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Exploring the future of food, agriculture, and water: challenges, opportunities, and key players

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By Henry Gordon-Smith

· 7 min read

In the realm of food, agriculture, and water, several topics and issues are currently capturing global attention. These include food security, sustainable farming methods, water conservation techniques, climate change impacts, and evolving technologies in the agriculture sector.

Food security is integral to our very existence. It forms a critical part of the broader discussion around poverty, hunger, and overall human development. As the saying goes "no farmers, no food, no future". Sustainable farming prioritizes the long-term viability of our earth's resources, mitigating the damaging practices of traditional agriculture. With water as the lifeblood of agriculture, conservation techniques are paramount in an era of rising global temperatures and uncertain rainfall patterns. The role of climate change presents both an impending risk and a call to action, its impacts reaching far across the agricultural sphere.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) area, already a hotbed for climatic extremes, is set to bear the brunt of this escalation, especially in the area of water security.  The MENA region is experiencing higher temperatures, more severe droughts, and increased occurrences of extreme weather events with greater intensity and frequency. Among the 17 MENA countries affected by water risks, 12 are currently grappling with high water stress levels, including the UAE. According to Strategy and PWC, GCC countries import about 85% of their food and approximately 56% of vegetables, largely due to the highly limited arable land in the region, averaging 4.25%.

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Key Players and Opportunities in Addressing Challenges

The main players who are tackling these issues include governmental bodies, global organizations like the United Nations and Food and Agriculture Organization, local farmers, agri-tech companies, environmental conservation groups, and, significantly, consumers. Being the end-user of food products, consumers hold distinctive influence through their purchasing choices.

Foremost among the challenges encountered are the patterns existing of over-consumption and waste - It is estimated that half of all food is wasted during handling; 30% is lost during harvesting and transport, 10% in supply centers, and 10% in supermarkets and consumers' homes, the destabilizing impacts of climate change,  and the pace of policy implementation in some regions. However, these same challenges give rise to numerous opportunities. For instance, the threat of climatic changes can drive the adoption of sustainable practices and climate-smart farming techniques. Similarly, addressing food waste opens up possibilities for resource optimization and increased efficiency. 

Innovative National Strategies for Sustainable Agriculture

We often tend to overlook the immense influence that the food and agriculture sector has on our lives. But the reality is, that this sector is a substantial part of our daily routine, our economy, and indeed our survival. With the looming issue of climate change, the growing global population, and water usage of agriculture, which is estimated at 70% of worldwide water usage, it's becoming more pivotal than ever to reassess and reinvent the global food and agriculture structure.

Take, for instance, Singapore's 30 by 30 and Egypt’s 2030 Plan, which aim to increase agricultural production by 30% in 2024 and achieve food security and sustainable agricultural development as part of its 2030 Vision. Both countries have recognized the crucial role that food security plays in their economic and social stability. As a result, they've initiated comprehensive long-term strategies known as 'Singapore 2030 Plan' and 'Egypt Vision 2030' respectively. 

In Singapore's case, the city-state imports over 90% of its food, making it highly susceptible to fluctuations in global food supply and prices. The 'Singapore 2030 Plan' aims to address this vulnerability by enhancing local food production. Singapore intends to produce 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030, up from less than 10% today. This bold step is set to transform the urban space with innovative solutions like vertical farming and lab-grown meats. 

Over in Egypt, the 'Egypt 2030 Plan' targets a similar goal. It's a country that has grappled with feeding its rapidly growing population, with agriculture using up to 85% of its fresh water in the process. The new plan aims to diversify agricultural production to ensure food security, while also implementing sustainable water management to protect its scarce resources. This will involve a significant balance between boosting agricultural productivity and conserving water, two necessary elements for the country's survival. 

The Future of Agriculture: A Balancing Act

As we look towards the future, these kinds of national strategies signal a global shift towards food security and sustainable agriculture. They are led and influenced by a blend of main players, from government agents to local farmers and international organizations. The challenges are enormous, however, the opportunities to innovate and ensure sustainable food security are equally exciting. From these discussions and strategy roll-outs, we can anticipate additional countries to follow suit. As this trend gains traction, expect increased investment in agricultural technology like artificial intelligence, a push towards locally-grown produce, and the prioritization of water sustainability. It's a complex balancing act with global consequences, but these proactive measures herald a more secure and sustainable future for everyone involved.

Climate-smart agriculture is a relatively new concept, looking to optimize the use of resources in agriculture while minimizing its effects on the climate. However, these types of farming and all the new technologies will require workers with a specific set of skills and educational background, resulting in a demand for a new kind of workforce in the agriculture sector.  As reported by AgFunderNews, the UAE and Egypt are currently facing a noticeable shortage of skilled labor for climate-smart farms, pointing to a gap in the market that urgently needs to be addressed.

The primary stakeholder in this situation is the agricultural workforce, whose skills and education will need to adapt in response to these evolving needs. Governments, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, and agricultural enterprises will also play significant roles in cultivating and facilitating this new, environmentally aware workforce. In terms of challenges, the main issue at hand is cultivating a labor force skilled in sustainable farming methods, such as vertical farming, hydroponics, aquaponics, controlled environment agriculture, gene editing techniques, climate data analysts, precision agriculture technicians, potentially requiring concerted efforts in education and training. On the other hand, the opportunities are profound - this sector has the potential to create new jobs, promote sustainable practices, and contribute to the global fight against climate change. 

Both governments and financial institutions must prioritize in their agenda the support for farmers, regardless of their scale, in order to promote sustainability. Essentially, investments and financing must be channeled towards farming enterprises, to fuel environmentally conscious practices and boost food security. The importance of this can't be overstated. When farmers receive the resources and funding they need, they can focus more effectively on implementing sustainable farming techniques. These include practicing sustainable farming, making use of drought-resistant crops, and investing in efficient irrigation systems, which not only protect and enrich our soils and water sources but also ensures a stable food supply chain

To illustrate, let's look at the initiative taken by the Emirates Development Bank (EDB). They have launched UAE’s first-of-its-kind agritech loans program which reveals an AED 100 million financing support for the UAE’s food security sector. This iconic step is an exemplary model and a significant stride towards sustainability and strengthening food sovereignty through entrepreneurship.

What we're seeing here is a tangible demonstration of the power of financial support in transforming the agricultural sector. It's an open call to other nations, banks, and financial institutions worldwide, encouraging a focus on farmers as strategic and worthwhile investments. Inclusion of such initiatives in their agendas can accelerate our progress towards a greener, more sustainable agricultural landscape, effectively aiding in our global fight against climate change.


In conclusion, the topics and issues related to food, agriculture, and water are both complex and significant. They touch upon a wide spectrum of socio-economic, environmental, and political dimensions that shape our world on multiple levels. These discussions are essential for our collective future and involve a multitude of players and stakeholders, from local farmers to international organizations. 

The challenges we face in these sectors are overwhelming, yet they also give us an opportunity for innovation and progress. Harnessing technology, empowering communities, and implementing climate policies is the way to look to the future! 

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Henry Gordon-Smith is a sustainability strategist focused on urban agriculture, water issues, and emerging technologies. Henry earned an MSc in Sustainability Management from Columbia University. In 2014, Henry launched the advisory firm Agritecture Consulting which has consulted on over 200 urban agriculture projects in over 40 countries.

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