Sustainable agriculture is at the heart of the comprehensive food security strategies of many nations today as they seek to eliminate hunger within their respective territories, while at the same time ensuring they protect the environment. This practice focuses on providing a sufficient supply of nutritious food to the citizens without adding further pressures on natural resources in the face of exponentially booming populations.
Observing the best agricultural practices that promote healthy food production with due regard to the environment is timely and critical to the global sustainable development movement. Here we see efforts to promote rationalised use of natural resources to ensure that everybody, including future generations, will have access to these finite resources needed for survival. Part of implementing sustainable agriculture is eliminating food waste and strengthening crop production.
It is at this juncture that technological innovations and human capacity building in the agricultural industry come in. According to an online article posted on the National Geographic website, sustainable agriculture involves “farming practices that mimic natural ecological processes.” Doing so would require employing the necessary tools to grow food in a natural, healthy way.
Hence, we have witnessed the emergence of agricultural technology (AgTech) such as vertical farming, data science, and farm drones. In the UAE, where 90 per cent of food is imported, AgTech is gaining traction in light of the government’s efforts to produce locally grown crops despite challenges such as scarcity of water resources and arable land.
The growth in AgTech in the UAE has been made possible by the National Food Security Strategy, which was launched in November 2018. One of the strategy’s key pillars is to increase technology-enabled domestic food production by 30% by 2021. Using a UAE ‘Government Accelerator’ platform, my colleagues and I at the Food Security Office developed this sector with over 50 stakeholders by, among other things, creating a unified AgTech license, a national sustainable agriculture label, building codes for closed environment agriculture and a database for potential AgTech investors.
In additional efforts to boost the AgTech sector, our office, in partnership with Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi-based company mandated to deliver projects to meet the UAE’s vision of knowledge-based development, launched the global FoodTech Challenge in the UAE. The challenge, launched in September 2019 aims to promote innovative and technology-based food systems. The Challenge is open for all and invites particularly the youth, entrepreneurs and innovators to find solutions to identified challenges across the food value chain in the UAE, with a focus on home and community farming. Four winning teams will be honoured at New York University Abu Dhabi and share a prize pot of USD one million in April 2020.
In the meantime, in terms of human capacity development, the UAE has launched the ‘Ziraai’ programme to provide training, marketing support, and interest-free loans to its citizens involved in the agriculture sector.
These are just some examples of the UAE Government’s sustainable agriculture-related programs. Across the GCC, many member states are also involved in similar initiatives as part of their food security programs.
Worldwide, sustainable agriculture is making fast headway as more and more countries continue to adopt this strategic approach to agriculture. We should welcome new methods and constantly find ways to feed our ever-growing community.
By HE Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Mehairi, The Minister of State for Food Security, UAE