Hunger in the United Arab Emirates
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates is synonymous with trading, tourism and affluence. Even considering the significant economic resources of the seven emirates, food security and nutrition are matters of great concern. With a growing population of 9.7 million people, decisive and comprehensive action is necessary to address issues of hunger in the United Arab Emirates.

Dietary Energy and Undernourishment

The Emirates faces difficulties in its agricultural sector primarily due to geography. In a remarkably arid region where viable farmland is precious, external sources of food have to be considered. The complex interplay of these food source factors means that hunger in the United Arab Emirates is of real concern. Between 2000 and 2008, the prevalence of undernourishment increased from 2.50% to 6% in the population. In response, the government instituted programs such as the Ziraii program to address the rising figures. For every year since 2010, the undernourishment figures have gradually decreased and become more manageable. As of 2017, the statistic had decreased to 2.60%. The trends signal a continued decline, which seems to be due to, in large part, the implementation of a long-term plan.

National Food Security Strategy 2051

In 2018, the Emirati government announced a sweeping new initiative designed to bring hunger in the United Arab Emirates down to zero. The online government portal states that the strategy seeks to “make the UAE the world’s best in the Global Food Security Index by 2051 and among the top 10 countries by 2021.” Sustainability is a key point of focus and tackled in a variety of ways. The Ziraii program invests in farmers in order to encourage growth in the sector and trains them to increase the efficiency of farms overall. The program awards interest-free loans and maximizes technological advances in hydroponics. Damage to the environment as a result of these practices is a priority as well. The strain on natural resources is set to reduce as much as possible, as the agricultural policy elements outline.

Beyond just domestic changes, tackling hunger in the United Arab Emirates has an essential international aspect as well. Investment in “agriculture projects abroad, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, Pakistan, Romania, Serbia, Namibia, Sudan, and the Americas,” is a major element. Doing so allows for greater control over variations in the food market, which simultaneously secures a higher degree of food security. This is paramount as imports from foreign nations allow the Emirates to ensure that sufficient food is available.

A Boost from Entrepreneurship

As the U.A.E. continues its mission to conquer hunger, it has partnered with private entrepreneurs focused on the same goals. Abdulaziz Al Mulla is one of these entrepreneurs. He is the founder of Madar Farms, which utilizes transformative vertical farming techniques. Al Mulla quickly transitioned into the sphere while working at a management consulting firm and researching the situation. His work is quickly gaining ground in the market, which backing from the 2051 strategy has cultivated. Others recognizing both the sustainability problems and potential profits have also moved into space. For the United Arab Emirates and its people, a joint government and private sector initiative stand to make a substantive difference.

Alan Mathew
Photo: Flickr

Hydroponics Fight Hunger
In the past 40 years, droughts have impacted more of the world’s population than any other natural disaster. Their intensity and occurrence have increased, and the developing world bears the brunt of consequences including hunger, environmental damage and economic and social instability. Agriculture, in particular, a sector that supports 40% of the world population’s primary livelihoods, suffers from worsening droughts. In Eastern and Central Africa water scarcity and population growth dually affect food security to an increasing degree. The CEO and founder of Hydroponics Africa LLC, Peter Chege, is helping introduce the innovative and cost-effective method of hydroponic farming in Africa to help improve food security.

How Hydroponic Farming Fights Hunger

Hydroponic systems rely on dissolved nutrient additives to grow food in contained water structures rather than soil. These systems use water 90% more efficiently than traditional agricultural production methods because the closed systems recycle water. Using this method of production, farmers can precisely control pH and nutrient levels in the water to optimize plant growth. Furthermore, vertically stacked hydroponic systems can increase crop growth density and production rates.

Hydroponic systems support crop growth in drought-stricken areas with poor soil conditions that would typically prohibit productive farming. The potential for greater crop output means hydroponics fight hunger by combatting food-insecurity and improve the livelihoods of low-income farmers.

Introducing Hydroponics to African Countries

Chege, a chemist out of the University of Nairobi, founded Hydroponics Kenya in 2012 to market hydroponic systems to Kenyan farmers as an affordable alternative to purchasing livestock feed. His company was the first to market hydroponics in East Africa. Since its foundation, his company expanded into Hydroponics Africa LLC and began to produce and install crop-and fodder-growing hydroponic systems in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. Additionally, there has been growing governmental support to increase the overall use of hydroponic farming in Africa.

Hydroponics Africa partners with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It receives support from Kenya’s Water Resource Management Authority (WARMA) and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. The Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC)—an organization that aims to improve the productivity of small farms and promote water management technologies—has also issued Hydroponics Africa a “proof of concept grant” to help hydroponics fight hunger in Kenya.

Hydroponics Africa has sold more than 365 greenhouse units and 700 fodder units, which have helped to save 500 million liters of water and support 6,000 tons of crop yields. The company has also trained over 20,000 people on hydroponic farming techniques.

The Benefit to Low-Income Farmers

Hydroponics Africa LLC creates customizable hydroponic systems using local materials and markets them toward small- and mid-size farms. The systems require no previous user experience, no thermostat nor electricity and minimal user input. The system prices currently range from $100 to $4,800. Additionally, the company is working with local banks to make these systems accessible to low-income farmers through loans. For example, payment options include 0-20% upfront costs and a monthly payment plan per system. The costs are justified by the increased crop yields for subsistence and sale that the hydroponic method promises.

Hydroponic farming helps fight hunger in areas poorly suited to traditional agriculture. Companies like Hydroponics Africa LLC have the potential to revolutionize agriculture for low-income farmers in drought-stricken countries. The emergence of hydroponic technology may be a life-changing solution to food insecurity exacerbated by population growth and drought.

– Avery Saklad
Photo: Flickr