Investments in research, science, and technology will lay the foundation for improved agricultural productivity, reduced waste and a healthier and safer food supply in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, an investment expert has said.
Syed Tariq Husain, CEO of Emirates Investments Group in the UAE, said that robust investments in agricultural research and development from the public and private sectors are vital for the ongoing growth of the food industries in the region.
“Both public and private sectors need to identify research policies, choose the best technologies to improve productivity in a particular location, and develop investment strategies for expanding agribusiness and infrastructure,” said Husain, a headline speaker at the Agribusiness Outlook Forum, part of AGRA Middle East, which takes place from 25 to 27 March at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
“Countries such as Saudi Arabia have made mistakes in the past by investing in projects like wheat and cattle farming which are highly water intensive and not sustainable. We need to explore alternatives, for example investing in agricultural land abroad or leasing land to a professional who can manage it more efficiently with better practices.”
According to Global Harvest Initiative’s 2012 Global Agriculture Production Report, food demand in the MENA region is expected to grow at 2.14 per cent by 2050. Husain said that regional countries need to prioritise their investments into products, and key geographical locations that are sustainable in order to achieve food security in the region.
He added: “MENA countries can succeed in conducting cost effective policies to achieve sustainable agricultural growth by forming strategic partnerships with countries in the Central Asian Republic, North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey. These countries are easily accessible and have strong transport links to ensure a constant and efficient supply of produce.”
This forecast is backed by a comment made recently by George Eustice, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Farming, Food and Marine Environment in the UK stating not only can the UK export food to the UAE, but it can also help the emirates when it comes to agriculture.
“We have a lot of expertise in these areas, everything from irrigation systems to developing new strains of plant and wheat that are high yielding and rely on less water, and it may well be that we can share some of that expertise.” said Eustice.
Husain will join an impressive line-up of regional and international agricultural experts at the Agribusiness Outlook Forum, focusing on key issues surrounding the mounting food import bill for the GCC, which is forecast to reach US $53.1 billion by 2020 according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
His presentation will explore how agricultural opportunities, such as corporate farming – large-scale farming with greater economies of scale to large producers – can attract more investors, and will evaluate the different financial options to help minimise risk.
“Corporate farming in the Middle East region is only a small part of the industry which is currently made up of smaller scale farming with fragmented land holding,” said Husain. “If we can move toward corporate farming, have larger farms, have something which is suitable for the geography, then it will attract investors as long as there is a defined, profitable demand for the product.”
The Agribusiness Outlook Forum is a feature of the opening day of the three-day AGRA Middle East exhibition, the region’s only event covering agribusiness, poultry & livestock, fishing & aquaculture, floriculture & horticulture and agricultural machinery & supplies.
A major highlight of the 2014 edition is the AGRAme Awards, recognising individuals, departments, teams and organisations that have contributed to the growth and development of the agricultural industry with focus on best practices and innovative approach.
Held under the patronage of His Excellency Dr. Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water, AGRA Middle East is sponsored by platinum sponsor Al Dahra Agriculture and supported by the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water.
AGRA Middle East is co-located with VET Middle East, the leading event for the burgeoning veterinary industry in the region, presenting an opportunity for international suppliers and local distributors to showcase latest technologies, equipments and medicines in the veterinary sector.