Food security immediate priority for GCC: UAE Minister

Government ministries, top level officials and international industry leaders will come together at the five-star Conrad Dubai on 23 – 24 February for the inaugural World Food Security Summit – a Gulfood Leaders Event being held as part of Gulfood, the world’s biggest annual food and hospitality show taking place at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

Organised with the official support of the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Summit will be opened by Dr. Rashid Ahmed Mohammed Bin Fahad, UAE Minister of Water & Environment, who will deliver a keynote address on the state of food security in the UAE and the Middle East, as well as the challenges in securing the region’s future food supplies.

Dr. Bin Fahad will then address a high-level ministerial panel on ‘Ensuring a Sustainable Food Security Policy’. Other panellists include Rt. Hon. Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and MP for North Shropshire, UK; Hon Peter Walsh, Minister for Agriculture and Food Security and Minister for Water for the State of Victoria, Australia; Minister Lyle Stewart, Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture, Canada, and Felix K. Koskei, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of State for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya.

“The region is entering a new period of economic growth underpinned by a burgeoning population with a high dependence on imported food from around the world – food security is an immediate priority. Development and execution of a core food security strategy is essential to provide a sustainable growth platform and I look forward to discussing these increasingly relevant topics with Gulfood leaders at the inaugural World Food Security Summit,” said Dr. Bin Fahad.

With imports accounting for between 80-90 per cent of GCC food consumption, food security, sustainability and safety are an immediate priority for the region, as well as a key challenge worldwide. The World Food Security Summit – a Gulfood Leaders Event will bring together over 300 stakeholders including government ministers, high ranking officials and key decision-makers in the food and agriculture sectors to discuss food security challenges and find common solutions for a secure and sustainable food future. Key topics include food security in the Arab world, innovation and responsible investment in agriculture, poor nutrition and waste reduction.

Trixie LohMirmand, Senior Vice President, DWTC, organiser of Gulfood, said: “As one of the highest volume trading platforms of any international food industry trade show, Gulfood plays a pivotal role in the global food industry. This year the show’s influence has been extended to the highest level of international knowledge exchange: bringing together the world’s thought leaders and industry visionaries to address the importance of securing a stable, cost-effective and safe supply of food for the world’s growing population.”

With demand for food projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 20 years and food prices on an uptrend, the issue of global food security will only become more challenging. The need to establish more coherent and effective systems of governance for food security as well as targeted investments in health, education, water and sanitation infrastructure are imperative. Population growth, reliance on imports correlated with growing demand for animal protein and limited water supply, make the issue of food security in MENA countries more important than ever before.

Investment in agriculture is a growing trend in the GCC, with several Arab nations currently investing in foreign land to expand their farming sectors. Saudi Arabia and the UAE combined already hold around 2.8 million hectares of overseas land in countries with agricultural sectors crippled by chronic under-investment - primarily in greenfield sites in North Africa and South Asia.

Increasingly, the international investment strategy is diversifying and last year major UAE-based agriculture companies began making huge land holding investments in established agro-producers such as Croatia and Serbia, where financial assistance to existing agriculture business represents less risk than wholesale infusions of mass farming technology in developing nations. Effective, responsible and ethical investment in foreign farmland acquisition will be one of the main topics addressed at the Summit.

The Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations recently estimated that 1.3bn tonnes of food are lost or wasted globally every year, meaning roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year is wasted. Experts will address inefficiencies along the logistic chain as well as breakthrough technologies, ideas and solutions to reduce wastage and energy consumption while enhancing productivity.

Addressing the importance of farm fishing and aquaculture, David Currie, Fishery & Aquaculture Office, UN - FAO Sub-regional Office for the GCC States & Yemen, said: “The Middle East has particular food security priorities, as limitations in the area of agricultural land and in water supply make it difficult for the region to grow its own food. A mixed strategy of international trading, overseas investment and maximising the production of what can be grown domestically is needed to secure future food supplies.”

The World Food Security Summit – a Gulfood Leaders Event, which is sponsored by Al Dahra Agriculture, the UAE-based company spearheading the government’s agenda to execute its long-term food security and water preservation programmes, will bring together international policy makers and representatives of the private sector to promote more effective and coherent systems of governance and a greater involvement of the private sector in helping addressing the challenges of food security.

Among the confirmed speakers are HE Khadim Abdullah Al Darei, Co-founder of Al Dahra Agriculture, who will take part in a session titled ‘Private Sector Investment in Agriculture and Innovation For Food Security’; Hassan Al-Damluji, Head of Middle East Relations, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Dr. Balgis Osman-Elasha, Climate Change Expert, African Development Bank; Ambassador Pablo Kang, Ambassador to the UAE, Australian Consulate General to the UAE; Essa Al Ghurair, Vice Chairman, Al Ghurair Investments; Yves Manghardt, Chairman and CEO, Nestlé Middle East FZE; Sanjeev Kakkar, Chairman, Unilever MENA; Saleh Abdulla Lootah, CEO, Al Islami Foods (SS Lootah Group); Omar Farid, President Middle East and Africa, PepsiCo; and Dato Seri Jamil Bidin, Halal Industry Development Corporation, Malaysia.

Vishal Tikku, Vice President and Area Director Middle East of Mondelēz International and Gulfood panel speaker said: “The World Food Security Summit (WFSS) provides the industry with a supportive platform to enable organisations and decision makers to collaborate on regional food supply sustainability. With the WFSS’ commitment, industry players can potentially transform the future of the regional food industry. It will be a privilege to join key industry players to address the critical challenges of the role of key corporations in supporting food security.”

Gulfood 2014 is strictly a trade-only event and is open to business and trade visitors from within the industry only. The show is open 11am-7pm from February 23-26 and 11am-5pm on February 27. For more information, please visit www.gulfood.com.

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