Her Excellency Mariam Bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri told a recent webinar: “There was a rise in the number of oranges bought, as people are thinking to increase their vitamin C intake, which contributes to better immunity.”
“We also see a lot less food waste, as people were eating home more, and were beginning to be more conscious about what they eat and what they spend on food.”
Spurred by more meals at home, Almheiri noted people were also keen on farming at home and reaching some sort of self-sufficiency.
Food secured future
The UAE is an important global hub for food trade and imports about 90% of its food needs.
Almheiri revealed in the webinar, organised by Gulfood, that the nation saw an increase in 25-fold in exports and re-exports during the COVID-19 pandemic, “this shows how we are also catering to the needs of the region.”
As of now, the UAE mostly imports grains, sugar and oil, which Almheiri said: “don’t make sense to grow in the UAE yet with the technology. We are undertaking several trials in growing grains in UAE, but this is just R&D to develop the technology further.”
However, the technology they have right now is suitable for growing vegetables, and developing fish, goat, poultry and sectors with prices commercially viable and competitive.
“In addition, population increase and climate change will steer the nation to building a more resilient food system and ramping up our local production,” Almheiri said.
She told listeners that increasing local production does not mean decreasing imports, however.
“We want to decrease our dependency on net-import into the country, but that doesn’t mean we want to decrease imports. UAE will continue to be the global hub for food trade and agribusiness.”
She said the UAE was very similar in ambitions and mindset to Singapore.
“Singapore also imports about 90% of their food and is also a global hub for food trade. But (Singapore) also has targets to achieve such as 30% local production by 2030.”
“They are also prioritising technology and food innovation to become more efficient and decrease food waste. We are working closely with the Singaporean government, exchanging ideas and experiences.”
To accelerate local production efforts, the UAE Cabinet recently approved a national committee for developing agri-tech in UAE, which is led by Almheiri.
She explained the committee is currently working on a blueprint to submit by August on policy changes, initiatives, regulations that will drive agri-tech transformation.
However, Almheiri said that food security was not just about supplying food, added it also encompassed consumer behaviour in terms of what they buy, how they cook, and how much food is wasted.
She cited an example: “When you throw away an apple, it’s not just throwing away a fruit, it is also throwing away 70 litres of water to grow it and transport it here. Buy only what you need and try not to put edible food in the bin.
“We need to build on this momentum of this crisis and be conscious about what we eat.”