Future Harvest

Agriculture, Fisheries & Food

Food security is a crucial global issue, resulting from various economic and social challenges and all with political, strategic, and international ramifications. Abu Dhabi is leading the way in innovative research and development policies.

Although there are numerous challenges facing the agriculture and aquaculture sector, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s policies and programs have yielded significant benefits, not only in terms of this sector’s economic output, but also in terms of food security. Some of the main issues facing the agricultural sector include water scarcity, high levels of soil salinity, severe temperatures that are often not optimal for animals or fish, and pressing humidity. Yet with government guidance and private sector innovation, the agriculture industry in the UAE is undergoing rapid diversification, which is contributing to the strength of the sector. Primary exports include dates, vegetables, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. At the national level, the Ministry of Economy is establishing a strategic food reserve that would help vary the nation’s agricultural base and protect against any short-term food shortages. The Federal National Council, which has members from different Emirates throughout the country, is recommending specific subsidies for food and agricultural investments as part of the development of a national food policy.

Seen as a key industry in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the market for food products is also driven by the Emirate’s rapid population growth in recent years. The UAE food market exceeded $4 billion in value in 2012 with forecasts suggesting that it will grow between 4% and 5% annually in the coming years. The main agricultural commodities available for consumption and sale are wheat and wheat-based products, rice, sugar, milk, soya bean oil, nuts, and poultry. Livestock is central to the sector, as it contributes to the diversification of small farm income sources, food security, and job creation, and also provides some assistance for domestic needs—many households raise animals to meet their everyday dietary needs and sell the surplus stock on the market. The livestock sector, which includes commercial farms and fisheries as well as animals, focuses on using advanced methods for breeding, especially with poultry and cattle. According to the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (SCAD), Abu Dhabi’s developing livestock and dairy industry, a vital part of the agriculture sector, has shown vibrant business activity in recent years. A 2013 SCAD survey on livestock and dairy farms in Abu Dhabi, revealed an increase of 35% growth in the production of eggs, adding up to approximately 203 million eggs, worth approximately $22 million. SCAD mainly examined five larger farms having an estimated combined capacity of 1.6 million chickens. They did however note a fall of 1.4% in poultry meat production to 17,000 tons in 2013. Poultry meat production was valued overall at $63 million. The survey also examined seven broiler farms having an estimated combined capacity of 1.5 million chickens and covered 13 dairy farms with an estimated total capacity for breeding 22,000 cattle, revealing a rise of 8.2% growth in the overall number of cattle to 18,907 head in 2012, with 9,304 calf births in the year.

SCAD livestock data included a detailed statistical analysis of the Emitrate’s livestock sector for 2013. The key indicators of Abu Dhabi’s livestock sector included 22,974 total animal holdings, with 1,780,061 head of sheep, 1,214,478 head of goats, 25,615 head of cattle (including 8,821 dairy cows), and 359, 279 camels. Commercial farms were examined as well. Abu Dhabi has seven broiler farms and five layer farms, as well as two commercial cattle farms, which produce approximately 87,386 tons of cows’ milk, 21,386 tons of chicken meat, and 248 million eggs per annum. The Emirate’s farms also produced 107,763 tons of manure.


Fish and fisheries are also vital to Abu Dhabi’s agriculture sector. The Emirate has approximately 4,580 registered fishermen, working out of 1,100 licensed boats. In 2013 they caught over 3,862 tons of fish, valued at approximately $23 million. These numbers might seem modest, but they do not include the most important aspect of the fishing industry; namely aquaculture. Aquaculture is the practice of using controlled and technically innovative man-made environments to promote the growth of fish for food. Aquaculture is used to enhance fish stocks or for economic purposes, and currently it contributes over 50% of the world’s fish supply for human consumption, making it an important aspect of the world’s overall food supplies. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, aquaculture output worldwide will contribute more than 62% of the world’s seafood supply by 2020. Abu Dhabi’s aquaculture sector is in its early stages but it has been identified as a priority sector for development by the government, and is built around the notion of technical innovations which are vital to its success.

A number of well-known examples are leading the way, from both the public and private sector. The Abu Dhabi Marine Centre projects that the Emirate will be able to increase fish production to 10 million by 2017 and has re-introduced a number of specific species that were dwindling in recent years. Through the technical know-how of the Sheikh Khalifa Marine Research Centre Abu Dhabi it will increase the number of fish it produces to its maximum capacity, helping to ease the pressure placed on the country’s fish stocks by the increasing population, pollution and overfishing. Government studies have shown that the overall number of commercial fish in the UAE has declined by 80% in the last 30 years and the Centre’s own stock assessment suggests that 71% of Abu Dhabi’s fish resources are over-exploited, with a number of key species currently at some degree of risk through excessive and environmentally short-sighted fishing methods.

Five specific species were identified for fish farmers in the early stages of the overall aquaculture development plan which was formulated by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) in collaboration with other government departments, fish farmers, NGOs, and researchers. These species were hammour (grouper), cobia, seabream, yellowfin tuna, and abalone. These five species are in high demand in both local and global markets but their stocks have been dwindling due to overfishing. Moreover, work on the development of a 360,000sqm fish reserve in Dhadna has commenced under the direction of HH General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. This reserve will see the construction and deployment of environmentally friendly artificial reefs which will become a primary feeding area for bottom dwelling fish off the coast of Fujairah. Several traditional fishing spots which have been abandoned will be revived by the use of these artificial reefs, and will encourage environmentally friendly and economically sustainable fishing.


Yet these actions are not purely economic. Central to all of the investment, research, and environmental protection efforts underway is the concept of food security. The official definition of food security adopted by the Emirate is “to enable all citizens and residents of the UAE to have access to safe and healthy food with sufficient nutritional value and in a safe manner, under all circumstances, including in cases of emergency and crisis situations.” The government is working with the private sector to implement food security strategies in the Emirate, by developing policies and legislation for food security, overseeing the foundation and management of emergency stockpiles of food, preparing contingency plans for possible shortfalls, monitoring and analyzing local, regional and global food markets, and coordinating with investors on domestic and foreign production in the food sector to support and achieve food security in the Emirate.

As the world’s population grows, and global natural resources are diminishing in many key areas, the UN estimates that the world has to find a way to produce 56% more food by 2050, and innovation is seen as central in assuring food security for the future. Innovation in food production is seen as the only real chance for feeding growing populations while using resources more productively and with the least amount of environmental damage. Innovation for food security has the potential to offer solutions to combat global warming, provide technologies that can improve nutrition and social prosperity in developing countries, and be a renewable source of clean energy. Future oriented as always, the government of Abu Dhabi is focused on securing food supplies. As HE Dr. Rashid Mohammed Khalfan Al Shariqi, Director General of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), told TBY, “The center operates on a strategy aimed at maximizing the production of locally cultivated foods through the use of modern technology, the management of natural resources efficiently, and the promotion of agricultural investment abroad.” The center aims to provide all citizens and residents of the Emirate access to healthy food with proper nutritional value and has managed the organization of strategic stockpiles, enough for every resident in the event of an emergency. With its focus on security, sustainability, and strategic planning, it exemplifies the overall policy of Abu Dhabi; planning for the future and using its resources to encourage innovative and forward looking policies to address potential problems both at home and beyond. As with so many other sectors, the Emirate is providing an example for the wider world to learn from.