UAE launches Youth Food Security Stations

Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Pilot Staff Major General Sheikh Ahmed bin Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the National and Reserve Service Authority and other officials at the launch of Youth Food Security Stations Initiative. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MoCCAE) inaugurated the Youth Food Security Stations on Monday, aimed at building the capacity of young Emiratis to become agricultural entrepreneurs. The network will also serve as a platform for innovative projects that will enhance UAE’s food security and diversify its local food supply chain.

Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “The challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the paramount importance of food security and sustainability.”

“MoCCAE is working closely with its strategic partners from the public and private sectors to ensure uninterrupted food supply by strengthening imports and boosting homegrown food production in terms of quantity and quality with the aim of increasing the share of local food products in the market,” he added.

MoCCAE is collaborating with National and Reserve Service Authority for the project that is also supported by the Office of the Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Office of the Minister of State for Food and Water Security, and the Federal Youth Authority.

Speaking to Gulf News after the launch, Al Nuaimi said: “The food that we produce locally are definitely less expensive than the products we get from outside (the country). The quality is also better than what we import from abroad.”

Setting up food stations

MoCCAE will establish state-of-the-art integrated centres for modern agriculture across the country to develop farming skills among young people, and teach them to implement and manage modern farming systems to improve productivity.

Al Nuaimi said five food stations will be initially established across the UAE, with the first one in Abu Dhabi. He noted: “For the first food station, around 50 to 70 (young) nationals will be exposed to agriculture, networking and marketing. The initiative will enable young Emiratis to become entrepreneurs in animal and crop agriculture, beekeeping and aquaculture, and actively contribute to national food security.”

According to MoCCAE, the primary target of the initiative are those in the National and Reserve Service Program and secondarily any Emirati youth who is interested in food security entrepreneurship.

MOCCAE will also partner with the Ministry of Economy and Ministry of State for Youth Affairs to encourage youth participation in the initiative and to connect graduates with financial institutions that will support them in launching their agricultural start-ups.

Project stages

The Youth Food Security Stations initiative is a three-stage programme blending academic learning with hands-on training. Stage one will focus on the fundamentals of agricultural business management, modern farm design, sustainable agricultural production, agricultural innovation, and marketing. Participants will also explore the ways local production can support food security and meet the needs of the population at a time of an emergency.

During stage two, trainees will apply the theories they learned with a focus on the design and installation of farming systems, management of protected and open-field agriculture systems, livestock and poultry breeding, aquaculture, feed processing, and beekeeping and honey production. They will also learn the basics of modern farm management, such as feasibility studies, budgets, accounting, asset management, and procurement.

The third and final stage will be hands-on training on processes that take place post-harvest until the products reach the retail outlets, such as marketing, contract negotiation, and sales. Every trainee must complete a graduation project that involves preparing a proposal for an agricultural business, project, or technology that is assessed by the trainers, who will provide their recommendations so that it can be submitted to financial institutions.

Ensuring food security

Staff Pilot Major General Sheikh Ahmed bin Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the National and Reserve Service Authority, said: “The Youth Food Security Stations initiative is a major step in the country’s efforts to scale up national food security and engage our youth in shaping its future. It also aligns with the forward-looking vision of our leaders, who pay the utmost attention to food security, as expressed by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, when he assured everybody that ‘food and medicine are a red line’.”

He added: “The initiative will be led by reserve service recruits, who have proven themselves worthy of the trust that our leaders placed in them. They have demonstrated their ability to serve and protect this country to ensure the continuity of vital sectors at a time of crisis.”

Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, also noted: “The future of agriculture and food security is rife with promising opportunities for young entrepreneurs, where they can play a significant role in devising innovative solutions to food security and come up with creative ways to increase our agricultural production.”

“With that in mind, we spare no effort in establsihing a nurturing environment, where young people can find the resources they need to drive agricultural development. We aim to motivate them to use their energy and skills to develop modern and innovative agricultural methods that serve our strategic objective to maximize local agricultural output,” Al Falasi added.

Innovative food projects

Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, Minister of State for Food and Water Security, said: “The Youth Food Security Stations will engage Emirati youth and harness their power to create innovative food projects. Building human capacities is a strategic enabler of the National Food Security Strategy, and so I am delighted to be a part of this project. I commend the efforts of MoCCAE and its contribution to the development of a food ecosystem that has sustainability at its core. We are committed to supporting youth through this project and other food-related projects in the UAE.”

Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs, added: “Youth is the largest segment of our society and the most capable of fulfilling our country’s aspirations. Just as we were able to engage and empower young leaders in sectors such as space, economy, technology, and humanitarian work, we are confident that we will soon have pioneers in modern and sustainable agriculture, who will establish a robust supply network and ensure our self-sufficiency in line with best practices in the sector.”