Food security in the United Arab Emirates: Classifying the country’s main food suppliers
Between global climate change, natural disasters and geopolitical conflicts, the arid countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council have concerns over food security. Within the GCC, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) produces an extremely limited amount of its necessary foodstuffs and depends almost entirely on imports. A primary UAE staple food import, e.g., rice, primarily comes from India, Pakistan, and Thailand. From 1975 to 2010 the UAE population increased from 557,000 to over 8 million, with a current annual expenditure of over AED 41 billion (US$1.5 billion) on food imports. This paper thus focuses on the question of UAE food security in relation to limited productive potential and unstable global markets. It examines the national strategic plan for future food supplies, classifies the main food supplying countries, and explores local efforts to increase food production.
Keywords: Food security, geography, government, strategy
As the world population increases beyond 7 billion , food availability has become a crucial problem and concern facing many countries, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in particular. As a country with a harsh desert climate, limited agriculture land, poor soil fertility, and less than 110.5 mm of annual rainfall, the UAE has always faced problems of food supply. More than 8 million people live in the UAE’s seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ajman and Fujairah. Covering an area of 83 thousand square kilometers (Figure: 1), the UAE’s 2008 estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of AED 600 billion (approximately US$175 billion), derived mainly from petroleum revenues. While a nation’s agricultural sector is a vital aspect of its food security requirements, the UAE’s agricultural sector contributed only AED 9 billion towards its 2009 GDP. According to the Ministry of Environmental and Water, UAE farmland is estimated to be 260 thousand hectares, representing only 3.1% of the total area of the UAE (http://www.alrroya.com).
Figure: 1 The geographical location of the UAE
The UAE government’s economic development goal cannot feasibly focus on producing food, however much it would contribute to strengthening national security. Therefore as this research suggests, the primary UAE food security goal should broadly encompass long term domestic and international production, supply and market fluctuations. But quantity is not the only issue, as continuity and stable international relations are equally important. As well, issues of quality affect both domestic production and international imports. Nutritional value of foodstuffs involves more than agricultural practices, and includes production, storage, transport and handling. It is often forgotten that minimum daily requirements for human health involve more than the quantities consumed, but the combination of nutrients derived from food. Therefore, UAE government food security policy needs to include scientific principles to strategize about total caloric and nutritional intake of the population in relation to total foodstuff availability, domestic and global sources. Perhaps such a scientifically sophisticated strategy may be moot in a consumer society where junk foods are as readily available as healthy food. But nutritional information and education is making its way into the society through government policy, e.g. Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) policy to ban junk food and enforce healthy diets in all school lunches and snacks. Social values will take a long time to change after the UAE entrance into a global consumer society, with international fast food chains and everyday access to global food and beverage imports. But with global agriculture decline and food sources diminish under pressures of climate change, thus increasing in price and scarcity in ratio to increased demand from...
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