Food and agriculture have never ranked close to the top of the list for investors when it comes to investment opportunities. However, with the passing of the UAE’s 2018 FDI Law, which opened agriculture to 100 percent foreign ownership, food production and processing, as well as agriculture, is receiving unprecedented interest amongst investors.
Being in a country where water is scarce, the country understood that to be able to be food secure, we have to be a hub of food trade.
HE Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food and Water Security
in the MENA region, and accounting for 18 percent of the region's total F&B trade
in the UAE is produced locally
is now possible in agriculture
under the National Food Security Strategy
The major regulatory changes that have taken place in the UAE followed the release of the National Food Security Strategy 2051, which offers investors the long-term policy stability required to pursue long-term opportunities in the sector. The strategy continues to streamline licensing and regulations for farming, as well as fast-tracking approvals for ag-tech initiatives. Additionally, in order to attract investment, the UAE Government, and Abu Dhabi in particular, is offering substantial incentives, including USD 272 million in R&D rebates.
With this new regulatory framework and associated incentives, investors in production, processing, and distribution are set to benefit from the UAE’s unobstructed market access throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as well as its proximity to major growth centers in South Asia and East Africa. Major investments have already been made to take advantage of these regional opportunities, with Brazil’s BRF (one of the biggest food companies in the world) investing USD 160 million in a meat processing facility in Abu Dhabi, which now produces a range of products for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt.
Investment opportunities are also emerging domestically, with growing tourism, high per capita income and a sustained economic recovery likely to drive growth in the food sector. Additionally, preferences for packaged goods, growing demand for halal food, organic food and online shopping are likely to offer niche opportunities to investors.
Of course, investments in the sector will come with some challenges, most notably, the challenges of growing food in extreme temperatures with limited water resources. To address this, investors are looking to deploy ag-tech in controlled-environment agriculture, such as vertical farms, to manage inputs and maximize outputs. In other words, growing more intelligently will be essential in capturing the opportunities emerging across the region.
In a region with water scarcity and a small proportion of arable land, technology that uses sustainable production, water efficiency, without chemicals and delivers clean and traceable foods will be essential to food security.
Sonia Lo, CEO Crop One