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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Farming secrets from New Zealand to future-proof UAE food demand 

Minister completes fact finding New Zealand tour to develop future food strategy

Vertical farms, using similar techniques to this one in New Jersey, America, will soon be springing up in Dubai as part of a future food strategy. Reuters   
Vertical farms, using similar techniques to this one in New Jersey, America, will soon be springing up in Dubai as part of a future food strategy. Reuters   

A global race to secure the UAE’s food economy is under way as ministers extend their search to New Zealand for future-proof farming alternatives.

The role of key trading partners and technology has never been more crucial as climate change and an exponentially increasing world population threaten future food demand.

The UAE is New Zealand’s 10th largest trading partner, and total exports to the UAE grew 47 per cent between 2016‐2017.

To rubber stamp that partnership, food security minister Mariam Al Mehairi, visited the country to identify sustainable food solutions.

It follows similar tours to Netherlands, Singapore and Australia to investigate new ideas and technologies to shape a future food strategy for the UAE.

“New Zealand is one of the countries we can learn a lot from,” said Ms Al Mehairi.

“We are looking into closed systems farming for vegetables or fish and we see we could benefit from this as 90 per cent of the food in the UAE is imported.

“Because of climate change and global food shortages, we need to be ready to protect our food security now and in the future.

“We’ve done a lot of work on closed system farming for fish, so with that in mind Expo 2020 will be an opportunity to showcase what the UAE has done.”

The minister said the UAE has ambitions to become a ‘food hub’ for New Zealand, by creating a food city in the country to attract traders and share food technologies.

Aquaponics is one area under development in both countries.

The system allows waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals to be used as nutrients for plants grown hydroponically without soil. The plants in turn purify the water.

Similar small scale systems are already in place at Sustainable City in Dubai.

The New Zealand visit comes a little more than two years out from Dubai Expo 2020 where NZ will hold a significant presence in the Sustainability District, where the latest technologies will be on show.

During the trip, Ms Al Mehairi visited Wellington, Nelson, and Auckland, speaking to local experts on aquaculture, food science and production.

The minister visited a school to see how children were learning about the latest farming methods and the route from field to plate.

Examples of best practice from the tour will be used to help form the UAE’s food and security policy.

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The Abu Dhabi Environment Agency is already trialling the Crop Calculator, a software product developed by Plant and Food Research, a New Zealand Government-owned institute, which estimates the optimal water needs of specific crops.

“That technology is a decision support tool that allows growers to know how much water their crops need,” said Lesley Kennedy, group chief executive for Maven International Ltd, a consultancy offering business support to governments.

“The UAE is a great trading partner for New Zealand, and we can help them produce great food.

“Dubai is a re-export hub so it is great location to export New Zealand produce to Europe.”