investment and talent to the UAE. We have also created an environment for startups, entrepreneurs, and SMEs to scale up their ventures, deploy disruptive food production systems such as hydroponics and vertical farming, and contribute to food security.

Crucially, the unsung heroes on the frontlines of the fight against this virus have responded positively to the current challenge. F&B manufacturers have continued to protect jobs, the economy, and our communities. Their shared commitment to innovation has ensured this critical economic sector has become the backbone of food security in the UAE and wider region.

Related: Building New Ecosystems: The Food Tech Revolution Is Here

Saud Abu Al-Shawareb

Managing Director, Dubai Industrial City

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