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UAE food security concerns are a myth, food retailer says

ABU DHABI // Concerns about the UAE’s food security should not be believed, according to the chief executive of a food retail company.

Wisal Ahmed, who heads the Alam Group, which owns the eponymous supermarkets, said the country had sufficient resources to take care of any unforeseen circumstances, whether man-made or natural.

A UK-based research centre, Chatham House, published a report in November last year in which it was claimed that sustainable food self-sufficiency was unattainable for GCC countries.

“Domestic production meets only a small proportion of needs, yet consumes significant economic resources and almost monopolises water use,” the centre said.

GCC food security rests on international trade, leaving countries “exposed to price risk (relating to volatility of import prices) and supply risk (relating to import disruption)”, the report stated.

Mr Ahmed disagreed. “In my opinion, concerns regarding food security in the UAE are a myth,” he said. “The UAE is very secure in terms of food security.”

The UAE was blessed with a fantastic geographical location, Mr Ahmed said.

“Its supply chain is impeccable in terms of land, air and sea connectivity. Hence, sourcing any product from any part of the world will never be an issue.

“The country’s geographical location compensates for its hostile environment to agriculture,” he added.

The supermarket chief said that, in the present era of free trade, food security was more a question of affordability than availability.

“Today, food security is linked more to economic power than vast agro-resources. The UAE has achieved phenomenal economic stability, which is key to food security in terms of affordability,” he said.

Mr Ahmed said the wealth of the UAE population was also a strength when it came to concerns about food.

“If we look at the UAE population, the per capita consumption of food in contrast with per capita income is very low,” he said.

On the quality of food, Mr Ahmed said that UAE authorities had excellent control over quality of produce and hygiene.

“The food control authorities across the UAE are very vigilant and strict. They have good mechanisms to monitor control of food quality along the entire value chain,” he said.

In 2010, the Government of Abu Dhabi established the Food Security Centre (FSCAD) for regulating and coordinating food security management.

It developed a country-wide plan to respond to food emergencies. The centre was given the task of implementing food security strategies in Abu Dhabi, development of policies and legislation for food security in the Emirates and preparation of contingency plans for food security in coordination with the National Crisis and Emergency Management.

It oversees the establishment and administration of strategic food reserves for emergencies and crises in coordination with government agencies and in cooperation with the private sector.

FSCAD also said that community awareness played a major role in the achievement of food security, such as rationalisation of water consumption and minimising and reducing household food wastage.

“Such efforts would lead and contribute to preserving the UAE’s food resources. The community should also support local products produced commercially or local products from small-scale agriculture farms (agricultural, livestock and fishery products)”, the centre added.

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(via The National)