Food prices in the UAE are among the cheapest in the world as the country continues to invest and improve its food security, though there are still some key challenges that the Emirates needs to overcome in the years to come.
According to Economist magazine’s Global Food Security Index 2018, food prices in the UAE are the fourth-most affordable globally, thanks to stronger dirham, improved domestic food production through new technologies and shifting focus to safe havens such as Eastern Europe, Australia and North and South America.
The index ranked the UAE 31st worldwide in terms of overall food security with 72.5 score, two spots up from 33rd and an improvement of 0.8 points year-on-year. In the Gulf region, the Emirates is ranked fourth in overall food security, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
In terms of natural resources and resilience, the UAE was ranked 113rd, a drop of nine positions. For the availability sub-index, the UAE ranked 50th and 43rd in quality and safety sub-index among 113 countries. The Economist said the GCC countries are the most import-dependent for their food supplies, but these countries also have smaller proportions of their populations below the poverty line, which makes them more financially resilient when global prices skyrocket.
The report said that the physical effects of climate change, including increases in temperature, droughts, flooding, storms and rising sea levels, are likely to hit Gulf states and the rest of the Mena hardest, followed by Central and South America.
“Worsening dust and sandstorms cause significant agricultural losses in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which are near the bottom of the rankings in terms of historical susceptibility to storm damage,” it said.
Mahboob Murshed, managing director of Alpen Capital, said the UAE has been trying to mitigate the issue by promoting cultivation of high-value and low water-reliant crops through the use of new agricultural techniques such as drip irrigation and hydroponics. However, despite efforts to boost domestic production, the UAE remains largely dependent on imports to feed its growing population.
“The UAE has developed comprehensive plans to secure food supply, which include investments in farmlands abroad as well as improving domestic productivity by using new technologies. It has already invested in countries like Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt to secure food supply. However, weak infrastructure, local hostility, poor security and political risks have affected some of the projects. It has hence, shifted focus to safer havens such as Eastern Europe, Australia, and North and South America,” Murshed said.
“The UAE government has also invested heavily in providing the technology required to improve land and water management and boost the agricultural sector. To enhance crop productivity and reduce agricultural costs, it is attempting to deploy space technology. This involves using satellites equipped with remote sensing technology for monitoring plant growth and activity, irrigation needs and environmental conditions,” he added.
According to Euromonitor International’s estimates, UAE residents’ spending on food and non-alcoholic beverages will amount to Dh107.8 billion in 2018, which will increase to Dh112.19 billion in 2019, Dh117.6 billion in 2020.
Zaid Al Hachem, group director at Dynamic Operator, said the quality of food served in the UAE is exceptional compared to any part of the world despite it being a very young destination.
“There are multiple reasons for this. First and foremost, the food control authorities not only ensure the food safety and quality but raise the bar on the same and take necessary measures through the various policies and regulations. Random inspections across all food outlets and restaurants are conducted to maintain standards at every level. Secondly, the range and choice of cuisines and dining outlets in the UAE is absolutely incredible and is turning it into a true gastronomic hub. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before the first sought-after stars are awarded to restaurants here. Many of the restaurants here have already made it to the world’s top restaurant lists,” Al Hachem added.
Feras Al Sadek, marketing in-charge at the Grand Millennium Dubai, said the food quality in the UAE is definitely one of the highest around the world, thanks to the municipality who keeps a close eye on all ingredients coming into the country, those being produced locally and for creating a food safety system that is among the best in the world.
“On top of that, since the UAE has created a high benchmark in regards to overall quality of the country, restaurant and hotel owners too are trying to keep up with this; that being said the owners all choose to import only the best, most organic and healthiest ingredients from around the world due to easy logistical access thanks to our airports and seaports. Local farmers too are doing a great job in only producing the highest standards as possible and are all within few kilometers from the hotels and restaurants,” Al Sadek said.
Walid Al Awa, general manager at Tamani Marina Hotel & Hotel Apartment, said Dubai has a strong healthy programmes called hazard analysis and critical control point [HACCP], made especially for restaurants to make sure that quality of food remain the same without any effects during storing.
Compared to others in Europe and the US, statistics shows that service of food in Dubai considered one of the top rankings by offering a high standards and maintaining high quality trainings for staff serving and cleanliness of any kitchens.
Globally, Singapore topped in overall global food security followed by Ireland, the UK, US, Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, Finland, Canada and France.