x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Don't put all your crops in one basket

The UAE depends massively on imports of processed food. This means that food scarcities are less of a concern here than in many other places. But the problem is if there is a future food crisis.

The UAE, along with other Gulf countries, is buying more land overseas to grow crops and reduce the threat of food shortages, as The National reported yesterday.

The investments will help protect the country against wild swings in the price of staples, which happened in global markets as recently as 2008. And while a rise in the cost of imported products, which account for 85 per cent of all food consumed in the UAE, is problematic, the country is making itself more nimble to respond to this challenge.

"The Gulf countries are food secure as long as world markets are open," Dr Eckart Woertz, the director of economic studies at the Gulf Research Centre says. "They have the money to buy. The problem is if there is a future food crisis and export nations restrict supplies, as Russia has just done."

The UAE also depends massively on imports of processed food. While this may not sit comfortably with those who advocate eating organic and locally-sourced products, this does mean that food scarcities are less of a concern here than in many other places.

Diversification is the most important defence against food shortages and spikes in prices. Investing in land overseas, even in Australia or other more developed nations in Asia and Eastern Europe, provides the UAE with several sources of food. And as they develop lands, they also implement the latest technologies.

According to Rob Vos, a former UN official writing in The National last year, Gulf States have already invested $15 billion in African food production.

For the long term, these arrangements can help both producers and consumers. If done right, the UAE is not just bringing more food to its own market, but creating jobs and improving technology and infrastructure abroad.

Even for a growing global population, the world is able to grow more than enough food for everyone. The problem is that the world's farmlands are not sufficiently connected to the world's markets and to the world's mouths. Hopefully these investments can help.