Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, opens Global Leaders’ Symposium by underlining the UAE’s growing global role in building sustainable food systems

  Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tells delegates of the urgent need to drive climate action, agricultural adaptation, and sustainable livelihoods: “Failure to act could reduce agricultural yields by 30%” 

First summit of its kind in the region features MENA Agri-Food Innovation Days, powered by FAO, to advance agrifood systems transformation in the MENA region

Dubai, UAE – 23 February 2022: The landmark Food For Future Summit and co-located Global Agtech Expo opened today at Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC), forming a powerhouse of industry innovation and progress. The influential two-day summit, which is uniting the world with the aim of a food-secure future, features world leaders and food and agriculture innovators from international organisations, including the World Bank and several other key global partners. 

Global Leaders’ Symposium

The Food for Future Summit comprises several key tracks, including the Global Leaders’ Symposium, which has brought together international ministerial delegations and leading executives from non-profit organisations worldwide to explore new solutions to enhancing food security. 

In her opening address at the Symposium, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “For the first time in the MENA region, we are coming together to initiate dialogue at all levels to accelerate the global transition towards sustainable food systems. Over the next two days, we will explore new solutions and approaches to the most pressing food security challenges the world faces, and how we can come together as one global community to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” 

She went on to underline how the UAE is setting a leading global example through its ambitious policy agendas, aimed at building public-private partnerships and enabling AgTech innovations that will shape the future of food. 

Ban Ki-moon, the 8th UN Secretary-General, followed Her Excellency by stressing how the world faces an urgent need to drive climate action, agricultural adaptation, and sustainable livelihoods if it is to cope with a projected 50% rise in global food demand by 2050. 

In a virtual address, Ban Ki-moon, now Co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens in Vienna, told delegates that central food production is now “the nexus of hunger, poverty, biodiversity, and climate change” and warned “if we do not take action in time, agricultural yields will likely decrease by 30%”. 

“Supporting smallholder farmers is needed more than ever to address the growing population, the increase in demand for food, and to make food systems sustainable and resilient. Currently, smallholders only receive 1.7% of total climate finance,” he explained, adding that while global smallholder farmers need an estimated USD 240 billion a year in finance support, they received USD 10 billion in 2018, signalling the need for a ‘people first’ approach to food ecosystems and climate change. 


Elsewhere, a riveting panel discussion titled ‘Good food for all – food as a connector for health and climate’ featured some of the most influential global leaders and policymakers, including Martien Van Nieuwkoop, Global Director, Agriculture and Food at the World Bank Group, and Ismael Roig, President EMEA at ADM, the world’s premier agricultural origination and processing company. The session highlighted the critical connection between climate change and health, and its impact on food security. 

Addressing the Symposium, Van Nieuwkoop said: “Governments need to fundamentally rethink their policies and put in place bold action. The world will need food for two billion more people by 2050, and yet the global food system is facing the headwinds of climate emergency, food insecurity, and growing hunger – the numbers are moving in the wrong direction. With one-third of all agricultural production lost to waste every year, equating to more than USD 1 trillion annually, we need to work seriously to address food production and waste. If this can be resolved, we would achieve a win-win situation of reducing greenhouse emissions while improving food security. There are big challenges in current food systems that are simply not fit for purpose, so it is vital governments go beyond the business-as-usual approach and put in place global food systems that support healthy people, the planet, and economies moving forward.” 

Roig added: “In terms of supply, we currently have a very polarised world, and it has been evolving in this direction for a number of years. The Western Hemisphere is a net surplus provider of commodities – about 300 to 400 million tonnes of perennials, such as grains and oilseeds – while the Middle East, Africa, and Asia are net recipients of commodities. This polarisation is exasperating itself, and there is no significant new source of production outside of the current mega producers to substantially change the equation. We need to find new ways of ensuring we create more product origination centres around the world. We must find solutions to the perennial crop equation, and to non-perennials, such as fruits, vegetables and so on. The local agriculture boom in Dubai and the wider UAE is a very good example of the competitive advantages which can be achieved by producing more food locally while actively exploring other product areas that might depend on global origination due to competitive costing.” 

Furthermore, a delegation of eight African ministers underscored the vision of Africa in the 21st century as well as the significance of global agri-trade business facilitation, adoption of advanced tech-enabled food production, food risks, and crisis management. 

First in the Region 

The event marks a first-in-the region partnership for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The partnership has yielded the launch of the MENA Agri-Food Innovation Days to enhance engagement of the public and private sectors, academia, and civil society in driving the required transformation of the region’s food and agricultural systems. 

The carefully developed programme sheds light on impending global challenges, such as water scarcity, fertile land degradation, and climate change, placing additional pressures on the fragile agricultural ecosystems in the region. The sessions provide a forum for exchange of knowledge and best practices and promote innovation and technology adoption to improve capabilities to adapt the region’s food systems to be more productive, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable. 


“The future of the agrifood systems will define humanity’s future and the region’s food and agriculture future. Agrifood systems start from the ground, not from the factory. If it starts from the soil, it will definitely have an impact on the environment. If we don’t address the soil, water, and rivers properly, there will be no base for agriculture and no highly qualified agricultural raw materials. That is why agrifood systems are very important for defining the future of humanity in the region,” said AbdulHakim Elwaer, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa. 

“The transformation of agrifood systems is a regional priority and at the core of FAO’s mandate, and harnessing the power of innovation and digital technologies is a key enabler for our food systems to become more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive. For this, we need to promote policy coherence within and among countries, promote innovation and digital technologies, and strengthen international governance mechanisms,” added Elwaer. 

Making it Happen 

Running alongside the MENA Agri-Food Innovation Days and the Global Leaders’ Symposium is the Making it Happen conference, bringing real-life examples of innovation- and technology-enhanced food, agriculture, and supply chain solutions and best practices to the fore. 

Influential local, regional, and global brands and organisations taking the stage to discuss their roles in tackling global food security and safety challenges include Nestlé, Siemens, Cargill, Hilton, McKinsey, Bateel International, Fisheries Development Oman, Emirates Nature-WWF, and the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA). 

Meanwhile, empowering the community to drive change is the Generation Food stage, which is hosting a range of workshops spanning different topics related to food for the future global population. Sessions include a chefs’ training on plant-based nutrition led by Nestlé and a workshop guiding students to think creatively to solve food for futurerelated challenges, run by UAE-based social enterprise Goumbook.

 A Global Movement for Change 

Over 100 global leaders, more than 140 exhibitors, and 50 start-ups from over 60 countries are participating in the Food for Future Summit & Expo – the first global gathering of the end-to-end food security ecosystem – united in a bid to thrash out a radical new approach to attaining a foodsecure world. 

The Summit and its sister Global Agtech Expo are hosted by MOCCAE in partnership with FAO. The important dialogue continues on Thursday with key sessions, including a panel discussion titled ‘Funding Agtech & Foodtech Innovation – Fuelling Youth and Women Empowerment’, a session on ‘Past, Present and Future of Urban Agriculture’, ‘Driving Food Security with Nutrition Security’, and more.