x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE’s growing population makes food security a vital issue, say experts

The country's reliance on importing food will continue to surge due to increasing population, growing income and a change in consumption patterns officials at the World Food Security Summit said.

“Food security has suffered in past years because of crises. This has made it one of the top priorities in global issues,” said Saif Al Shara, assistant undersecretary for agricultural affairs and the animal sector, at the opening day of the World Food Security Summit in Dubai on February 23 2014. Pawan Singh / The National
“Food security has suffered in past years because of crises. This has made it one of the top priorities in global issues,” said Saif Al Shara, assistant undersecretary for agricultural affairs and the animal sector, at the opening day of the World Food Security Summit in Dubai on February 23 2014. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // The country’s reliance on importing most of its food will continue to surge due to an increasing population, growing income and a change in consumption patterns, said officials from the Ministry of Environment and Water.

Saif Al Shara, assistant undersecretary for agricultural affairs and the animal sector, said this reliance represented a major challenge for both the national economy and food security as it led to volatile food prices and a food supply that was not constant due to natural disasters.

“Food security has suffered in past years because of crises,” he said at the opening day of the World Food Security Summit in Dubai on Sunday. “This has made it one of the top priorities in global issues.”

As the world population rises, achieving global food security will not be possible if food is produced at the expense of other national resources.

“In our opinion, the problem doesn’t lie on the world’s ability to produce enough food but on the abundance of resources,” said Mr Al Shara. “This is clearly echoed when we look at the hunger map of the world – out of 840 million hungry people in the world, about 827 million live in developing countries.”

He said the underlying causes had become obvious.

“This includes a wide spectrum from the lack of suitable production inputs to climate change and its extreme phenomena and repercussions on the population,” he said. “The UAE’s geographical location, continuing population growth and scarcity of renewable water resources exert great pressure on our agricultural sector and on its ability to narrowing the gap between production and demand.”

Mr Al Shara said the effects on the UAE’s limited resources led to a review of the country’s policies.

“The importance was given to build an agricultural sector that was economically viable and environmentally friendly,” he said. “But it’s still under process and its features have started to emerge over the last few years.”

These include striking a balance with water security, adopting organics and aquaculture, increasing land productivity using modern technology and increasing interest in scientific studies and research.

“The UAE embraces the green economy approach so the use of lands and agriculture represent one of seven economic sectors of high importance,” he said.

According to a report on the GCC food industry by Alpen Capital released last May, the UAE’s food imports are expected to grow from Dh13.9 billion in 2011 to Dh20.2bn next year and Dh30.8bn in 2020.

“This reliance represents a major challenge for both the national economy and food security,” said Mr Al Shara. “Many countries around the world, including the UAE, will not be able to achieve food security based on their own resources, regardless of the efforts they exert. Attaining food security needs closer international cooperation in all relevant areas and new approaches in order to bridge the gap between high and low-income countries, allowing them to meet their citizens’ demands and achieve the goal of fighting poverty within the set timeframe.”

George Eustice, the British parliamentary undersecretary of state for farming, food and marine environment, said the UK took this issue “incredibly seriously”.

“With a population expected to grow to 9 billion and with food demand projected to rise by 60 per cent by 2050, trade is one of the most important things we need to develop if we are to tackle global food insecurity,” he said. “It starts with having open and transparent markets. According to our Forsyth report, we need to promote free trade to deliver food security.”

Lyle Stewart, Canada’s minister of agriculture in Saskatchewan, said population was increasing at an alarming rate of 200,000 people per day, or 73 million a year.

“This is as important an issue as any,” he said. “Together, there is much we can accomplish.”

cmalek@thenational.ae