From left, Dr Raed Safadi, deputy director, trade and agriculture directorate at the OECD; Dr Nadim Khouri, deputy executive secretary, UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; Rashed Al Shariqi, director general, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority; and Dr Mohammed Kadi, president, General Council of Agricultural Development and chair of the Global Water Partnership Technical Committee, at yesterday's conference. (Photo: Ravindranath K / The National)
by Awad Mustafa
Last year, the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority underwrote a project to build 10 grain silos capable of storing 5,000 tonnes each, while the FNC called for the creation of a six-month reserve of food supplies.
Instead, the UAE should be looking to diversify and better monitor its agricultural investments abroad, says Dr Raed Safadi, the deputy director of trade and agriculture at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"Food storage needs facilities that cost too much," Dr Safadi told the Water and Food Security conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
"The temperatures in this region are also too high and many environmental factors can affect them. Furthermore, 50 per cent of foods stored in silos tends to turn into waste."
Dr Eckart Woertz, a fellow at the Princeton Environmental Institute, agreed.
"Achieving self-sufficiency is not an option for the UAE and it needs to be dependent on the global market through a diverse portfolio of investments," Dr Woertz said.
Dr Safadi cited the 2007 global rice shortage as an example of short-sighted storage policies - specifically India's response of enforcing an export ban on the grain.
"Prices around the world spiked and in India dropped more than 50 per cent at the time," said Dr Safadi, adding that about 70 per cent of the nation's stored rice was eventually eaten by rats.
Dr Mohammed Kadi, the president of the General Council of Agriculture in Morocco, said the northern hemisphere had focused its efforts on surplus stores 40 years ago.
But Dr Kadi said this had started to change because countries had found the conversion of surplus food products into energy was more profitable.
"In the '70s and '80s, the issue was securing food stores and supplies, therefore farming was profitable," he said.
"The situation now has changed, with all the surplus products being used as biofuel rather than being exported to deficit countries."
Dr Safadi also said food stores would not protect the GCC against global price rises.
"Global agricultural production is slowly increasing but not at the same speed as consumption, so this will result in an inevitable price rise of food products," he said.
"But the GCC does not have a budget problem. If food prices go up the supermarket shelves will not be empty. When the price of food goes up the oil price will go up, which works well for the UAE and GCC."
Dr Safadi and Dr Woertz said food-security bodies in the region should focus on their efforts diversifying into foreign food investments, but not without close monitoring.
The 20,000-hectare UAE agricultural project named Zayed Al Khair, which has been operating in Sudan for 10 years, has made little progress, said Dr Woertz, who visited the nation recently.
"Only a small portion of the land is used, despite the budgets that have been allocated to farm in the whole plot," he said. "Sudan has many problems including sanctions, corruption and the government's need for money."
Kuwaiti and Saudi investments in the Kennana sugar factory since the mid-1980s in Sudan have also showed limited progress, Dr Woertz said.