Investment surge needed to meet Middle East food needs

The CEO of the world's largest partnership of agricultural research organisations has urged Middle East governments to ramp up investment into agricultural innovation, to fend off future shortfalls in food supplies.

“Innovation in agriculture is under-represented in the investment portfolios of governments in the region,” said Dr Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium. “Dry countries such as the UAE should consider massively increasing their investment in innovation, specifically in research for agricultural development, to safeguard their food security by keeping global food prices low.”

In the GCC, imports currently account for between 80 and 90 per cent of food consumption. However, speaking at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi, Rijsberman warned that Middle East nations need to take a fresh approach to food security. He suggested that existing practices, which include buying farmland abroad, storing staple foods to guard against shortages or price spikes, and purchasing existing agri-food businesses outside the region, were expensive and unsustainable in the long-term.

“The complex challenges facing dry areas will not be solved through one silver bullet or one new technology,” he said. “They will be solved through an innovative approach [incorporating] sustainable natural resources management and improvement, as well as socioeconomic innovation that will enhance the ability of communities to increase their livelihoods.”

CGIAR's biggest donors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Commission, and the World Bank.

In December last year, the organisation said it had doubled its annual funding in five years, from $500m in 2008 to $1bn in 2013. The money will be used to help finance its global research programmes, of which there are currently 16, and also to help accelerate the development of scientific, policy and technological advances in the areas of climate change, water scarcity, land degradation and chronic malnutrition.