H.E. Abdulla bin Touq al Marri unveils key pillars for transforming UAE food and agriculture sector into global power

The UAE Minister of Economy, H.E. Abdulla bin Touq al Marri, affirmed the UAE’s commitment to transforming its food and agriculture sector to grow its contribution to GDP by $10 billion and creating 20,000 jobs in the next five years and unveiled the seven key pillars of the strategic direction in achieving it. The key strategies include localising innovation, fostering a UAE-first culture and food supply chain, and providing farmers with the necessary support and resources to make them a global leader in agri-food innovation and sustainability.

Closing the fifth Future Food Forum yesterday, H.E. Al Marri praised the country’s F&B sector initiatives in skill development and digital-infrastructure capabilities achieved through various programmes to reshape how food is produced, distributed, and consumed in the region and globally. He commended the UAE Food Platform’s (launched during the Forum) ability to enable public-private collaboration in food security and optimising the F&B ecosystem with digital infrastructures to drive the sector growth and attract investments and trade opportunities.

The two-day events on 20-21 September, held in Le Meridian Dubai Hotel delved into the growing role of the food sector in UAE’s economy and well-being and the industry’s future. Present for driving the UAE’s economic development and industrial growth is promising and crucial to our future. The UAE, today, is considered one of the most important hubs of global food logistics. Everybody knows it’s the most accessible port for shipping containers between the source and the destination, easing for food supply and consumption. Food is also an important aspect of overall trade. Food products trade amounted to AED 130 billion in 2022 alone compared to AED 105 billion in 2021, registering a growth of 24% in one year; food trading was 5.7% of the UAE non-oil trade.

H.E. Al Marri said, “With a growing population, food security assuming the highest priority, the UAE is doing well on this front and was on the top of the global food security index 2022 compared to other MENA counterparts, but the challenges for food in these uncertain times are real and present. Thankfully, our food industry’s resilience and adaptability make it adept in addressing this challenge while constantly emphasising sustainable practices, which will nurture our earth for centuries.”

“Today, I stand before you to share a vision to propel our beloved country to new heights and ensure future food security. We are working on a strategy to transform our Food and Agriculture cluster into a global power; the essential pillars around this work, which I’m about to say represents our commitment to innovation sustainability and self-sufficiency and food production,” he added.

He noted that the first pillar is localising the next generation of agri-disruptors and growing them into global champions by nurturing local talents and innovation by identifying and supporting the next-generation solutions. Secondly, making the UAE a global regulatory powerhouse ensures that our products are of higher standards and have international recognition. Thirdly, promoting a UAE-first culture to foster the entire food value chain by prioritising domestic production and reducing reliance on imports. Meanwhile, the fourth pillar remains critical as it aims to provide sufficient funding to industry players.

H.E. Al Marri said, “Access to funding is why people grow, industries evolve, and our strategy will look into securing funding and support. This brings us to our fifth pillar of fostering innovation with world-class R&D innovation, which is the cornerstone of progress. We will provide world-class research and development packages to inspire change.”

Furthermore, the sixth pillar will focus on enabling players to diversify and access new markets by creating pathways for all agriculture players. Finally, the strategy aims to build the next generation of farmers, who are the future of agriculture and agri-tech. H.E. Al Marri expressed commitment to enable farmers with the knowledge, technology and resources they need to succeed through training programmes, modernisation efforts, and support systems to ensure that the agriculture workforce is prepared to address the challenges and opportunities ahead.

For his part, Saleh Lootah, Chairman of the F&B Group, an entity under the Dubai Chamber, said, “The 5th Future Food Forum’s resounding success can be attributed to the collaborative participation of all stakeholders in the ecosystem. The active involvement of these stakeholders was bolstered by a progressive shift to digital platforms, which has significantly enhanced participation, communication, and collaboration.”

The second day of the Forum focused on sustainability and circular Economy with a special panel session that featured Amal Hassan Al Ahmadi, Head of the Research and Development Section, Ministry of Climate Change and Environment UAE and Khuloud Al Nuwais, Chief Sustainability Officer, Emirates Foundation, discussing on minimising food waste and promoting food recovery initiatives and highlighted UAE’s initiatives in turning strategy to action. The discussions highlighted changing consumer behaviour and its impact on the F&B sector at various sessions focusing on the evolution of the food retail experience and using big data analytics to increase efficiency.

A special session on localisation policies and regulations in the GCC featured Fahad Aldrees, Chief Human Resources Officer, Almarai; Suaad Al Shammari, Head of Nationalisation GCC, Nestle; and Salama Alhaj Alawadhi, Director of National Value Added Department, Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology to evaluate Retention, Progression, and Development Measures for citizens.

Organised by the UAE Food & Beverage Business Group (F&B Group) under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Economy, Dubai Chamber, and with support from the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and Food Tech Valley, the Forum also included the “Free From Food” Dubai exhibition. Supported by leading organisations and international business councils worldwide, including the International Islamic Food Processors Association (IFPA), the event was backed by DP World and key sponsors in the sector, including IFFCO, AGTHIA, Al Ghurair Foods, Almarai, SGS, Emirates Development Bank, Sadia, and Hayatna as leading partners. Industry organisations such as IFPA added their expertise and insights to the discussions.