The global COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the threat of food security worldwide, with the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP) forecasting that more than a quarter of a billion people will face food poverty by the end of 2020.
According to the UN WFP’s Global Report on Food Crises, released in April, 135 million people already face food poverty, with Africa and the Middle East at greater risk. Currently, there are 73 million food-insecure people in Africa and 43 million in the Middle East.
The UAE’s leaders have long understood the need to develop resilient, secure and sustainable sources of food to ensure plentiful supply for the country’s growing population. With government support and the correct policies in place around food, food waste and water use, the UAE can alleviate the reliance on other countries for food imports and better manage use of its precious water resources.
The UAE was a first-mover when it established the UAE Office for Future Food Security – the world’s first ministerial portfolio dedicated to food security – in 2017. Since then, the Ministry has put in place a roadmap towards improved food security for the country with the launch of the UAE National Food Security Strategy 2051, which identified 38 initiatives around five key areas related to supply chain management, facilitating the global food trade and the diversification of food import sources.
The Ministry’s extensive efforts were recognised in December 2019, when the UAE jumped 10 places to 21st on the Global Food Security Index, which measures affordability, availability and quality of food.
In 2019, the Ministry also launched a shopping basket that highlights food that is produced well and in reliable supply in the UAE to make markets more competitive. The basket includes food such as vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, grains, and fish.
Earlier this year, the government formed a taskforce to advance the country’s agricultural sector, which will be led by Her Excellency Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security. This taskforce has been developed to ensure sustainable agriculture is a secure and viable sector in the UAE.
As Abu Dhabi’s pioneer in sustainability and a hub for research and development, Masdar City is building the community and spearheading the innovations to realise greener, more sustainable urban living. The city is trialling a number of innovations to support the mandate of the government in food security. In 2019, the city partnered with the Office for Future Food Security to pilot projects that could provide secure and reliable food to the UAE.
An example of this is Bustani – a Smart Home Farming Showcase demonstrating emerging farming solutions that will help UAE residents become more self-sufficient in meeting their everyday food needs. The showcase is open to the public so that they can learn how to replicate these solutions in their own homes and is part of an ongoing collaboration between Masdar and UAE-based agri-tech specialists Madar Farms.
The exhibition demonstrates different food production innovations, as well as water and waste production and recycling. The objective is to highlight how progress in technology has allowed the emergence of solutions to increase food security at the home level, as well as raise awareness of the broader global challenges of sustainably and nutritiously feeding a growing population.
The 15 innovations showcased at the Eco-Villa have demonstrated their potential for implementation in homes across the UAE to bolster the country’s food security. These include vertical farming solutions, a smart chicken coop, water recycling system, smart hydroponic system, a novel beehive, kitchen composter, mushroom box and automated garden robot, among others.
Masdar is proud to support home-grown companies and their innovative solutions, and our ongoing collaboration with Madar Farms is an excellent example. The company first established a test project in Masdar City in 2017 where it piloted its unique vertical farming container, which grows leafy greens using smart systems that utilise less water than conventional farming, conserving an important resource in the UAE’s arid landscape.
The success of the Madar Farms vertical farming container pilot has been a springboard for the company, who recently begun distribution to three online retailers. The stores are selling the company’s produce to boost food supplies in the UAE, in response to any potential food shortages arising from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It has always been our goal to tackle food and water security challenges in the UAE and wider region, and turn the Late Sheikh Zayed’s vision into reality. As well as strengthening our position as a key player in the UAE’s AgTech industry, our ambition is to lead a new agriculture revolution across the GCC region, and working with different partners including Masdar is a step forward to helping us achieve this,” said Madar Farms CEO Abdulaziz Al Mulla.
“We are responding to this current demand that we’re facing today, partnering with our online ordering and delivery partners to provide vital food produce to people across the Emirates. In these challenging times, it is more important than ever to eat and shop local – and across the UAE we are seeing more citizens buying locally grown produce.”
“When our customers receive their produce, it is clean, safe and fresh as all our products are delivered within 24 hours of harvesting. We are proud to make our produce available directly to consumers for the first time and reach out to even more people across the UAE.”
Research and development is part of Masdar’s DNA and the company is proud of the success of the companies that it has supported. Recently, Madar Farms have received funding from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), part of the Ghadan 21 initiative, to develop the world’s first commercial-scale tomato farm, and its most water-efficient, using only LED lights, for which Madar Farms announced their intention to build at this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.
Masdar’s executive director of Sustainable Real Estate, Yousef Baselaib, highlights the importance of innovation for food security, “The recent global coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the need for robust and reliable food supply chains, particularly in countries that are reliant on external food supplies to nourish their population. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, many countries around the world were already suffering from the effects of food shortages, and this problem will continue as the world’s population grows to an estimated nine billion by 2050.”
“Leveraging technological innovation will undoubtedly be part of the solution and Masdar’s smart home farming showcase at the Eco-Villa in Masdar City and our on-going initiatives in food security demonstrates our commitment to exploring innovative and sustainable approaches to farming to improve the UAE’s food security.”
As well as supporting Masdar City’s tenants and partners in their efforts to enhance the UAE’s food security, Masdar is also the sustainability partner in the UAE’s Food Tech Challenge and Masdar-BP start-up technology accelerator The Catalyst, which is the competition’s start-up acceleration partner. The competition is hosted by the UAE Food Security Office and Tamkeen, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. The challenge is aimed at finding innovative solutions across the food value chain, whether related to food production, food distribution or food waste. The winning innovations will be awarded later this year and will win prize money of up to US$1 million, as well as eligibility for a UAE-based accelerator programme, to help develop their innovations into commercial-scale applications that can be adopted across the UAE.
Cinar Kurra, CEO of The Catalyst said: “The FoodTech Challenge provides an important opportunity for aspiring and emerging food innovators, enabling them to showcase their sustainable and technology-driven concepts and solutions. We are proud to support the global competition, which we hope will accelerate the implementation of resilient and innovative agricultural practices in the UAE.”
The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, the demand for food will be 60 percent more than what it was in 2016. Faced with rising temperatures and more hot days as a direct result of climate change, the UAE is already putting in place the correct mechanisms to mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure that it can plentifully supply the additional demand for food by the middle of this century. Masdar is proud to be supporting the hunt for innovative and sustainable solutions that will bolster the country’s food security and benefit the wider region.