The UAE became one of the most important food exchange centres during the pandemic, thanks to its great infrastructure, the Minister of Food Security, Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, has said.

“The UAE has a vision that was created during the pandemic, because the UAE exports 90 per cent of its food needs. It became one of the most important food exchange centres due to its great infrastructure,” she said.

“The country wants to top the world’s food safety indicator by the year 2051. To achieve that target we have improved our technological abilities and are cooperating with all countries to build a global sustainable food system,” she added.

She made the statement while virtually attending the 14th edition of the Dubai International Food Safety Conference. “The UAE is building on its technological abilities to revolutionise supply chain systems that would enable resilience and sustainable food systems, not only in the country but worldwide,” said Almheiri.

Participants who attended the conference said that harmonising regulations and digitising logistical information would facilitate global food trade and improve food security for the future.

The conference showcased best practices and experiences from several countries building resilience during the pandemic, bringing experiences from Arab and regional countries as well as stories from other parts of the world in dealing with food security challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I believe in certain principals of food integrity. The food that we eat must be safe and nutritious. We must protect and respect our planet and all those people who work right across the system to put food on our plates. Science, technology and engineering are going to have a massive role in our future food system,” said Christopher Elliott, Professor at Queens University in Belfast.

“We have to think of regenerative agriculture and get our soil health back. We must have a transparent food supply system – to know how, where and who is producing our food. It will make our food more authentic. We must have digitisation or digital platforms to track where our food comes from. We have to create a digital trace by connecting different supply chains around the world. It’s all about collecting large amounts of data to identify problems and deal with them early before it causes a crisis,” he added.

Issues like climate change with massive crop failures, catastrophic weather events, ageing population of farmers all amidst the Covid-19 crisis was also high on the agenda. Researchers conceded that harnessing the use of advanced technologies in agricultural production is the way forward.

Refining risk communication systems

The pandemic has shown us that food systems — those who make and deliver foods — have been seen to be essential frontline services, said Prof Robyn Alders, honorary professor with the Development Policy Centre within the Australian National University. “We have seen local value chains coming to life contributing significantly to food and nutrition security. Authorities need to monitor local crises and be warned early. Therefore, there is an imminent need to refine risk communication.”

She added: “The public health authorities need to work with animal health services to ensure that the messaging is clear. Over the next few years we need to future proof value chains and to cultivate diverse ways of meeting supply of food needs. This needs to be shock resilient. By 2030, we must invest in future farmers to engage young people in sustainable agriculture.”

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