Cooked up for climate, UAE's high-tech food plan pays off in pandemic

In the past four years, the United Arab Emirates has grown a small but rising share of its own organic tomatoes, aiming to shore up food security in an import-dependent desert country. The effort - part of a broader push to produce more home-grown food amid fears climate change could trigger instability in the global food trade - started after the country was hit by food export bans during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. 

Today, the move to build up food resilience is paying off early in the face of another crisis: the coronavirus pandemic. When the United Arab Emirates (UAE) went into lockdown in April to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, residents had the same reaction as millions of others around the world - they started panic-buying. The instinct to stock up made sense in a country where more than 80% of food is imported, said Ismahane Elouafi, director general of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA). Nonetheless supermarket shelves have remained fully stocked, partly because the UAE has long had policies in place to ensure an uninterrupted supply of food from abroad, she noted.

But in the face of the pandemic, the UAE’s confidence that it will continue to have enough food is bolstered by its success in growing its own, using innovations like vertical farming and climate-resilient crops, she added. “Thanks to the work being done to harness the benefits of innovation, agriculture is becoming possible and profitable in a country with harsh climatic conditions,” Elouafi said. According to data from the World Bank, the contribution of agriculture to the country’s gross domestic product rose from $2.39 billion in 2012 to $3.06 billion in 2018. The UAE’s Ministry of Food Security declined to respond to a request for comment. 

Read more at Reuters (Rabiya Jaffery) 

 


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