Abu Dhabi / WAM
The UAE is raising capacities of testing laboratories to enhance food safety across the country, a top official told Emirates News Agency.
“At present, the foremost of my priorities is food security. At the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, we focus on raising the UAE’s food security, diversity, and self-sufficiency, enhancing the competitiveness of country’s food products, and consolidating its position as a premier food trade hub,” said Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, who was appointed as the Minister of Climate Change and Environment in July.
“This mandate also covers food safety. In this context, we work to build the capacities of our testing laboratories in line with the highest international standards,” he added in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
Controlling zoonotic disease after coronavirus
In the aftermath of the new coronavirus outbreak, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, MOCCAE, has taken an initiative to minimise the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases – from animals to humans – he said.
“In the first phase of the programme, we inspected 29 animal markets and 48 slaughterhouses in the UAE over two months, conducted gap analysis, and formulated recommendations for corrective action,” the minister explained.
“At present, we are forming a technical team that will prepare the required guidelines, specifications, and procedures [applicable to livestock markets and slaughterhouses]. The members will include experts from all emirates to ensure unification of standards across the country,” he added.
Enhancing food production
The MOCCAE works to enhance the country’s food security and self-sufficiency through supporting local food production sectors, including agriculture and fisheries. In addition, it aims to boost food imports and increase the number of import markets, Al Nuaimi noted.
“In 2018, we produced 1.09 million tonnes of agricultural products, comprising 376,347 tonnes of fruits, 246,523 tonnes of vegetables, and 467,903 tonnes of field crops,” he said. “In the same year, we produced 228,894 tonnes of milk, and the number of livestock born reached 22,142.”
“In terms of fisheries, the total catch hit nearly 75,000 tonnes in 2019. We also have 12 aquaculture farms that produced 3,223 tonnes of fish in 2019,” Al Nuaimi continued.
Asked about the targeted increase in production, he said, “While we do not have set targets, we work to achieve our strategic plan to enhance food diversity and ensure the sustainability of local food production through improving productivity in terms of variety, quantity and quality while safeguarding the environment.
“To achieve this priority, we develop and implement relevant legislation, promote sustainable cultivation methods, create new sales channels for local agricultural products in collaboration with retailers, provide subsidies to farmers and fishermen, and encourage subsistence farmers to go commercial.
“In addition, we focus on building capacities, supporting research and development and stepping up international cooperation.”
Asked about the challenges in his new role, the minister said, “I would compare my current situation to the time when I became Minister of Infrastructure Development in 2013, and the infrastructure sector was facing multiple challenges.
“In the seven years that followed, we built a significant number of houses for UAE nationals, and almost completed our main road network for the next decade.
“Now that I have become Minister of Climate Change and Environment, my team and I have a triple threat to contend with – the COVID-19 pandemic, its negative economic impact, and climate change – so I would say it is more challenging.”
Infrastructure and environment link
Talking about commonality between the sector where he worked at before and his current role, Al Nuaimi said, “Infrastructure and the environment are closely interconnected. [As Minister of Infrastructure Development] I thought of the environment from day one when I was given the responsibility for the design of housing schemes and roads. Seven years ago, I promoted the idea of reusing asphalt in road construction. Today, most of our internal road network contains recycled asphalt in line with the principles of the circular economy.”
He added, “In terms of buildings, during my time at the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme [as chairman], we designed the first Emirati housing community in line with sustainable building standards, and we have built on our success since then.”
Climate change, biodiversity
Climate change mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity conservation are also his key priorities.
“On the home front, we are implementing the National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2017-2050, the first document of its kind in the region, the National Climate Change Adaptation Programme and finalising the first draft federal law on climate change. On an international level, we aim to reinforce our country’s leading position in global climate action,” he stressed.
Other priorities include protecting UAE’s marine and coastal environment, improving air quality, supporting the country’s transition to a circular economy, and promoting the adoption of environment-friendly waste management practices. the minister said.