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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

UAE’s emphasis on Food Security vital for country’s social and economic development

Appointment of Mariam Al Mehairi as Food Security Minister underscores government commitment

Mariam Al Mehairi, UAE Minister of State for Food Security, being sworn in in October. Hamad Al Kaabi / Crown Prince Court
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Mariam Al Mehairi, UAE Minister of State for Food Security, being sworn in in October. Hamad Al Kaabi / Crown Prince Court ---

It is with great optimism that we in the private sector welcome the recent appointment of a Food Security Minister for the UAE, as a nationally-owned and nationally-driven food security strategy can ensure the country has a healthy society to support a growing economy.

The UAE already has a strong level of food security; of the four elements of food security as defined by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – availability, utilisation, access, and stability – the UAE’s leadership has worked hard to bring the country to the stage where it easily fulfils the first three elements.

The fourth element, a reflection of the level of self-sufficiency as well as policy development, is where the vast majority of the nation’s food security efforts are being dedicated. A ministry focused on food security is going to allow the UAE to move from a strong level to the best level in very concrete ways, in line with the leadership’s centennial plan for the nation to become the best in the world by 2071.

First of all, the appointment demonstrates the UAE’s commitment to continuous progress. A government entity responsible for food security enables the country to achieve its ambitions faster, because objectives can be set nationwide for all stakeholders to work towards; a relevant, cross-sectorial food security plan can be frameworked and implemented across the country; and a ministry wields authority to measure and follow-up in order to be sure that everyone moves forward and that things get done.

Moreover, the UAE has never limited its ambition to do good just for the UAE, but has always been very keen to proactively take its expertise to other countries: at some point it will be part of the country’s ambition to also export its skills and share best practice with other countries, an aspiration that can be accelerated now that a ministry has been created.

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Secondly, a ministry can unite the UAE’s food security community, serving as a hub that brings together all stakeholders under one umbrella. Through participation and consultation with national and local stakeholders including private sector companies, and with contributions of international and regional organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, and the FAO, a ministry enables the creation of a connected approach to food related issues in our country.

The issue of food security goes well beyond the food sector, embracing numerous government bodies and actors within the private sector. Food security relates to matters of distribution and infrastructure, such as physical infrastructure, supply chain management, storage and processing facilities, and waste management. It is relevant in the field of international trade, for example to debate special rules for food imports and exports in global and regional trade agreements, in domestic policies such as subsidies or other market interventions, and when it comes to questions regarding investment and global competition in domestic markets.

Food security also relates to health, such as identifying as well as addressing nutritional challenges and issuing nutritional guidelines and other consumer education tools. Food security also relates to quality and safety, including consumer protection, quality assurance, and food safety standards and implementation. And in terms of long-term sustainability, a ministry can take the lead in driving conservation efforts, recycling of water and waste, supporting scientific research and innovation, and national resource management.

We already have examples to build on in the UAE, such as the agreement for food security between the Abu Dhabi Food Security Center and various companies operating in the emirate, known as the Food Security Alliance. The main objectives of this Alliance include improving the quality, production and competiveness of local products; ensuring water and food for the country; ensuring sustainable development; establishing local, regional and international companies in food production; improving the environment for local and foreign investors throughout the food production chain (agriculture, animal production, food processing, infrastructure, logistic services); and implementing mitigation measures and a strategy to protect against food security issues.

And finally, because food security is related to well-being and health, a ministry can help achieve the UAE’s wider priorities, including its goals of happiness and positivity. Food-related activities play a pivotal role in driving positive social, economic and environmental change, and a ministry can orchestrate stakeholders’ efforts towards that ultimate goal.

In conclusion, food security is arguably the most fundamental requirement for ensuring sustainable economic growth. A ministry dedicated to this issue can provide a coherent and integrated approach, and from the perspective of the private sector, we look forward to assisting the ministry to promote the widespread availability of safe, nutritious, and trustworthy food.

Tariq Al Wahedi is the chief executive of Agthia Group

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