x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Education needed on shipping and storing food correctly, UAE forum hears

Global agricultural production needs to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 and double in developing countries to ensure there is enough food, agricultural experts have claimed.

DUBAI // Global agricultural production needs to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 and double in developing countries to ensure there is enough food, agricultural experts have claimed .

Up to half of some crops are lost in some countries, especially in the developing world. And up to a quarter of the food that makes it as far as consumers ends up being wasted.

"It's going to be a very serious challenge in the next 30 years," said John Lawton, the general manager of Agricultural Technology Company in Saudi Arabia.

He was speaking at the Agribusiness Outlook Forum, part of the region's largest agricultural trade show, which took place in Dubai last week.

Although enough food is produced to feed the world's population, 800 million people still suffer malnutrition. "We have enough food but it's not well distributed," said Dr Mohammed Amrani, the director of research and innovation at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

Transport and logistics are the biggest problems. "We can't get it to the people who want to get it," said Nicholas Lodge, an agricultural expert at Clarity, an Abu Dhabi-based consultancy. "It's a huge waste."

In many countries, food is thrown away because it does not fit the perfect shape supermarkets look for.

"This is artificial waste when supermarkets impose strict restrictions on the shape of vegetables," he said. "Up to 50 per cent of certain crops in India are lost in that way and there is a similar situation in Africa."

But consumers are also to blame. "We buy more food than we need and we don't store it in a good way," said Mr Lodge. "Twenty-five per cent of all food purchased is thrown away in the developed world."

In the UAE, up to 80 per cent of food is imported and, according to a report by The National last November, two-thirds of residents believe they can waste it without worrying about environmental consequences. Even worse, more than three quarters admit they throw food away every week.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, it is estimated that about 1.3 billion tonnes of food a year were lost or wasted in 2011, based on findings of the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology.

"There needs to be education of the general public on the correct storage of food to reduce wastage," said Brian Barriskill, the supply chain director at Abu Dhabi-based Al Dahra Agriculture.

In developing countries, food is a huge part of most people's expenditure. "That's why it's become a big issue and why there is unrest in the region," said Mr Lodge. "It's a very real, urgent and desperate situation when there is not enough food."

Meanwhile, increasing development is usually accompanied by a trend towards more resource-intensive diets. "We have a high population growth here and an increasing number of people with more money who spend on a better quality diet," he said. "So they move from cereal and rice to more meat. In Saudi Arabia alone over the next 15 to 20 years, the consumption of meat will double."

The UAE has invested in farmlands in countries including Serbia, Egypt, Pakistan and Morocco. But experts say that might not always be worthwhile.

What is needed is either to increase the food supply, reduce the demand or moderate both, said Mr Lodge. "We have to stop the waste, and we must attract more people into the farming sector."

cmalek@thenational.ae