The United Arab Emirates has directed government entities such as the armed forces and hospital authorities to buy locally grown produce to support agri-tech efforts in the desert country, the minister of climate change and environment said on Sunday.

The UAE, which imports 90% of its food, took the decision at an annual government meeting last month to support local production while continuing to embrace open trade policy, Mariam Al Mheiri told the World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi.

“We want to let the trade keep going, but where you have hands on your procurement and what you can buy, this is where you can encourage that a certain percentage of certain food items are bought locally,” she said, without providing details.

The Gulf Arab oil producer, which will host the COP28 climate conference next year, is making a big push on food security in the region and beyond.

At home, Mheiri noted that an Abu Dhabi accelerator programme has invested more than $150 million to attract agri-tech companies to operate in the UAE, which faces water scarcity and has little arable land.

Among initiatives is a vertical farm producing leafy greens under a joint venture between Emirates Flight Catering and U.S.-based Crop One. Vertical farming uses a series of stacked levels to produce crops.

The Emirati minister said berries, salmon and quinoa were also being farmed in the UAE, and that the country has ambitions to grow grains in closed-system farms where water is recycled. (Reuters)