Food secure future
As food security and safety becomes an increasingly pressing issue around the world, the UAE is already looking ahead to secure its own food future and lead the world as the most food secure country by 2071, with a plan that includes investing in local farms and the latest agricultural technology, as well as enforcing the strictest standards of food safety.
The UAE ranked as the 31st most food secure country in the world in 2018 out of 113, according to the Global Food Security Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Dubai currently imports over 80% of its food. The UAE plans to jump into the top 10 list of countries that are most food secure. In order to reach these targets, locally grown food not only has to expand its growth rapidly, but it also has to meet the uncompromising health standards of the UAE, and cater to the diverse population that enjoys a wide variety of international food.
The UAE’s bid to become one of the world’s top 10 food secure nations took a major step forward with the launch of a comprehensive food security roadmap for the Middle East.
In 2018, Minister of State for Food Security Mariam Al Muhairi announced a food security strategy to reduce Dubai’s reliance on foreign food imports.
The roadmap relies on five pillars: building a food data strategy, developing an innovation research and development (R&D) strategy, establishing a national food waste programme, expanding nutritional guidelines, and enhancing the regional trading environment.
Farming in the desert
Since 2011, over 50 organically certified farms in the UAE have cropped up, with more farms and organic solutions in the pipeline. Organic Oasis, founded by Sheikha al Muheiry, is an 85,000-square-foot farm in Al Khawaneej that grows fields of aubergine, corn, and okra, among other things. The farm is certified by ESMA organic, USDA organic, and EU organic and supplies local restaurants and supermarkets like Spinneys, Organics Foods & Cafe, Baker & Spice, and more.
Being an outdoor organic farm comes with its challenges as well, as the ability to fight off pests and disease is more difficult to control in an outdoor environment, which is why many believe that the future of sustainable organic farming will move indoors.
Floor-to-ceiling tech acres
The first vertical farm to open its doors in Dubai is Badia Farms in 2017. Located in Al Qouz, the 8,500sqft warehouse uses hydroponic technology to grow in-demand micro-greens and herbs for Dubai’s trendy restaurant scene. Badia Farms hopes to not only close the gap between farm and table, but to help Dubai become globally recognised as an upscale fruit and veg producer.
Dubai’s future food sustainability is going to be rooted in technology, and businesses are taking note. Many places like Ripe Market have moved online and Dubai-based food apps like BonApp are trying to tackle food waste. In 2017, Dubai-developer MERAAS joined IKEA and Chef David Chang as an investor in AeroFarms, an indoor agriculture tech startup that uses aeroponics technology and closed US$40M in its series D round of funding.
Technology is not limited to how food can be grown, but monitored too. Dubai Municipality is developing an app called “Food Watch” that will oversee over 20,000 food establishments to achieve high levels of safety in the lead up to Expo 2020. Residents will also be able to use the app to watch out for allergies or track their nutritional intake.
Indoor farming would yield year-round fresh produce in a desert and eliminate the need for pesticides as well as improve food safety. While Dubai’s growing organic market is already bearing fruit and meeting a lot of demand, the growth and production of local and indoor farming will have to be exponential in order to achieve the targets for 2021 and 2030. The biggest challenge could be Dubai’s large appetite and discerning palate for international cuisines, and its high per capita consumption of staples like rice that require acres of tropical land to flourish. The incoming food strategy will have to take all the challenges into account as well as the resources and technology at hand in order to make Dubai a leader in food security and safety in the coming decades. If Dubai’s track record of mega projects is any indication of the city’s ability to go beyond what’s possible, then turning a desert country into a world leader in food production and technology seems possible within the near future.