United Arab Emirates (UAE)- Zimbabwe ties to bear fruits

By Nyasha Mutena

Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister, Hon Dr Anxious Jongwe Masuka has implored the United Arab Emirates to explore and cultivate win-win opportunities taking special consideration of the accelerated agricultural transformation unfolding in Zimbabwe.

In his keynote address during the United Arab Emirates (UAE)- Zimbabwe Food and Agribusiness Virtual Forum held on the 28th of January 2021, Dr Masuka stated that Zimbabwe remains steadfast in its drive to re-engage with the rest of the world in doing business to grow its exports and ultimately realise Vision 2030.

Government recently launched the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy which seeks to achieve six outcomes by 2025. These outcomes are, Food Security, Import Substitution, Increased Exports, Value Addition and Beneficiation, Increased Employment Creation and Improved Livelihoods.

This robust and bold Transformation Strategy is anchored on five formidable plans, specifically:The Agriculture Recovery Plan; The Livestock Growth Plan; The Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Plan; The Horticulture Revitalisation and Growth Plan as well as The Agricultural Information Management System.

Dr Masuka had this to say;

“These plans are the Government of Zimbabwe’s unbridled expression of a commitment to do things differently, in the Second Republic, indicating that indeed “Zimbabwe is Open for Business”, from seed to fork. This Virtual Forum is appropriate and opportune as it supports our objective to diversify and grow exports.

“Now that Zimbabwe and the UAE have established full diplomatic relations, we look forward to the expansion of our trade relations.”

Zimbabwe is presented with vast opportunities especially in UAEs’ agriculture and food production sector.

According to the UAE FoodTech Challenge, a global food security competition that seeks innovation and agriculture technology solutions, the UAE faces significant challenges to producing food domestically. Only 0.5% of the land mass is arable, extreme heat limits the capacity to cultivate and store food, and the country receives very minimal rainfall. As a result, the UAE currently imports roughly 90% of its food supplies.

UAE’s soil composition is predominantly made up of sandy soil, which is difficult to cultivate without additives and fertilizers. Only 7% of soil (~490k hectares) is rich in gypsum and lime and has suitable properties for agriculture use.

Moreso, the majority of UAE’s water supply is from groundwater and desalinated water resources that are becoming increasingly scarce or costly to produce thus hindering agricultural activities. Also, pests continue to spread and reduce post-harvest yields, chemical pesticides have exacerbated the stress on agricultural land.

Pests in the UAE (e.g., red palm weevils, locusts, beetles, moths, and rats) feed on crops, contaminate stored food, and sometimes even damage infrastructure, resulting in the overall reduction of post-harvest yields.

Production of plant and animal products has limited complementarity with domestic consumption patterns. Field crops comprise 60% of UAE’s overall production. Staple crops such as wheat, which is responsible for a third of calorie consumption, is not commercially cultivated in the UAE due to its water-intensive requirements.

Animal production – While livestock supply has increased steadily since 2012, only a small share is used for commercial meat production due to preference for personal use. Moreover, production of fisheries has been relatively stagnant; less than 2% is produced through aquaculture due to lack of awareness, regulation, and incentives to shift technologies.

Farmers and investors are hesitant to integrate production technology due to limited training and advisory services. There are gaps in food handling throughout the supply chain, leading to food waste in all stages of production, pests infest farmland and storage facilities, contaminating the supply.

Furthermore, hot weather, especially during the summer, causes food to spoil quickly, adding stress to distributors to keep food cool and clean. Adoption of food waste management policy and technology has been slow, the UAE is consistently ranked as one of the top producers of food waste despite strong policy interventions.

Against such a background, it remains to be seen if local farmers will seize the UAE market which presents quite a number of low hanging fruits.

His Excellency, President, Dr E.D. Mnangagwa, led a high powered delegation to the Global Business Forum Africa 2019 organised by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and at the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.

Dr Masuka added; “Now that Zimbabwe and the UAE have established full diplomatic relations, we look forward to the expansion of our trade relations. This Virtual Forum builds on this visit’s momentum to expand and open new vistas of opportunities for the agricultural sector”.

He mentioned that the Dubai 2020 Expo, which has since been postponed to October 2021 will also ensure much needed additional support for the food and agribusiness cluster.

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy aims to increase agricultural output to USD8.2 billion by 2025 and to grow exports to USD4.2 billion by 2025. Flowers, fruits, vegetables and nuts exports are expected to grow as well as tobacco and sugar, among many others.

To enhance trade, aspects of competitive pricing, product quality, product traceability and product safety have become mandatory considerations, in addition to timely delivery, and consistency in terms of both quantity and quality of produce.

Zimbabwe has substantial comparative advantages and opportunities to transform its agri-food systems. With a uniquely suited agriculturally hospitable and favourable climate, Zimbabwe can leverage on the many trade opportunities with UAE to grow its economy, create more jobs, entrench entrepreneurship and sharpen innovation along various agriculture and food value chains.

There are various ease of doing business reforms undertaken in agriculture, for example, through the creation of a One Stop Exports Office, instead of the previous five offices for export applications.

Dr Masuka said government is envisaging to make e-applications and e-processing possible, especially in the Covid-19 pandemic era, to enhance business. In this regard, Dr Masuka invited views, comments and suggestions for further refinement and improvement of the inter-trade systems.

“I trust that you will be able to harness digital technologies to build robust networks, functional businesses and nurture budding entrepreneurs, even in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic,” he also said.

The virtual forum was attended by His Excellency, Dr Mahash Saeed Salem Mahash Al Hameli, UAE’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, His Excellency, Mr Jetro Ndombondayi Ndlovu, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to UAE, His Excellency, Mr Majid Saif Al Ghurair, Chairman Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UAE, Mr Mohammed Al Muallem, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, DP World – UAE Region, Engineer Saed Al Awadi, CEO Dubai Exports, among other delegates.