The Emirati Minister of State for Food Security and the Israeli Minister of Agriculture discussed opportunities for closer collaboration in achieving better food and water security. Both countries have made significant investments in agricultural and water research and development to find innovative methods to produce food and conserve water in arid environments.
The United Arab Emirates is one of the most water scarce countries in the world and, as such, is almost completely reliant on artificial water sources. Dubai, its most populous city, relies on desalination plants for 98.8% of its water supply. More than 25 desalination plants supply as much as 80 per cent of the UAE’s total water supply and 95 per cent of its drinking water is sourced from them. Desalination is an energy-intensive process and it is estimated that by the end of this decade, even with technological improvements, at least 20 per cent of the UAE’s energy supply will be dedicated to water production.
Most of the water is used to irrigate agricultural land. Food imports still provide between 85 and 90 per cent of the food consumed in the UAE each year. Abu Dhabi launched a National Food Security Strategy in 2019, which aims to increase domestic production of 18 vegetable, fruit, livestock, grain and fishery items to reduce the country’s reliance on imported food. According to Mariam Al Muhairi, the Minister of State for Food Security, food consumption is growing at a rate of 12 per cent per year. Rapid population growth is the main factor causing that increase in consumption, as the population is expected to increase from nine million in 2019 to 11.5 million by 2025.
The UAE currently ranks 21 in the Global Food Security Index, but it aims to be within the top ten by 2021. It was ranked 31 in 2018, so it is possible that it could achieve that goal if it continues to develop domestic food production systems and diversify the sources of imported food. According to Ms Al Muhairi, ‘we need to diversify, with some food grown at home, some food grown by our companies abroad and some imported from different sources.’ The UAE has agricultural investments in a range of countries, including Romania, Egypt, Sudan, Serbia, Cambodia, Uganda and Australia.
Israel is one of the global leaders in dry-land agriculture and water conservation. Since the country was established in 1948, it has been a global leader in the development of desalination, drip irrigation, wastewater recycling and water supply and demand management. The UAE has developed aquaculture, hydroponics and vertical farming operations that are some of the most productive in the world. The country’s lack of arable land and low rainfall has left it with little option but to develop alternative agricultural systems. As the two countries confront similar food and water security challenges, there is considerable scope for greater co-operation between them.
New opportunities for closer Israeli and Emirati collaboration on food and water security initiatives is likely to be one of the outcomes of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two countries. If those technologies are exported to the wider world, they could go some way towards improving global food and water security.