The UAE’s food production landscape post Covid-19 was the topic on the table during the second meeting of the AgriTech Sector Development Team, a newly established team comprising public sector and private sector stakeholders from the country’s growing agricultural technology sector.
Chaired by H.E. Mariam Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, the meeting saw the team members discuss the expected outcomes for food security following the end of the coronavirus crisis, with the talks centred on applying the latest technological means, scientific methods and policy developments to find solutions to challenges to the food supply chain, as well as the future directions of the sector to increase local production and enhance the overall food security system.
The meeting was the second following the formation of the AgriTech Sector Development Team. The members of the team from the UAE’s public sector attending were His Excellency Abdullah Sultan Al-Shamsi, Assistant Undersecretary for the Commercial Remedies Sector at the Ministry of Economy; Her Excellency Fatima Mohamed Al Shamsi, Assistant Undersecretary for Electricity, Water and Future Energy Affairs at the Ministry of Energy and Industry; His Excellency Sultan Abdullah Al Habsi, Assistant Undersecretary in the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment; Dr. Alaa Nour El Din Ahmed, Director of the Technical Services Department of the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority; Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al-Awadi, Director of the Department of Agriculture and Irrigation in the Agricultural Regulatory Sector in Dubai Municipality; Eng. Fatima Hassan Al-Sharari, Director of Public Services and Environment Department in the Municipality of Fujairah; Eng. Hisham Mahmoud Abdel Sami, Director, Operation and Maintenance Department at the Water Department of the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA); Ahmed Al Rumaithi, Acting Director of Projects Development at the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development - Funding Mechanisms for Modern Agricultural Projects; Rashid Al Kaabi, Director of Investments at Abu Dhabi Fund; Dr. Tarifa Al Zaabi, Deputy Director General of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) - R&D division and His Excellency Dino Francescutti, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator of the GCC States and Yemen and FAO Representative in the UAE.
Making up the representatives from the UAE food security’s private sector were Badr bin Mubarak, CEO of Fish Farm, representing aquaculture; Djamal Djouhri, CEO of Al Ghurair Foods, representing the poultry, milk and eggs sector; Issa El Khoury, CEO of Mirak Group representing the vegetable and fruit traders sector and modern plantations; Sky Kurtz, General Manager of Pure Harvest, representing advanced farms, and Richard Patton, a partner at the consulting firm Ernst & Young.
The second meeting followed the inaugural convening of the team, which was held immediately after the Cabinet approved the decision for its formation. Building on this initial activity, the latest meeting developed the themes of the first and discussed a number of topics, including the challenges of establishing modern farms and proposing government policies to develop the sector.
"The efforts of the AgriTech Sector Development Team aim to strengthen the food system and the entire food value chain in the country. The formation of the team represents a commitment to increasing our dependency on local production enabled by technology and reducing dependency on imports from abroad in order to minimise the negative impacts of global crises, such as the one the global community is currently experiencing,” said H.E. Mariam Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security.
Her Excellency added that, despite the UAE’s permanent readiness and its successful provision of various food supplies in all of the country’s markets during the current situation, the wise leadership of the UAE had recognised the importance of relying on local production enabled by technology by developing modern agricultural mechanisms to ensure adequate and safe food at all times for all members of society.
During the meeting, the National Food Security Strategy launched in November 2018 was showcased, along with the recent efforts from the Emirates Food Security Council to ensure the continuation of the supply of food – efforts that have ensured that all basic food commodities are available to citizens and residents. Also assessed were ways of enhancing trade and securing and diversifying external food sources through effective communication with various international organisations, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The meeting also reviewed the most important staple foods that have become a source of focus during the current crisis; namely vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, livestock products, poultry and fish, with other important commodities including oils, baby food, tea and coffee. The meeting also highlighted the capacity of local production facilities to provide these basic products and to ramp up production where necessary.
Also discussed at the meeting were ways to enhance research and development and modern agriculture technology to boost local food production across crop growth, livestock rearing and aquaculture, with discussions revolving around the use of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, closed farming systems, genomics and genetic engineering.
Other issues discussed were the challenges of financing, research and development, and employing logistics to serve production, including difficulty in obtaining funding, lack of information about agricultural investment projects, and the existence of strict regulations on some production mechanisms. Storage and transportation challenges were raised in terms of lack of storage infrastructure and refrigeration, and market dominance. In addition, the challenges of the food service and waste management industries were also addressed, with a particular focus on the high costs of the industry and the reintegration of waste into the value chain.
The meeting concluded with the formation of working groups within the team, each having a dedicated focus; vegetables, dairy products, poultry and livestock, aquaculture, processed foods and grains, innovative foods and technology, and measuring trends in international markets. The groups will examine the challenges of adopting technology in the food sectors for their respective areas, identifying issues related to relevant laws and policies and suggesting recommendations. In addition, all the working groups were tasked with developing an integrated vision on the most appropriate scientific techniques and technologies based on research and development and to generate recommendations for ways to increase the adoption of agricultural technology across the UAE’s food value chain.
Building on the efforts of the working groups, modern AgriTech Sector Development Team meetings will take place on a regular basis to review the most prominent developments and discuss the progress made. These meetings will be held in preparation for submitting final recommendations to the Cabinet to start implementing agreed-upon initiatives that will tangibly advance the sector during the coming period.