|05 May, 2019

UAE's Successes in Securing Food Security Highlighted in the USA

H.E. Mariam Almheiri, Minister of Food Security, addresses the Milken Institute Global Conference 2019 in California and visits Arizona State University

UAE's Successes in Securing Food Security Highlighted in the USA

Dubai: – The UAE’s drive to ensure food security for its citizens was highlighted in the USA last week, when Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, visited the country’s states of California and Arizona.

Accompanied by His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the United States, the trip formed part of the minister’s agenda to find out more about international efforts to develop sustainable food production, as well as disseminate information to international audiences about her office’s array of initiatives designed to reduce the UAE’s reliance on imported food.

The Milken Institute Global Conference 2019 was the first stop in the minister’s United States itinerary, with the event taking place April 28-29 in Beverly Hills, California. The annual forum is a key calendar event for the institute, which is an influential non-profit think tank that addresses social issues using market principles and helps business and public policy leaders find ways of creating broad-based prosperity for all.  

The opportunity for Her Excellency to showcase the array of food security initiatives that are being introduced in the UAE came on day two of the conference, when she took part in a panel discussion titled ‘Ag Tech: Food Security as National Security.’ Participating alongside her at the session, which highlighted how technology is playing a pivotal role in revolutionising food production, were speakers that included Stephen Censky, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture at the US Department of Agriculture and Charlie McNairy, CEO and Chief Investment Officer at the International Farming Corporation.

“Whenever the word ‘security’ is mentioned, we usually default to thinking about national security, the military sector, the threat of attacks on a country’s sovereignty and the physical safety of its people. While these are vital elements of national security, there are other also critically important areas of a country’s security that need to be addressed. One such area which I personally am in involved in the UAE is food security. Food security is a measure of the availability of food and individuals’ access to it. As people around the world see their supply of food threatened by various elements and reasons, food security becomes an increasingly strategic sector,” said Her Excellency.

“The UAE has established itself as a world leader in agricultural technology – or ‘Ag-tech’ – as part of its drive to ensure food security for its citizens and with this level of expertise comes a responsibility to pass on our knowledge and experience in this vital area to international audiences. Among the achievements I was able to share with food security stakeholders from around the world at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2019 were the development of a Government Accelerator programme for agriculture that kick started the Ag-tech programme in the UAE. I was able to reveal how we brought in 50 stakeholders for the project and came up with 10 new initiatives in 100 days, in the process, opening up a new economic sector in the UAE,” added Her Excellency.

“Among the notable achievements that have resulted from our Ag-tech drive are climate-controlled greenhouses that produce 10 times more tomatoes than a same-sized outdoor site while using 70 per cent less resources, the world's first desert ecosystem designed to produce sustainable fuel and food in saltwater, the establishment of an advanced genomics centre in the UAE to study crop dynamics and water harvesting technology, the construction of the world’s largest vertical farm at Dubai International Airport and the creation of the Marine Innovation Park at Sheikh Khalifa Marine Research Centre (SKMRC), which aims to be the leading research and development centre in the region for bio science technology innovation and marine science,” Her Excellency continued. 

Among the other topics addressed discussed at the Milken Institute Global Conference - the 22nd in its history - was the relationship between food and health, with sessions titled ‘Toward a Healthier Future,’ ‘Obesity in the Workplace,’ ‘Food as Medicine’ and ‘Farmacy: Harnessing the Microbiome to Treat Disease,’ all tackling the issue of how better-quality food can improve wellbeing across the globe. 

In addition to examining how food can hold the key to improving the health of individuals, the importance of changing food production methods to preserve the health of the planet were discussed in ‘Drawdown: Changing the Food System to Save the Planet,’ while the leadership needed to effect such change and to create a new era of global food security were assessed in ‘Shifting Tides: How CEOs Navigate Today’s Challenges,’ ‘The New Guard: Creating a Better Food Future’ and at the special invitation ‘Global Food Leaders Retreat,’ which started the conference programme.

Business opportunities arising from the rapid technological changes in food production were discussed during ‘Investing in the Food Revolution,’ which analysed how stakeholders could take advantage of the increasing investment in food and agriculture technology – a sector which jumped by more than 40 per cent in 2018 to reach a total of $17 billion, according to the Financial Times. Similarly, the opportunities for commercial organisations that could be availed by them staying nimble and keeping up with consumer demand were explored in ‘Consumer of the Future: Digitally Savvy and Environmentally Conscious.’

Following the conclusion of the Milken Institute Global Conference, Her Excellency paid a visit to Arizona State University (ASU) in California’s neighbouring state. There she met with Michael Crow, President of the university and was given an overview of the educational establishment’s efforts in sustainable food production - particularly its work with algae - by Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Executive Vice President of ASU Knowledge Enterprise and Chief Research and Innovation Officer. Among the discussions that took place during Her Excellency’s visit were how the UAE Office of Food Security could collaborate with ASU for initiatives at SKRMC’s Marine Innovation Park. Her Excellency concluded her visit to the university by attending a presentation at ASU’s ‘Decision Theater,’ an immersive visualisation environment that addresses key social issues by encouraging participants to interact with each other and engage with the visual information around them.

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