The region’s Fast Moving Consumer Goods industry is still somewhat suffering and affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as prices of raw materials have increased along with price inflation, a major reason why we need to be more focused than ever on food security and sustainability.
Most research studies have also pointed out that the major contributors to food security in the Middle East are related to climate, population growth, and overall dependence on importation.
When the pandemic happened, these issues became even more obvious, and with it the urgency of addressing them. Another key factor that escalated this potential crisis was the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine. This caused the current shift towards deglobalization, in which countries have now restructured their supply chains to protect themselves from reliance on imports.
The best way to tackle this issue is by implementing advancements and investments in the AgTech and FoodTech space in the region and in countries across the Middle East, some of which import 80 to 90 percent of their food; these countries have now become more aware of the importance of implementing food security strategies in their overall plan.
This is also in line with the National Food Security Strategy 2051, introduced in November 2018 and presented by HE Mariam Hareb Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment during the UAE Government’s second annual meeting. The initiative aims to achieve zero hunger by ensuring access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round throughout the world, with a strong focus on implementing resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production to maintain ecosystems.
There are several factors behind implementing this initiative, with three main criteria including facilitating the global food trade, diversifying food import sources, and identifying alternative supply schemes, covering three to five sources for each major food category.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion people, which further stresses the importance of focusing on fresh produce and reducing food waste for the end purpose of allowing everyone to live in a more sustainable and secure environment. We need to be ready and well-equipped to manage any crisis before it happens, which can only be possible through implementing innovative and sustainable solutions for a healthier and more efficient food system.
Additionally, a recent report produced by Oxford Business Group in partnership with the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development, Agri-tech and Food Security in the GCC, announced that an array of strategies focusing on agricultural innovation and food production are taking shape across the region to help combat food security challenges through new agri-tech and food-tech solutions.
With all this being said, it is evident that now more than ever is the time for companies to invest in the food-tech industry across the GCC to find sustainable solutions for food security challenges. This is aligned with our vision at Right Farm, as we look to maintain our focus on sustainable agriculture for a more secure future for the industry.
A huge priority for AgTech startups in the Middle East is now to use innovative technologies to grow food in the desert, such as Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Farms, or all the Agri-tech farms in the UAE that are using hydroponics to find alternative approaches to growing our food.
What’s enabling these AgTech farms to scale is the role of food tech companies like Right Farm, which creates a pathway to a wide network of food retailers and businesses. This lowers our region’s dependency on imported produce and creates a sustainable food system that meets the needs of today’s generation without compromising on the needs of future generations.
The aim for us, and any company committed to this initiative, is to prioritize sourcing produce from local and regional farms while working on sustainability efforts with our partners and customers to prevent and eliminate food wastage, as well as keeping our supply network globally connected to our demand network. This is achieved by securing supply chains, increasing supply chain efficiencies, optimizing supply and demand, and reducing waste to ensure the success of our food economies.
With FoodTech optimizing the food supply chain and reducing food wastage, along with technological advancements in AgTech, we could see a wider range of crops being produced in alternative growing environments, such as vertical, hydroponic farms. Local production in the GCC will increase and a more data-driven agriculture operation will be born.
As we look ahead, we believe that Food Tech is not just an advantage but a necessity in today’s economy, especially with global poverty and the overall population continuing to increase. It is imperative for companies and the public, in general, to be aware of the impact that Foodtech can have on food security and the environment in general, and for companies to always look at sustainable solutions to assist in ensuring a more secure food system and safe environment for everyone moving forward.
Elie Skaf is co-founder and CEO of Right Farm, B2B e-commerce and supply-chain company that sources food directly from farmers for food service businesses.