The vision of the United Arab Emirates is to become a world-leading hub of innovation-driven food security, said UAE Minister of State for Food and Water Security Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Almheiri in an interview with Khaleej Times.
“The UAE is a hub for food trade and we have a wide reach… due to the channels of infrastructure, airlines, seaports... with a reach of a $2 billion-consumer market,’’ she said during a visit to Israel.
Khaleej Times accompanied the minister on the trip and the minister spelt out opportunities in the food and agritech sector.
“We’ve really taken a big step in a paradigm shift of how two countries can work together, and we’re still looking forward to what’s lying ahead,” said Almheiri.
The UAE recently launched Food Tech Valley, a new initiative that seeks to triple the country’s food production. The centre will include a smart food logistics hub, R&D facilities, as well as agricultural technology and engineering labs that will help the country meet its National Food Security Strategy 2051 targets.
“The startups and small enterprises who want to start expanding their market reach… would like to be part of an ecosystem and that is what Food Tech Valley is about,” said the minister.
When looking at UAE-Israel cooperation in the fields of agri-tech, Minister Almheiri said food security companies in the UAE are looking at investing in Israel, while Israeli companies and startups will explore setting up offices in the UAE.
As a child in Dubai, Almheiri’s passion started in the field of aeronautics. Any family trip abroad meant hours spent on an airplane, visits to the cockpit, and discussions with the pilots who would answer her many technical questions. This excited her far more than the destination, said Almheiri.
At the age of 18, Almheiri decided to pursue aeronautical engineering studies in Germany, and only upon her return home to the United Arab Emirates, did she discover her passion for marine life and environmental awareness, a direct result of a new diving hobby.
In 2013, she joined the Ministry of Environment and, in 2015, became Undersecretary for Nature Reservation and Water Resources at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. Two years later, she was offered the Ministerial position at the newly established Ministry for Food and Water Security.
Last week, travelling across Israel with a staff of four — three of them women — Almheiri said she was surprised to see how green the country is, and how all road signs are in three languages: Hebrew, English and Arabic, something she didn’t expect to see in the Jewish State. The highlight of the trip, however, was meeting the youth and seeing their passion for innovation.
“Israel is really a land of entrepreneurship [and] the youth are very tech-savvy. This is something I haven’t seen anywhere else,” stated Almheiri, whose own team is comprised of professionals under the age of 35.
The minister’s visit to Israel was in line with the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036 and National Food Security Strategy 2051. She also attended the opening ceremony of the UAE Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The minister was accompanied by Essa Al Hashimi, Head of the Food & Water Security office; Moza Al Dhaheri, Chief International Affairs Coordinator; Fatema Al Mulla, Senior Research Analayst; and Yasmeen Luqman, a diplomat from the UAE Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The team travelled to Israel’s Arava desert region, a 2.5-hour drive from Tel Aviv, to learn about new agricultural methods used in desert conditions.
Welcomed by the head of Arava Regional Council Meir Tzur, the UAE minister met with youth from agriculture education high school ‘Adam V’Adama’. She also engaged with research students and staff at the Arava R&D Center, who are working on innovative solutions in the areas of solar power, water sustainability, agricultural development, and electric power.
“It’s incredible how this community has really brought together all segments of [society] for a common goal; to grow food in the desert, [and] growing vegetables in the desert [make up] over 50% of the export of Israel,” she said.
During her visit, Almheiri met with Israeli Agriculture Minister Oded Forer and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, among others. She discussed ways to advance cooperation on research and innovation, as well as development in areas relating to combating the climate crisis.
Before returning to the UAE, Minister Almheiri signed a series of agreements for cooperation in the fields of agriculture and environmental protection.
Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, Israel and the UAE have signed agreements in the areas of environment, tourism, trade, health, security, tech, aviation, and culture, among others.
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