Food Security – No panic buying in the UAE

Vineetha Sony | 15 Apr 2020 | Middle East perspective

Every day we are bombarded with images of empty shelves and long queues in front of supermarkets from around the world. These images have spurred speculation of impending scarcity of food stuff and other essentials across many markets.

However, the UAE has been largely untouched by this phenomenon as the country’s supermarkets continue to be well-stocked.  This is even more surprising given the fact that it’s a highly consumerist society, with approximately 80-90% of its food supplies being imported.

The UAE is a desert country with limited supply of arable land and water and the federal government recognized early on that it remains subject to several food security challenges that had to be prioritized. The UAE is considered “food secure” mainly due to its political and economic stability and its capacity to purchase food on the international market.

In 2018, the National Food Security Strategy was launched, which seeks to diversify food import sources, develop sustainable local production, reduce food loss and waste, ensure food safety and improve nutrition systems for the community and improve resilience to risks and crises.

The country has worked on long-term key initiatives that include a) facilitating its global food trade b) diversifying food import sources and c) identifying alternative supply schemes (covering three to five sources for each major food category). These measures have eventually resulted in the UAE climbing up 10 spots in 2019 to reach the 21st rank on the Global Food Security Index.

In times like these, countries should emulate the UAE in proactively communicating reassuring facts and figures to its residents so that they aren’t worried about food security.  For example, the below points made by Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi, a specialist on energy and Gulf economic affairs, in a widely circulated article has gone a long way in assuring citizens and residents alike that they needn’t resort to hoarding.

  • There is no justification for halting import & export considering health measures and precautions that are in place.
  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported a sharp decline in global food prices, driven by a drop in demand due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices.
  • Domestic food demand is expected to decrease by 15 to 20 per cent due to the absence of foreign tourists as a result of restrictions placed to contain the pandemic (probably not applicable to all nations but the UAE received almost 30 million tourists last year).

For a geographically small desert country, the UAE has done exceptionally well on the Food Security front. The nation’s preparedness will undoubtedly help it through this phase and perhaps provide a template to other countries to follow.