Food security, agritech, and sustainability under spotlight as UAE concludes Food for Future Summit

Chandra Dake. — Supplied photo
Chandra Dake. — Supplied photo

The summit ushered in a new era of multistakeholder participation for global food security.


A Staff Reporter

Published: Mon 28 Feb 2022, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Mon 28 Feb 2022, 10:22 PM

When news cycles across the world are rife with geopolitical tensions, existential threats, and the remnants of the pandemic, the UAE has kept things on an even keel with impact-led conclaves, the Expo, and developmental activities. At a time when it is seemingly difficult to not get pulled into mainstream happenings, the Gulf nation has managed to keep its eyes on the ball. And rightly so because there are long-standing global challenges that continue to grow unchecked. Global hunger, for starters, has increased further, with 2.37 billion people having no access to food or a healthy diet regularly(1).

Against this backdrop, the inaugural Food for Future Summit, held on the sidelines of the Expo, was of great consequence. Hosted by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as a strategic partner, the summit ushered in a new era of multistakeholder participation for global food security. It lived up to its billing, bringing key decision-makers, technologies, and ideas under one roof. Such an effort by the government has not gone unnoticed among the attendees.

“My felicitations to the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment for hosting a historic summit, which saw world leaders, people from rural-agrarian communities, and innovators from nations like Sweden and Israel in attendance. Such a turnout speaks volumes about the Ministry’s outreach efforts and inclusive attitude — both paramount to achieve food security,” said Chandra Dake, founder of Dake Rechsand, a Dubai-based company specialising in sustainable solutions for water conservation and desert farming. Dake Rechsand, Goumbook, Emirates Nature-WWF, and other social enterprises showcased their solutions and launched innovative campaigns at the summit.

Multi-pronged solutions and campaigns for sustainable food security

The Emirates Nature-WWF, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, the FAO, and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention launched a joint campaign called the “Food for Life”. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about how sustainability is tied to a healthy diet, through outreach programmes and events. This is a significant development because it typifies the multistakeholder action required to achieve sustainable food security. Higher the number of stakeholders, greater the scope for diversified ideas, synergistic outcomes, knowledge flows, and exchange of resources — all integral when it comes to food, which characterises location-specific complexities and opportunities.

Another notable development was the launch of "FoodWise Challenge", a campaign by Goumbook, a leading social enterprise in the region. The campaign aims to instil sustainability and healthy food choices at schools and universities. Goumbook intends to engage students and bring diversified ideas and solutions to the table while chasing the shared goal of a food secure Middle East. Even sustainability advocate Dake Rechsand demonstrated the revolutionary potential of its “magic” Breathable Sand, with Dake echoing the need for solutions that create tangible impact.

“Be it climate actions, or food security, or sustainability, the current situation is such that there is a pressing need to walk the talk; not just talk the talk. The world is nearing a tipping point on climate change, and food and water are becoming scarcer by the day. This scenario is more pronounced in the Middle East, which has — what I like to call — pre-existing conditions that make countermeasures a tall order. Dake Rechsand is striving to address such conditions and simplify food security and sustainability pursuits,” explained Chandra.

Addressing systemic challenges through AgriTech

The pandemic has introduced an element of immediacy in the food security pursuits, by exposing the vulnerability of global supply chains. Previously, a country with good purchasing power and reliable trade partners could be considered “food secure”. However, in the changed notion, sustainable food security connotes to near-shore supply chains and, most importantly, localized food production. This, in turn, begs the question: How to achieve optimal agricultural yield in a region plagued by water scarcity, arid/semi-arid climate, and desert conditions? Existing stats do not offer much in the way of optimism: Only 5% of the total land in MENA is considered arable(2). However, as per Dake Rechsand, there is so much to “arability” than what meets the eye.

The Gulf Sustainability Gold Award Winner 2021 for Innovation in Sustainable Technologies, Dake Rechsand has been making waves in the Middle East and beyond ever since its launch, thanks to its ability to make an instant, demonstrable impact. The attendees at the Food for Future Summit had the opportunity to witness Dake Rechsand’s Breathable Sand — also known as “magic sand” due to its transformative potential. Developed through environmentally responsible processes and geared towards holistic sustainability, Breathable Sand is a low-cost, water-retentive and air-permeable medium made from typical desert sand. In agricultural application, the water-retentive medium reduces irrigation requirement by 80 per cent compared to conventional techniques while enabling high yield due to its air permeability. As a result, Breathable Sand has found application in low-input desert farming — a practice that could potentially change the notions surrounding “arability”.

Rationalising why low-input desert farming can work wonders for food security, Chandra Dake said, “The UAE is 80 per cent desert, with expansive barren lands, where productivity is low and conventional agriculture is not feasible. With Breathable Sand’s ability to retain water, preserve fertilisers, and produce a high yield in desert conditions, we can make barren lands arable. This also has implications for ecological improvement and emission reduction, as nations across the region have a high dependence on carbon-intensive desalination plants. The best part is that Dake Rechsand is already doing it. So, now it’s just a matter of scale.”

Such promising technologies, grassroots campaigns by private and government entities, and action-oriented conclaves like Food for Future Summit reflect well on the UAE’s contributions to the greater food and sustainability cause. Accompanied by the sustainability-themed Expo and multiple food-related policy shakeups and initiatives in recent months, these could indeed propel the nation towards food security.


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