The UAE’s Billion Dollar Food Problem

22 Jan, 2018 - Services
uae agriculture

Annual rainfall in the United Arab Emirates is often measured at fewer than 120mm in coastal areas (which describes the bulk of the populated area of the country). By way of comparison, the UK sees an average of 885mm of rainfall per year. The UAE’s climate is the number one challenge faced by the country’s agriculture industry.

According to The World Bank, only 10% of the UAE’s land is arable. This obvious disadvantage has in no way inhibited the country’s growth plans but has led to 80% of the UAE’s food coming from imported sources. According to Dubai Municipality, the amount of food imported in Dubai alone in 2016 was estimated 33.7million tonnes. Locally the majority of produce is farmed in the northern Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah but large date palm farms can be found in Al Ain (Abu Dhabi’s second city), and in Umm Al Quwain, the emirate directly south of Ras Al khaimah.

In 2013 the UAE pledged AED100m to the private sector with the intention of answering the country’s food cultivation problems. This five-year investment plan hoped to produce advancements in crop farming, animal health, animal farming, and aquaculture. Due to the climate, animals cannot be farmed outside but instead require air conditioned accommodation. Likewise, the majority of fruits and vegetables grown need constant irrigation and shelter from the sun.

The UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has put a priority on increasing the use of hydroponic technology among farmers, which relies on nutrient-rich water to grow plants with the use of little or no soil. The method saves up to 70% of water, while allowing for a longer growing season and avoiding harmful chemicals. To date, there are 87 commercial farms using this technology.

The UAE is home to nearly 10m people and is a tourist destination for millions more each year. The country’s dependence on food imports leaves it vulnerable to the performance of international food markets. It is for this reason that he UAE and other Gulf countries have been purchasing land for food cultivation abroad, most notably in Africa and Pakistan. Whilst farming overseas may provide a reasonably stable source of food, there are still more costs incurred with transport than if the food were homegrown.  

The opportunity for UK firms already engaged in the area of agricultural research is huge. Successful projects in the UAE would no doubt lead to interest from neighbouring countries as the climate in the UAE is replicated in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and its other neighbours. In March 2018 Dubai is hosting Agra ME, a trade event endorsed by the UAE’s Ministry of Climate & Environment which has already attracted a large number of regional companies. With a more targeted focus on the Crop Farming, Animal Farming, Aquaculture and Animal Health sectors, AgraME 2018 will take place from 6 – 8 March 2018 in Dubai.

If you feel your products or services can provide solutions to the agricultural and farming challenges faced in the UAE and the wider Middle East, this event is likely to be one you should attend. Please contact me for more information.