From vertical farms to robots: How UAE secured food supply amid COVID-19

Plans are afoot to establish at least one special economic zone for agricultural production and food processing

  
Indoor vegetables farm. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Indoor vegetables farm. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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The UAE managed to keep supermarket shelves fully stocked during the pandemic even though the country is a net importer of food. Turning the Covid challenge into opportunities, the country sharpened its focus on local production and self-sufficiency, a top official said.

The country tackled the pandemic ‘stress test’ through a networked approach with all the stakeholders, making efficient use of human capital, technology and boosting capacity, noted Wassim Said, adviser for policy and strategy at the UAE Food and Water Security Office.

“We want to enable all citizens and residents to have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food at affordable prices and at all times, including emergencies and crises. Actually, going through Covid-19 pandemic, it stress-tests the dimensions of the strategy we have. And we have earned some bragging rights to see that while the world was actually in a lockdown, we have been operating business as usual since May 2020. The shelves didn’t go empty at the supermarkets, the prices were still in control,” he said during a webinar held by the US-UAE Business Council.

Said stressed that food security has always been a government priority and among the key strategic sectors driving economic competitiveness.

“Food security was essential in 1971, today, and for the next 50 years. This word ‘food security’ has always been part of the mandates written for all the stakeholders.”

Said pointed out the pandemic has resulted in an aggressive focus on local production. “We are now in tune with the demands to boost local production that is sustainable and technology-enabled.”

The UAE, he said, has made investments in vertical farms, robotics and aquaculture, and bolstered research and development capacity with facilities like the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, Seawater Innovation Center, and Marine Innovation Park.

Now, there are plans to establish at least one special economic zone dedicated for agricultural production and food processing, as well as a dedicated innovation centre, he said.

“We look forward to an announcement soon to a food dedicated innovation area that not only looks after agricultural production but also food manufacturing that could host both well-established players and multinationals as well as SMEs and potential startups.”

The UAE wants to support global efforts for tackling food insecurities, too, Said added. “In terms of its infrastructure and trading capacity, it acts as a food security hub for the region. The UAE is taking on projects to boost the GCC food security.”

 

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