It’s no secret that the Gulf states are heavily dependent on foreign farmlands for their food and no more so than the United Arab Emirates which imports 80% of its food products. Most foods you see stocked in the UAE’s supermarkets will have been brought in from elsewhere ready to sell directly to the consumer and only a tiny portion (around 20-25%) are from locally processed foods.
However, the oil-rich nation has realised the dangers of this crippling food dependency (particularly in an unstable economy) and launched plans to establish a government-owned trading house aimed at securing food supplies.
Tackling A Culture of Food Dependence
For many Gulf states such as the UAE, importing their food became the norm after the oil-bonanza of the late 50’s and 60’s which saw a sharp rise in the population but limited growth in the agricultural sector. Following the food crisis of 2007-8 which saw huge rises in the price of food, however, food security became a big issue for the Gulf states which are understandably concerned about their vulnerability.
In fact, the latest report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found that global food security could fall over the next two years if wheat and maize production does not rise substantially in 2011. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to improve food security and Abu Dhabi is developing a strategy which reportedly includes building food silos in Fujairah in the UAE and promoting local fresh produce. Back in October, an agreement was signed between the Farmers Service Centre which is responsible for agriculture and commercial retailers, so that Abu Dhabi residents could buy locally produced food in major outlets.
Securing Clean and Safe Food
It is still unclear whether the recent announcement marks a significant shift away from the traditional focus on securing arable land elsewhere- particularly in African nations such as Sudan- for food supplies rather than developing domestic self-sufficiency. So far, the UAE’s strategy to improving food security has consisted of food and agricultural investments and buying up fertile lands from across the world. Following recent food scares about the safety of imported foods, however, the country has another reason to increase it’s own domestic food production.
Reports emerged that fruit and vegetables imported from India (which supplies 60% of vegetables to the UAE) may have contained traces of banned pesticides with cancer-causing chemicals. Government officials insisted that all imported food was safe and underwent stringent test before allowed in the market. However some consumers are still wary. Speaking to Bikya Masr, one mother from Dubai said, “I am definitely going to try and search out other vegetables and fruits…I just can’t risk it with my family.” By 2030, the population of the Arab world is expected to reach 480 million people and so the time to secure clean and safe food is now.
: Image via jemasmith on flickr.
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