The UAE's food imports are expected to rise from US$100 billion (Dh367 billion) in 2014 to US$400 billion in the coming ten years, Sultan Al Mansouri, UAE Minister of Economy, told Gulf News on the sidelines of a ministerial round-table at the Annual Investment Meeting 2015 on Tuesday.
The UAE import 85 per cent of its food, and the government plans to develop farmland in other countries — due to the lack of arable lands in the UAE — to secure food supplies amid increasing demand.
Also the government is urging diversification of the sources of the food it imports to hedge against any crisis.
"Planning to secure food supply is very important not only for the UAE or Gulf region but for the entire Arab world,” Al Mansouri said.
The UAE's government has carried out a number of missions to regions that have potential in agro-food investments including, Latin America, Africa, East Europe and other Arabic countries. Most of these countries were not ready for investments in terms of rules and regulations, he said.
Countries who have promising potential in agro-food investments need to improve their laws and ethics to attract foreign investors.
"To boost its food security programme, the UAE has a clear strategic plan to increase its FDI outflows in the agro-food sector, but unfortunately most of the countries that obtain these resources are high risk,” he said.
Al Mansouri called upon countries that have the potential for agro-food investment and lack a sound legislative framework to set up an official commission to review all the challenges and obstacles that face foreign investors and find proper solutions.
"These countries were also having other challenges related to food production, food industry and food technology,' he added.
He mentioned that stability and protecting investment in the long run is essential for any market venture.
"We did set up several businesses but after starting the production we faced a backlash with many obstacles that threatened the stability and profitability of the investment,” Al Mansouri said.
In the Arab world, US$5 billion is needed annually to bridge the food gap (the difference between demand and production) that the region is facing, according to Al Mansouri.
While the world population will be growing by one billion in 2035 and another one billion in 2050, food production should be increased by 50 per cent and 70 per cent relatively, according to Kandeh K. Yumkella, Undersecretary-General of Sustainable Energy for All and Chairman of UN Energy in Australia.
Currently, UAE has investment in ago-food in Namibia, South Africa and in several Arabic countries including, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt, according to Al Mansouri.
Morocco, one of the most potential country for agro-food investments due to the resource it has, identified investment in this sector worth US$20 billion according to Aziz Rabbah, Morocco Ministry of Equipment, Transport and Logistics.
UAE with other Gulf countries have big investments in agro-food in Morocco related to agriculture, food production and strategic foot storage, he said.
"Our government has changed a lot of law and regulation to facilitate and protect FDI inflows to Morocco,” Rabbah said.