Establishing effective ways to boost the UAE’s level of food security was the objective of two recent visits to Europe by Mariam Hareb Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security. The twin trips saw the minister travel to Germany and Ireland – countries ranked among the highest in the global food security rankings – to discuss collaboration opportunities in the areas of research and development and to find future partners from the countries’ private sectors who can enhance the UAE’s ability to produce food sustainably.
“Germany and Ireland are among the world’s most food secure nations and this month’s visits to the countries were planned with the aim of meeting cutting-edge and innovative companies who are leading the field in sustainable food production, as well as key government policy-makers to find out more about the federal initiatives they have instigated to put their countries into the top global food security rankings,” said Almheiri.
The first stop in the Minister’s itinerary was Germany, ranked 11 out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Day one of the visit, which took place on 4th and 5th June, was taken up in meetings with representatives from leading sustainable farming companies, while day two was dedicated to discussions with politicians and policy-makers from the Bundestag, the German federal parliament.
Included among the private sector representatives Almheiri met were Nicolas Leschke and Christan Echternacht, founders of ECF Farm Systems, a company that combines fish farming and vegetable cultivation – Aquaponics – by using nutrient-rich water from its fish tanks as environmentally-friendly fertiliser for its greenhouses. Established in 2014, the facility produces 30,000kg of fish and over 400,000 herb plants a year and serves one of the largest retail supermarket chains in Germany.
Also on the first day, Almheiri met with Michele Bandecci and Suvrajit Saha, CEO and partner of Smart Cloud Farming, a system that helps increase crop yields by using satellite images to characterise soil and generate practical, data-driven recommendations for farmers. The model works by simulating crop growth using remote soil analysis, weather data and artificial intelligence, providing benefits by enabling customised farming practices that can improve a farm’s soil fertility, maximise yield and raise farm revenues.
At the Bundestag on the second day of her visit, the UAE Minister met with Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture; Alios Gerig, Chairman of the Committee of Food and Agriculture and Dr Christoph Hoffmann, member of the Committee of International Cooperation. The conversations centred on issues around Germany’s government-level initiatives that have secured a high degree of food security for the country’s citizens.
The final meeting on Almheiri’s itinerary for Germany was with Prof. Dr Jurgen Zentek, spokesperson for FoodBerlin Network and Director of the Institute of Animal Nutrition at Free University. The activity saw the two parties discuss the possibility of setting up partnerships between a number of prestigious universities in Berlin and the UAE to establish short exchange programmes that would give the students a ‘taster’ of all aspects of food security in the UAE and Germany.
Almheiri’s following visit to Ireland – currently the world’s second most food secure country – took place 10th and 11th June. A packed first day’s itinerary saw the Minister welcomed by Secretary-General Brendan Gleeson, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, DAFM, after which she reviewed FoodWise 2025 – Irelands National Agri-food Strategy. She was then introduced to DAFM’s Agri-food R&D Agenda, including its Research Stimulus Fund that provides funding to Irish research institutes and its Food Institutional Research Measure, FIRM, Ireland’s primary national funding mechanism for food research in higher education and public research institutes.
Following a working lunch with Enterprise Ireland, the government organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets, Almheiri was accompanied on a site visit to Teagasc’s Ashtown Food Research Centre. Teagasc, the Irish Agricultural and Food Development Authority, operates seven research centres, each specialised in different sectors of animal and food production. Teagasc Ashtown specialises in research focused on the valorisation of food waste streams from the meat, seafood and cereal sectors, including the recovery of high-value ingredients with pharma- and nutraceutical properties.
Commenting on the visits, she said, “My fact-finding and networking trips to Germany and Ireland proved to be extremely productive and highlighted the areas where we can cooperate to mutual advantage, especially in the fields of AgTech and agricultural R&D. My visit showed that despite our disparate challenges relating to food security – with Germany and Ireland facing extreme weather incidences and the UAE facing an inadequate supply of fresh water – there is a commonality in using technology and research to solve our respective problems. Along with my team in the Office for Food Security, I will be looking at how we can incorporate some of what we learnt from the trip to take the UAE from its current position of 31st most food secure to being amongst the top 10 by 2021, in addition to playing a role as an effective player in the global food security arena.”